The Term “Deep State” in Focus: Usage Examples, Definition, and Phrasebook

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Since today is President’s Day, there will be no Water Cooler. Which is a good thing, because this puppy took forever to write. –lambert

* * *

“It’s called the ruling class because it rules.” –Arthur Silber

Readers know that I’ve been more than dubious about that incredibly virulent earworm of a term, “deep state” (December 1, 2014). However, in the last week or so, “deep state” is all over mainstream discourse like kudzu, and so it’s time to look at it again. As we shall see, it’s no more well-defined than before, but I’m hoping that if we aggregate a number of usage examples, we’ll come up with a useful set of properties, and a definition. Following the aggregation, I’ll propose a number of phrases that I hope can attenuate deep state‘s virulence, and render it a sharper and more subtle analytical tool in posts and comments.

While the usage of “deep state” exploded last week after General Flynn’s defenestration by Trump, it seems likely to me that the term had been spreading in the recent past before that, given that a series of politically motivated leaks by the “intelligence community” (IC) from summer 2016 onwards could colorably be attributed to such an entity. The examples are in no particular order; I haven’t had the time to find a “patient zero.”

Usage Examples of “Deep State”

1. The Atlantic. Since “deep state” as a term originated in Turkey (derin devlet), I’ll start with a Turkish analyst:

There Is No American ‘Deep State’

Zeynep Tufekci, a Turkish sociologist and writer at the University of North Carolina, tweeted a string of criticisms about the analogy Friday morning. “Permanent bureaucracy and/or non-electoral institutions diverging with the electoral branch [is] not that uncommon even in liberal democracies,” she wrote. “In the Turkey case, that’s not what it means. There was a shadowy, cross-institution occasionally *armed* network conducting killings, etc. So, if people are going to call non electoral institutions stepping up leaking stuff, fine. But it is not ‘deep state’ like in Turkey.”

Comment: One danger I always face is projecting American politics onto other countries. Tufekci warns us the opposite is a bad idea too!

Properties: Permanent bureaucracy and/or non-electoral institutions; “shadowy,” cross-institutional. We cross out “conducting killings” for the American context (or do we?).

2. Glenn Greenwald, Democracy Now!. Greenwald thinks the term is sloppy too (though “scientific” is a high bar):

The deep state, although there’s no precise or scientific definition, generally refers to the agencies in Washington that are permanent power factions. They stay and exercise power even as presidents who are elected come and go. They typically exercise their power in secret, in the dark, and so they’re barely subject to democratic accountability, if they’re subject to it at all. It’s agencies like the CIA, the NSA and the other intelligence agencies, that are essentially designed to disseminate disinformation and deceit and propaganda, and have a long history of doing not only that, but also have a long history of the world’s worst war crimes, atrocities and death squads. This is who not just people like Bill Kristol, but lots of Democrats are placing their faith in, are trying to empower, are cheering for as they exert power separate and apart from—in fact, in opposition to—the political officials to whom they’re supposed to be subordinate.

Comment: Later in the show, Greenwald says that the deep state is “almost engag[ing] in like a soft coup.” Here’s the Kristol tweet to which Greenwald alludes, explicitly applauding that coup with the bracing clarity so foreign to most Democrats:

I characterized Greenwald’s soft coup — and Kristol’s — more delicately as “a change in the Constitutional Order” (“Federalist 68, the Electoral College, and Faithless Electors”) but the sense is the same.

Properties: Kristol, not normal, not democratic, not constitutional; Greenwald: permanent power factions, agencies, especially intelligence agencies, which specialize in deception and require secrecy.

3. Peggy Noonan, Patriot Post:

Is [the current chaos], as some suggest, “deep state” revenge for the haughty, dismissive way Donald Trump spoke of the U.S. intelligence community during and after the campaign? … Is it driven by the antipathy of the permanent government toward Mr. Putin, and a desire to bring down those, like Mr. Trump, who hope for closer relations with Russia? …

It is a terrible thing if suddenly, in America, there is a government within the government that hates the elected government — and that secretly, silently, and with no accountability, acts on it.

Properties: Government within a government; secret; not accountable.

