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What Is Deep State?

From theNation: The current usage of “deep state,” as it supposedly relates to Trump’s troubles, entails three overlapping understandings: The first has to do with war, militarism, and intelligence, the secret institutions that have deep roots but were fused together in a powerful way under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama (Marc Ambinder’s book, Deep State, along with this recent essay in Foreign Policy, are good guides); the second with private corporate power, especially associated with finance, the arms trade, and fossil fuels; and the third with the many embedded bureaucrats of the US government’s many administrative agencies, who, we hope, are leading a passive resistance to Trump’s program of privatization and deregulation. “When the great lord passes the peasant bows deeply and silently farts”—and then tweets about it from a rogue NASA account.

There’s a fourth way the term is used, to refer to an almost hereditary covert caste, running from the men who in the early days of the Cold War set up the modern national security state to the elite who make up today’s “intelligence community.” In 1964, Random House published the bestselling
The Invisible Government, by journalists David Wise and Thomas Ross (here’s the CIA’s declassified review of the book, which takes exception to its thesis). More recently, Michael Glennon’s National Security and Double Government updated the argument. Peter Dale Scott was the first, as far as I know, to use the phrase “parapolitics” and “deep politics” to discuss what is now described as the deep state, and he’s the author of numerous books on the dense connections between illegal drugs, covert action, and finance. I’ve always been a bit agnostic about Scott’s work, overwhelmed by the sheer detail, but then I remember that Iran-Contra really did happen. As Michael Parenti likes to point out, conspiracies do in fact exist, both in legal theory and in politics: Watergate, Iran-Contra, the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s/90s, “described by the Justice Department as ‘a thousand conspiracies of fraud, theft, and bribery,’ the greatest financial crime in history” (that we know of).

Much of the writing frames the question as Trump versus the Deep State, but even if we take the “deep state” as a valid concept, surely it’s not useful to think of the competing interests it represents as monolithic, as David Martin in an e-mail suggests. Big Oil and Wall Street might want deregulation and an opening to Russia. The euphemistically titled “intelligence community” wants a ramped-up war footing. High-tech wants increased trade. Trump, who presents as pure id wrapped in ambition motived by appetite, wants it all—which makes him both potentially useful and inherently unstable, simultaneously a product and target of the deep state. In 1956, C. Wright Mills wrote that “the conception of the power elite and of its unity rests upon the corresponding developments and the coincidence of interests among economic, political, and military organizations.” If nothing else, the “Trump v. Deep State” framings show that unity is long gone.

David Talbot,
The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government
Jane Mayer,
Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Radical Right

Tom Engelhardt,
Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Tom is the editor of the invaluable

Bruce Cumings,
The Origins of the Korean War, Volume 2 (The historian Brad Simpson writes that the first 185 pages of the second volume of this book is terrific at explaining the onset of the Korean War. Simpson is critical of the concept of “deep state”; he argues that it is “a way for people on the left to try and pathologize or render conspiratorial the normal workings of exec branch agencies and power vis-a-vis the foreign policy apparatus more generally. There are policy currents and social constituencies (in industry, finance, etc.) that find expression in particular agencies and factions of particular agencies, and whose views are not all that hard to discern, even if they are idiosyncratic.” )

Engelbrecht and F.C. Hanighen,
Merchants of Death: A Study of the International Armament Industry—from 1934!

Michael Glennon’s
National Security and Double Government
Alfred McCoy, The Politics of Heroin:
CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade
Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn, Whiteout:
The CIA, Drugs, and the Press
Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer:
How the CIA Played America

Gary Webb,
Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion

Robert Parry,
Secrecy and Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq (Parry was one of the best reporters on Iran-Contra, for which he paid a high professional price)

Gary Sick,
October Surprise: America’s Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan (See also Parry’s reporting on the 1980 October Surprise.)

Tim Weiner,
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
Greg Grandin,
Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, The United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (Self-promotion, but the point of this book was to think of Iran-Contra beyond the binds of conspiracy theory, as the venue that reconciled the various contradictory strains of the New Right.)

From IBT: President Donald Trump and some members of his administration have maintained “deep state” existed in the White House. On Friday, his son Donald Trump Jr. tweet a report saying the deep state “is real.”

The deep state is a conspiracy theory that states bureaucrats, intelligence officials, and other government officials are leaking information with the Trump administration in a bid to manipulate the country.

Trump Jr. shared a Drudge Report tweet that had a Washington Free Beacon article claiming the Trump administration faces national security leak every day. This article prompted him to tweet: "If there was ever confirmed that the Deep State is real, illegal & endangers national security, it's this. 

Their interests above all else."

The Free Beacon article cited a
report by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that said the U.S. faced “damaging leaks of information” since Trump assumed office.

"Under President Trump, leaks are flowing at the rate of one a day," the Senate committee report stated, noting that "under President Trump's predecessors, leaks of national security information were relatively rare."

According to a May report by Politico, Trump and his top aides, including chief strategist Steve Bannon, were of the opinion that the leaks targeting the Trump administration were part of a deep state conspiracy. One outside adviser to the president told Politico at the time that “the more people talk to him about it, the more he obsesses about it.”

In June, Trump’s former campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski alleged ex-FBI Director James Comey was part of the "deep state" and he tried to "manipulate the media" against the president.

"What we've seen from Jim Comey is his goal is to manipulate the media, manipulate the press," Lewandowski
said on NBC's "Today" show. "He is part of the deep state. He's everything that's wrong in Washington," he added.

In March, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer implied that the Trump administration was dealing with the deep state.

“Does the White House believe there’s such a thing as the deep state that’s actively working to undermine the president?” a reporter asked during Spicer’s press briefing at the time.

"I think that there's no question when you have eight years of one party in office, there are people who stay in government - and continue to espouse the agenda of the previous administration," Spicer