The former head of Breitbart News and now the Trump Administration’s Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, has been taking a ever closer step toward fully being in charge of National Security.

As he holds the position ‘Chief Strategist’ he is not an official cabinet member, and thus was not subject to Congressional Committee review or vote. Nevertheless, he was given a formal seat on the National Security Council’s “principal’s committee” by President Donald Trump.

Although according to an unnamed intelligence official, Bannon was calling the shots with little or no input from the National Security Council staff. “He is running a cabal, almost like a shadow NSC,” the official said. There is apparently no room for different opinions, no guidance and certainly no paper trail.

Executive orders

After the orders were written, Trump’s team were very cautious as to how they would get them through the White House review process. This lack of paper trail documenting the decision making process is troubling. Under previous administrations, after meeting with the National Security Council, the discussion, the final agreement, and the recommendations would be written up in what’s called a “summary of conclusions”.

These summaries provide a record to refer back to, particularly important if the subject came up again and other agencies need more information. If someone thought the discussion was mischaracterised, then there would be a call for the record to be set straight.

“Under [President George W. Bush], the National Security Council was quite strict about recording SOCs,” said Matthew Waxman, a law professor at Columbia University who served on Bush’s National Security Council. “There was often a high level of generality, and there may have been some exceptions, but they were carefully crafted. It would worry me if written records of these meeting were eliminated, because they contribute to good governance”.

Despite the plethora of executive orders the Trump administration has issued, there are no such summaries to be found. The details of the discussions are lost into the wind. Any paperwork that there is, the NSC is not privy to it. This is a clear deterioration in transparency and accountability.

“He who has the pen has the authority to shape outcomes”

A further issue is that it’s equally important that NSC staff are the ones drafting the issue papers, that way there is a wide-ranging, fair and balanced set of opinions being considered. If it is political staff writing the documents, then the whole process is corrupted.

Bannon’s role in the shadows is being formalised with another of Trump’s executive orders formally giving Bannon a seat on the National Security Council’s principal’s committee. In that same order, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the director of national intelligence, and the secretary of energy were removed.

For example, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who served under both Bush and Obama — told ABC News this weekend that sidelining the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the director of national intelligence was a “big mistake.” Every president can benefit from their “perspective, judgment, and experience,” Gates said.

Here’s what Bannon said of his so-called boss last year: “[Donald Trump is a] blunt instrument for us, I don’t know whether he really gets it or not.”

Bannon’s current role is unprecedented. During the Obama administration his chief political advisors, John Podesta and David Axelrod, were never guaranteed a seat at the table, although they did sometimes attend NSC meetings. There are questions over where Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, fits into all of this.

Senator John McCain called Bannon’s appointment to the council as a permanent member a “radical departure” from how the decision-making body was previously organised, adding that he found the change “concerning.”

Deep reservations

Inside and outside Government there are deep reservations over Bannon’s alignment with white nationalism and the far right. One quote currently making the rounds: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

While it is possible that the current chaos and lack of process is a result of growing pains and the Trump administration figuring out how best to run things – an organisational chart for the NSC is the kind of thing that should be planned weeks before taking office.

Only time will tell whether this smoke and mirror show we are being subjected to is deliberate, or if it really is a new administration just learning on the job.