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A senator campaigning for reform says that the intelligence leadership drives “how decisions get made at the White House.” Illustration by the Heads of State.
The December 16th, 2013, edition of The New Yorker published an article with a revealing anecdote about the Obama administration's continuation of Bush era national security policies. Revealing, that is, for those who can see.

Ryan Lizza, in 'State of Deception: Why won't the President rein in the intelligence community?' asks why Obama, once a constitutional law professor who, when running for the Senate in 2003, called the Patriot Act "shoddy and dangerous," became a president who lobbied for the renewal of the Patriot Act and continued the Bush administration's surveillance state policies (minus the creepy 'Total Information Awareness' brand name). The easy answer is that no president has control over the secret government. The assassination of the last president who tried to exert control, John F. Kennedy, proves that point. As the comedian Bill Hicks once joked, whenever a new president gets elected, the real leaders call him into a room, show him the Zapruder film, then say, "Any questions?", and the new president answers, "Only what my agenda is."

But the spooks probably don't like to be so crude unless they have to be. It's much more fun for them to apply their skills in subtle manipulation. L. Fletcher Prouty, in his book The Secret Team: The CIA and its Allies in Control of the United States and the World, gives what I think is the best account of how the game is played. According to Prouty, it's done through 'the briefing'.
From President to Ambassador, Cabinet Officer to Commanding General, and from Senator to executive assistant -- all these men have their sources of information and guidance. Most of this information and guidance is the result of carefully laid schemes and ploys of pressure groups. In this influential coterie one of the most interesting and effective roles is that played by the behind the scenes, faceless, nameless, ubiquitous briefing officer.

He is the man who sees the President, the Secretary, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff almost daily, and who carries with him the most skillfully detailed information. He is trained by years of experience in the precise way to present that information to assure its effectiveness. He comes away day after day knowing more and more about the man he has been briefing and about what it is that the truly influential pressure groups at the center of power and authority are really trying to tell these key decision makers. In Washington, where such decisions shape and shake the world, the role of the regular briefing officer is critical...

The role of the briefing officer is quiet, effective, and most influential; and, in the CIA, specialized in the high art of top level indoctrination.
Their profiling is not necessarily done in any organized or formalized way; it's more the natural by-product of master manipulators who quickly figure out what makes their mark 'tick'.

What is the 'Secret Team'? According to Prouty:
The most remarkable development in the management of America's relations with other countries during the quarter-century since the end of World War II has been the assumption of more and more control over military, financial and diplomatic operations at home and abroad by men whose activities are secret, whose budget is secret, whose very identities as often as not are secret -- in short, by a Secret Team whose actions only those implicated in them are in a position to monitor and to understand...

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The Secret Team (ST) being described herein consists of security-cleared individuals in and out of government who receive secret intelligence data gathered by the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) and who react to those data, when it seems appropriate to them, with paramilitary plans and activities, e.g. training and "advising" -- a not exactly impenetrable euphemism for such things as leading into battle and actual combat -- Laotian tribal troops, Tibetan rebel horsemen, or Jordanian elite Palace Guards...

The Secret Team does not like criticism, investigation, or history and is always prone to see the world as divided into but two camps -- "Them" and "Us"... To be a member, you don't question, you don't ask; it's "Get on the Team" or else. One of its most powerful weapons in the most political and powerful capitals of the world is that of exclusion. To be denied the "need to know" status, like being a member of the Team, even though one may have all the necessary clearances, is to be totally blackballed and eliminated from further participation. Politically, if you are cut from the Team and from its insider's knowledge, you are dead. In many ways and by many criteria the Secret Team is the inner sanctum of a new religious order.

