The deep state evades oversight.
As former congressman Alan Grayson put it, oversight “is a joke.” Congress has neither the staff nor the remit to direct or micromanage the execution of national security policy. And administrations withhold details from Congress, often by omission and because policies really are confusing, but occasionally on purpose. For a long time, the FBI routinely harassed American political dissidents; the National Security Agency opened telegrams sent to (and from) U.S. citizens abroad; and the CIA ran an entire secret war in Southeast Asia.
But in the 1970s, the Vietnam War and Watergate emboldened Congress. After a series of investigations, known to history by the last names of the senators who chaired them — Pike and Church — a more modern oversight system was born for the intelligence and defense worlds. Military policy, defense spending, intelligence agencies and homeland security all have separate committees before which officials must regularly testify under oath and justify their actions. At least some members of Congress must be notified before the start of any CIA covert operation, and the most highly classified of all defense activities, known as waived Special Access Programs, must be orally briefed to bipartisan congressional leadership.
Increased public access to information has also made sleuths of everyone, and the ability of less-powerful actors in our democracy to instigate larger investigations of the deep state has become a significant check. In the long run, the national security apparatus cannot attract the best and brightest when it does bad things.