4. Breitbart. I don’t normally cite to Breitbart, but since they’re in the heart of the battle and have a usage example:

The “deep state” is jargon for the semi-hidden army of bureaucrats, officials, retired officials, legislators, contractors and media people who support and defend established government policies.

Comment: Interestingly, Breitbart finds it necessary to define the term for its readership, meaning it didn’t originate on the right. Even more interestingly, Breitbart — very much unlike the more staid Peggy Noonan — urges, in my view correctly, that actors outside the alphabet agencies need to be considered.

Properties: Bureaucrats, officials (some retired), legislators, contractors, media. Brietbart doesn’t use Janine Werel’s term, Flexian — retired officials become talking heads, for example — but the concept is implicit.

5. Jefferson Morley, Alternet:

What Is the ‘Deep State’—And Why Is It After Trump?

The Deep State is shorthand for the nexus of secretive intelligence agencies whose leaders and policies are not much affected by changes in the White House or the Congress. While definitions vary, the Deep State includes the CIA, NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and components of the State Department, Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, and the armed forces.

With a docile Republican majority in Congress and a demoralized Democratic Party in opposition, the leaders of the Deep State are the most—perhaps the only—credible check in Washington on what Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) calls Trump’s “wrecking ball presidency.”

And Roger Stone, a man who knows his memes:

“This is an effort by the Deep State to destabilize the president,” Stone said.

Comment: Morley, then, agrees with Kristol (the “only check” in Trump).

Properties: Intelligence agencies; permanent.

6. Greg Grandin, The Nation. A useful review of the literature:

What Is the Deep State?

So at least as long as there has been private property, there has been private plotting, and talk of a “deep state” has been a vernacular way of describing what political scientists like to call “civil society,” that is, any venue in which powerful individuals, either alone or collectively, might try to use the state to fulfill their private ambitions, to get richer and obtain more power….

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. … 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.

Comment: Grandin does give an early usage example, but I’m totally unpersuaded by his identification of the “deep state” with “civil society.” Rather — as Breitbart, amazingly enough, suggests — the deep state more plausibly includes components of civil society (media, contractors, etc.).

Properties: Not monolithic; includes (components of) civil society.

7. Benjamin Wallace, The New Yorker:

The Deep-State Theory Cuts Both Ways

This pattern of dissent [“#TheResistance”], and its early successes, has brought about a vogue for the theory of the deep state, usually used in analyzing authoritarian regimes, in which networks of people within the bureaucracy are said to be able to exercise a hidden will of their own…

The federal government employs two million people; its sympathies move in more than one direction. While many federal employees may want to oppose the White House, others (especially border-patrol and immigration agents, whose support Trump often cited on the campaign trail) have already been taking some alarming liberties to advance the President’s politics.

Comment: Wallace urges that some Federal employees in the permanent bureaucracy are, in essence, “working toward the Fuhrer,” which is a consequence of the deep state not being monolithic. He attributes the “vogue” for “deep state” to the resistance, but I (and most others cited here) think it’s the Flynn firing.

Properties: Bureaucratic networks; hidden.

8. Counterpunch

A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup

So who or what is the Deep State?

It’s the militarized police, which have joined forces with state and federal law enforcement agencies in order to establish themselves as a standing army. It’s the fusion centers and spy agencies that have created a surveillance state and turned all of us into suspects. It’s the courthouses and prisons that have allowed corporate profits to take precedence over due process and justice. It’s the military empire with its private contractors and defense industry that is bankrupting the nation. It’s the private sector with its 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances, ‘a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government.’ It’s what former congressional staffer Mike Lofgren refers to as ‘a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies’: the Department of Defense, the State Department, Homeland Security, the CIA, the Justice Department, the Treasury, the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a handful of vital federal trial courts, and members of the defense and intelligence committees.”

Comment: Seems pretty big to be deep…

Properties: Law enforcement, contractors, agencies, the courts.

9. New York Times

As Leaks Multiply, Fears of a ‘Deep State’ in America

Though the deep state is sometimes discussed as a shadowy conspiracy, it helps to think of it instead as a political conflict between a nation’s leader and its governing institutions.

That can be deeply destabilizing, leading both sides to wield state powers like the security services or courts against one another, corrupting those institutions in the process.