~ The Secret Team: The CIA and its Allies in Control of the United States and the World
Not only does the Secret Team present carefully selected and organized information to the president, in the background it's also setting up the 'facts on the ground' about which it reports! Prouty details many such events, including ones where the CIA would create a fake 'communist guerilla army' that would attack government forces of a U.S. ally. In many instances, 'the communists' were actually working for the Secret Team. The 'policy advisers' would then work with the briefers to ensure that the president inferred from their report that such-and-such an allied government was 'under attack by communists'.

With that model of U.S. governance in mind, let's look at one of the 'events' that convinced President Barack Obama to go along with the post-9/11 surveillance state: the "Underwear Bomber" incident. On Christmas Day, 2009, a young man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded Northwest flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. Here is the story as told by SOTT's Joe Quinn:
The Christmas knicker bomber was not your usual disgruntled Arab or lowly Muslim acolyte. He was the son of Nigerian banking mogul and former Nigerian government minister Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, one of the richest men in Africa. We're talking one of the African colonial elite here, an African version of the British "old boy's network". While in London, his son, the knicker-bomber lived in a ₤4 million apartment in Mansfield Street in the city's West End. He also enjoyed access to visas for several different countries, including the US.

It is not surprising therefore to learn that the knicker-bomber apparently received special treatment at Amsterdam airport before he boarded his flight to Detroit. Eyewitness Kurt Haskell reported that a sharply dressed Indian man escorted him to the gate and told the attendant that the knicker-bomber had no passport but needed to get on the flight. The sharply dressed man was told that he would have to speak to the manager, which he apparently did and successfully got the young 'terrorist' on board.

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© Jerry Lemenu/AP
In this courtroom drawing, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab appears in US District Judge Nancy Edmunds' courtroom in Detroit, October 4, 2011. Edmunds sentenced the 25-year-old underwear bomber to multiple terms of life without parole on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012.
Now this requires some serious string-pulling, and all the hoopla in the press about whether or not the security system worked is just hubris, because if the knicker-bomber appeared at the gate without a passport, it is unlikely that he went through the normal process up to that point, including check-in, which requires passengers to show their passports. In all probability he was escorted as a VIP to the gate by the "sharply dressed man". So how do two suspicious looking terrorists, at least one of them without a passport, get to the gate in an airport and then onto the flight? The answer is they don't, unless they have some diplomatic credentials or high-level contacts in the airport.

Guess who runs the security at Amsterdam Schipol airport? ICTS of course! The same Israeli owned security company that somehow managed to let the shoe-bomber on his Miami flight in 2001, along with several of those mythical hijackers who allegedly flew out of Boston's Logan airport on 9/11. It's also useful to remember that the shoe-bomber was cleared through ICTS and El Al security at Amsterdam airport on a flight to Tel Aviv in July 2001 for what was apparently an all-expenses-paid, week-long trip to the Israeli city. What precisely he did there remains a mystery.
Clearly, this was part of some operation being run by the Secret Team.

Meanwhile, in Washington in the months prior to the operation, at the beginning of Obama's presidency, the 'secret' surveillance program was in trouble. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Eric Holder, then Obama's legal adviser, and future U.S. Attorney General, said that the Bush administration's surveillance program was in "direct defiance of federal law." Shortly after Obama took office, he was briefed by Matthew Olsen and Benjamin Powell. Olsen, now the head of the National Counterterrorism Center (which works closely with the CIA in selecting targets for drone strikes), at the time worked in the Justice Department's National Security Division, which handled FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) cases from the NSA. Powell was another Bush era holdover who was the General Counsel to the ODNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence), the new layer added over all the other intelligence agencies after 9/11.

The FISA court overseeing the program was ready to shut it down because of numerous compliance issues. But as Ryan Lizza reported in the New Yorker article:
Powell, who led the briefing, and Olsen also had some news: the FISA court had just ruled that the phone-records program had so many compliance issues that the court was threatening to shut it down. The court was waiting for a response from the new Administration about how to proceed.