In countries like Egypt, Mr. El Amrani said, the line is much clearer.

There, “the deep state is not official institutions rebelling,” he said, but rather “shadowy networks within those institutions, and within business, who are conspiring together and forming parallel state institutions.”

Comment: Weird all around: The President is the President, the Chief Magistrate of the United States. He’s not the “nation’s leader,” like in the title of sone kinda hardback in the “Business” section of your airport bookstore. And quite frankly, the description of the deep state in Egypt (“shadowy network,” “parallel state institutions”) jibes with a several of the other usage examples I’ve collected, right here in the United States.

Properties: I’ll use Egypt’s! Network, shadowy, businesses forming parallel state institutions.

10. Marc Ambinder, NPR:

With Intelligence Leaks, The ‘Deep State’ Resurfaces

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how do you define the deep state?

AMBINDER: Well, I try to define it simply – maybe the national security and intelligence bureaucracy, the secret-keepers in the United States, people who have security clearances, who have spent 10 to 20 to 30 years working in and around secrets.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So when we’re hearing about this term this week to do with Michael Flynn, what do we – what are people making that connection with potentially a huge group of people and this particular case?

AMBINDER: They’re essentially alleging that the national security state, this metastate that exists and, again, traffics totally in secret – used its collective power in order to bring down a duly chosen national security adviser because they disagreed with him or they disagreed with his president or they disagreed with his policies. It is a term of derision, a term that suggests people are using their power for ill-begotten ends. And that, if true, sets up a crisis.

Comment: Ambinder, then, rejects putting a “civil society” construction on “deep state.” (He also rejects Greenwald, and Kristol’s, “soft coup.”)

Properties: National security and intelligence bureaucracy; long-term.

11. Marc Ambinder, Foreign Policy. Ambinder gives an example of the deep state in action:

Trump Is Showing How the Deep State Really Works

The fact the nation’s now-departed senior guardian of national security was unmoored by a scandal linked to a conversation picked up on a wire offers a rare insight into how exactly America’s vaunted Deep State works. It is a story not about rogue intelligence agencies running amok outside the law, but rather about the vast domestic power they have managed to acquire within it.

Sometime before January 12, the fact that these [Flynn’s] conversations [with the Russian ambassador] had occurred was disclosed to David Ignatius, who wrote about them. That day, Sean Spicer asked Flynn about them. Flynn denied that the sanctions were discussed. A few days later, on January 16, Vice President Mike Pence repeated Flynn’s assurances to him that the calls were mostly about the logistics of arranging further calls when Trump was President.

Comment: Note the lack of agency in “was disclosed.” Had the deep state not been able to use David Ignatius as a cut-out, the scandal would never have occured. Therefore, a media figure, a member of civil society, was essential to the operation of the Deep State, even though Ambinder’s definition of the deep state doesn’t reflect this.

Properties: Network; civil society.

* * *

So now I’m going to aggregate the properties suggested by these 10 sources, and make some judgements about what to keep and what to throw away. Throwing out Noonan’s concept of “a government within a government”, I get this. The deep state:

1. Gains power through (legal) control of state functions of secrecy and deception

2. Is “permanent”

3. Is not monolithic

4. Is composed of “cross-institutional” networks of individuals in both state (agencies, law enforcement) and civil society (media, contractors)

5. Is not democratic in its operation; and (potentially) is not accountable, not normal, not constitutional.

(Individuals within the deep state belong to factions that compete and cooperate, often in addition to their “day jobs,” rather as in a “matrix management” construct.)

So, what’d I miss?

A “Deep State” Phrasebook

So, here are some phrases to use that reflect the above — very tentative — understanding. What I really want to do — and who know, maybe I’m trying to shovel back the tide here, too — is get away from the notion of “the” deep state. The deep state is not monolithic! Factional conflict within the deep state exists! So, in my view, the definite article is in this case disempowering; it prevents you from, as it were, knowing your enemy. So, if I have to join the chorus of people using the term, I’m going to think carefully about how do it. This list is a step toward doing that. (I’m going to use examples from the run-up to the Iraq War because it’s less tendenitious and way less muddled than the Flynn defenestration.)

1. “Deep State Blooper”. I’m putting this first as an antidote to CT. Quoting Frank Herbert’s Dune:

“…[I]t occurred to Kynes that his father and all the other scientists were wrong, that the most persistent principles of the universe were accident and error.”

It’s important to put into our thinking right from the start that Deep State actors are not all-powerful, and that Deep State operations are not invariably successful. I mean, can anybody look at the foreign and nationally security outcomes from what these guys are doing and urge that the baseline for performane is very high? I don’t think so. Accidents happen all the time, and these guys, for all the power their positions bring them, are accident-prone. (After all, they’re not accountable, so they never get accurate feedback, in a typical Banana Republic power dynamic.

Example: “The Iraq WMD’s yellowcake uranium episode was a Deep State Blooper.” (See here for details; the yellowcake uranium was part of the Bush administration’s WMD propaganda operation to foment the Iraq War.)

2. “Deep State Operation”. I think it’s important to view the Deep State (as defined above) as able to act opportunistically; although many Deep State Actors work for agencies, their operations are not bureaucratic in nature.

Example: “The White House Iraq Group was a Deep State propaganda operation that succeeded tactically but failed strategically” (See here for details; the WHIG planted stories in the press to foment the Iraq War. They succeeded in that narrow goal, but the war itself was a debacle, and the damage to the credibility of the press as an institution took a hit.)

3. “Deep State Actor”. An individual can be a member of the Deep State as an official, and then later as media personality or contractor. (It also seems to me that once you have been within the intelligence community, you can never be said to have left it, since how could anyone know you have really left?

Example: “Leon Panetta is a consummate Deep State Actor.” (Panetta has been OMB Director, CIA Director, White House Chief of Staff, and Secretary of Defense. “[Panetta] regularly obtains fees for speaking engagements, including from the Carlyle Group.[55] He is also a supporter of Booz Allen Hamilton.”

4. “Deep State Faction”. This is a no-brainer:

Example: “The Neoconservatives are a Deep State Faction.”


I apologize for the length as I fought my way through the material, and I hope I haven’t made any gross errors — especially political science-y ones! And any further additions to the Deep State Phraseology will be very welcome (but watch those definite articles!).

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Carolinian

    Gee you didn’t even mention California’s Bohemian Grove meeting where CEOs romp in togas and such.

    And taken literally Deep State would presumably mean a secretive (deep) and more or less permanent ruling apparatus. We may have the latter but it doesn’t seem all that secretive since they love to join think tanks and talk about their loony ideas. The term is often used to bolster conspiracy theories about how the CIA killed Kennedy and are secretly running the country. While recent movies like to portray CIA operatives as super human martial arts specialists they are just as likely boobs who make many mistakes but nevertheless don’t mind ratting out Trump’s phone calls as petty revenge. I’d say it’s the not so secretive but still behind the scenes state we have to worry about. Think the CFR or that Kristol guy. In other words if the term means anything it could be the secondary tier of influencers who have the ear of our MSM.

    1. sgt_doom

      Nothing theoretical about elements within the CIA (such as the fired Allen Dulles, and his still-in-the CIA cousin, Tracy Barnes — oopsy, Fake News never told you they were cousins, now did they?) — just requires a bit of reading and cross-referencing with declassified documents from the CIA, State and the FBI.

      Deep State is really the financial-intelligence-complex who believes they are running things — the intel establishment was originally founded by the super-rich and their minions (such as Lovett and McCloy, etc.). When JFK was assassinated the Deputy Director of the CIA was Gen. Marshall Carter, recommended to McCone for that position by Nelson Rockefeller. And the fellow in charge of the reorganization of the CIA at the same time was Gen. Schuyler, Nelson Rockefeller’s assistant.

      You just have to look a bit . . .

        1. James McFadden

          Some book recommendations about the deep state:

          C. Wright Mills “The Power Elite” – describes how the indoctrination mechanisms create the deep state (military industrial political complex).

          David Talbot “The Devil’s Chessboard” – about the rise of the CIA and Allan Dulles

          Laurence Shoup “Wall Street’s Think Tank” – about the Council on Foreign Relations – the deep state’s premier think tank

          Michael Parenti “Dirty Truths” – about empire

          John Perkins “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” – CIA coups and soft coups

          I’m sure other readers can recommend many more on this subject.