Olsen had recently discovered that for the previous two and a half years, the period when the phone-metadata program was supposed to have followed strict new procedures laid out by the FISA court, the NSA had been operating it in violation of those procedures - and had misled the court about it. The NSA was supposed to search its archive of metadata only after it had determined that there was a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" - RAS - to believe that the phone number or other search term was related to terrorism.
Ron Wyden, a U.S. senator from Oregon who has been trying to pass a law banning the NSA electronic surveillance program, argues that Obama has been controlled in his national security decisions by something resembling Prouty's Secret Team. Lizza again:
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© U.S. Senator Ron Wyden
President Obama [had] been mostly silent on the issue. In August, he appointed a five-person panel to review intelligence policy, and the group is scheduled to issue recommendations by the end of the year. His decisions about what changes to endorse could determine whether his Presidency is remembered for rolling back one of the most controversial national-security policies of the Bush years or codifying it.

Wyden, who said that he has had "several spirited discussions" with Obama, [was] not optimistic. "It really seems like General Clapper, the intelligence leadership, and the lawyers drive this in terms of how decisions get made at the White House," he told me. It is evident from the Snowden leaks that Obama inherited a regime of dragnet surveillance that often operated outside the law and raised serious constitutional questions. Instead of shutting down or scaling back the programs, Obama has worked to bring them into narrow compliance with rules - set forth by a court that operates in secret - that often contradict the views on surveillance that he strongly expressed when he was a senator and a Presidential candidate.
So in December 2009, at the end of the first year of Obama's presidency, Senator Wyden lobbied Vice-President Biden to put an end to the NSA's bulk collection of phone records. But shortly thereafter, the Secret Team put an end to any such talk in the Obama administration thanks to the intervention of a little dose of 'terrorism'. Lizza continues:
The debate ended on Christmas Day, 2009, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a twenty-three-year-old Nigerian man, on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear as the plane landed. Although he burned the wall of the airplane's cabin - and his genitals - he failed to set off the device, a nonmetallic bomb made by Yemeni terrorists. Many intelligence officials said that the underwear bomber was a turning point for Obama.

"The White House people felt it in their gut with a visceralness that they did not before," Michael Leiter, who was then the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said. The center was sharply criticized for not detecting the attack. "It's not that they thought terrorism was over and it was done with," Leiter said, "but until you experience your first concrete attack on the homeland, not to mention one that becomes a huge political firestorm - that changes your outlook really quickly." He added, "It encouraged them to be more aggressive with strikes" - drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan - "and even stronger supporters of maintaining things like the Patriot Act."
Really? He felt a "visceral threat" from this poor, disoriented patsy who was induced into putting explosives in his underwear?

We can look at this in two ways. Did Obama really believe that the country was threatened by this farcical event? If so, he is a fool. But I don't think Obama is a fool. On the other hand, he may have seen the Secret Team's hand in this (perhaps) deliberately clumsy operation. The real "visceral threat" might have been the underlying message that they were prepared to next stage a not-so-clumsy attack if he didn't accede to their plans. Lizza again:
In any case, Obama became more determined to keep the programs secret. On January 5, 2010, Holder informed Wyden that the Administration wouldn't reveal to the public details about the NSA's programs. He wrote, "The Intelligence Community has determined that information that would confirm or suggest that the United States engages in bulk records collection under Section 215, including that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) permits the collection of 'large amounts of information' that includes 'significant amounts of information about U.S. Persons,' must remain classified." Wyden, in his reply to Holder a few weeks later, expressed his disappointment with the letter: "It did not mention the need to weigh national security interests against the public's right to know, or acknowledge the privacy impact of relying on legal authorities that are being interpreted much more broadly than most Americans realize." He said that "senior policy-makers are generally deferring to intelligence officials on the handling of this issue."
Mission accomplished!

And Obama's reward for going along with the program and not prosecuting Bush and Cheney for war crimes? He got to claim that he "killed Osama Bin Laden" in his re-election campaign, while his broken 2008 campaign promises became long-forgotten.