          1. Caveat Emptor

            The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government
            Mike Lofgren

            The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Attack on U.S. Democracy
            Peter Dale Scott

          2. sgt_doom

            I mean no disrespect to Mr. McFadden, but please skip Mills’ book — Mills was a redirection-type specialist and can easily be ignored, as his books describe the “accidental tourist” types, not to be taken seriously.

            Instead, Ferdinand Lundberg’s book, The Rich and the Super-Rich, both a classic and Prof. Lundberg aptly describes the shortcomings of Mills.

            1. James McFadden

              @sgt_doom regarding “Mills was a redirection-type specialist and can easily be ignored, as his books describe the “accidental tourist” types, not to be taken seriously.”

              Don’t know where Mr. Doom pulled that non sequitur – probably from where the sun doesn’t shine.

              Mills’ work as a sociologist investigating the social structure of American power is considered a classic. I would put “The Power Elite” in the top ten books to read if one is interested in how American power and politics function. Mills’ work is cited by numerous authors including Chris Hedges, Michael Hudson, Andrew Bacevich, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Chalmers Johnson, Jane McAlevey, David Talbot, Tariq Ali, Barbara Ehrenreich, Micky Huff, etc. I decided to tackle his book after seeing his name pop up over and over as I read these authors and others. The idea that Mills’ work should not be taken seriously is absurd. I can only imagine that Mr. Doom is speaking from ignorance and never actually read “The Power Elite.”

          3. EWilliams

            Of the same vintage as C Wright Mills is David Wise’s, “The invisible Government” (1964). He was one of the first to expose the very active role of the CIA in foreign policy.

            About a month after Obama was inaugurated there was a coup in Honduras. After the coup, deposed president Zelaya gave an interview to Amy Goodman. He didn’t think Obama was responsible; the operation had been planned before Obama came into office, and Obama had been powerless to stop it. Zelaya thought it was the CIA (or the deep state or the invisible government) that pulled off the coup. He said, “The United States is an Empire. Obama is the president of the United States, but he is not the chief of the empire.” Now that the shoe is on the other foot, we hope DJT does not become the chief of the empire.

        2. nonsense factory

          There are a couple of books by Dan Briody that are very illuminating about how Deep State actors in government interface with corporate agendas:
          The Halliburton Agenda: The Politics of Oil and Money (2004)
          The Iron Triangle: Inside the Secret World of the Carlyle Group (2003)

          I think of the Deep State as the military-industrial-intelligence-Congressional long-term national-security complex that grew up after World War II, there are perhaps four major elements:
          (1) military and intelligence contractors who rely on the massive $600 billion military budget for their profits.
          (2) executive branch bureaucrats who develop the contracts that are delivered to contractors (State/Pentagon/CIA/NSA/NRO/FBI/DOE etc.)
          (3) Congressmembers (long-serving) on appropriations, intelligence, etc. committees who sign off on budget requests.
          (4) Elements of mass media and think tanks who work overtime to promote the interests of the Deep State elements of the above actors.

          It’s a kind of self-perpetuating system that’s primary agenda is to keep their budget from being cut by a healthy 50% – which is what we’d need to do to rebuild infrastructure, set up high-quality public education, and create a first-world health care system, i.e. to get up to German or Japanese standard-of-living norms.

          Some have also pointed out that there’s an element of the judicial branch that can be included in “Deep State” definitions (such as FISA Court); note that judicial review of executive foreign policy decisions is very rare in the American court system.

          It’s also factionalized; i.e. there’s the nuclear weapons sector (DOE/NNSA and their contractors), the various Pentagon branches and their suppliers, NSA and their contractors, CIA and their contractors, etc. So they compete with each other for a share of the pie, but they all have a shared interest in preventing the overall pie from shrinking.

      1. jo6pac

        Please a little help as Direction ask just to get us started. The dulles bros were truly evil and have trained their puppets well.

      2. Vatch

        he intel establishment was originally founded by the super-rich and their minions (such as Lovett and McCloy, etc.).

        Wow, Robert Lovett and John J. McCloy. For about three decades they were at the pinnacle of the United States Establishment. They were like Sejanus during the reign of Tiberius or Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. Very, very influential behind the scenes.

    2. DH

      Yeah, and they totally missed Davos.

      I always thought the original deep state was the networks of the Knights Templar, Masons, and Illuminati.

      However, I was wrong – according to the definitions above, it is probably Treadstone and Blackbriar.

  2. Enquiring Mind

    Rex Tillerson’s dealing with the seventh floor apparatchiks at the State Department is another productive step in calling out the nomenklatura. Russian themes seem so popular these days.

  3. Cat's paw

    Perhaps helpful to know the original provenance of the term…it comes from Turkish journalism when one fine evening a sedan was involved in a nasty wreck. Passengers in said sedan included a high ranking military official, a state or federal(?) representative/official, a crime boss, and a beauty queen.

    My understanding: trying to comprehend what such a collection of worthies were doing in the same car led journalists to coin the term deep state. A networked web of power interests/relations across sectors and institutions that operate beyond above below out of sight of normative or visible politics.

    1. neo-realist

      I checked out that article from a previous post of the link and thought it was a very valuable, terrific and detailed explanation of Deep State theories w/ some fine literature recommendations.

    2. Grebo

      The totality of truths is that the US “elephant” consists of a power elite hierarchy overseeing a corporatocracy, directing a deep state that has gradually subverted the visible government and taken over the “levers of power.”

      Complete with tables and diagrams! A must read IMHO.

  4. Qufuness

    People within the American Deep State are said to have compassed the removal of General Flynn, who was a prominent member of DS organizations himself, so yes, the DS is not a monolith. But are there powerful “permanent” factions with the DS that pursue long-term strategies?

    There is another way of asking this. Much of what is now labelled “DS” grew out of the investment-banker+intelligence nexus in the immediate postwar period, or at least came to the surface around that time. America has made a series of disastrous unforced errors in the past 70 years, Vietnam and Iraq being the most prominent examples. While these errors have been harmful to the American people at large, is there a clique (besides the Military Industrial Complex) that benefits from these “errors,” that has far-reaching goals that completely diverge from those of American constitutional democracy?

    1. Minh

      Both Kennedy’s and Diem brothers’ assasinations and 911 mass murders were deep events to sell and organize war for the Empire part of American democracy. Not mentioning Peter Dale Scott is a minus of the listing of properties. What does the Deep state did ? 911 and JFK so Afghan Iraq and Vietnam wars.

    2. ex-PFC Chuck

      It’s my understanding that the investment banking crowd served as the government’s intelligence arm on an informal, sub rosa basis well before WW II. Prescott Bush, GHWB’s father, was involved in that.

  5. Mark P

    Lambert, there is a Deep State in the U.S. as distinct from the mere ruling class (and yes, by definition, it has competing factions and power centers at different agencies).

    A clarifying example of that is this guy, Andy Marshall, aka Yoda, who arguably had more effect on the direction of U.S. policy than any U.S. president over the last half-century and was finally removed from heading the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment just before his 95th birthday. That’s power.

    Yet most people have never heard of Marshall and he never enriched himself particularly. You won’t be able to tell the influence he exerted from his Wiki page either, except perhaps for the mention of Marshall ‘proteges’ being the likes of Rumsfeld, Cheney, etc. Furthermore, before Nixon installed him at the Pentagon, in the 1950s and 60s Marshall was at the RAND corporation helping to formulate nuclear strategy.

    Here’s an old trove of press material from over the years.

    1. Emma

      Interesting. And taking into account the comment from Cat’s Paw above, I’d suggest to Lambert there are two distinct components to the term ‘Deep State’. One element comprises the majority ie. the facilitators who foster the deep state, while the other element consists of the all-important minority ie. the instigators or ‘deep state en nom propre’.

  6. michael hudson

    I think the key to the “Deep state” is simply COVERT.
    It is all covert activities that a public relations officer for the neocons and neoconservatives would not acknowledge in their fairy-tale view of the state.

    1. Josh Stern

      Technical note – for CIA/Pentagon, a *covert* activity is something that is known, but where US influence or the extent of that is supposed to stay hidden – e.g. a coup d’etat. And a *clandestine activity* is something where the entire activity is supposed to stay hidden – e.g. CIA running Heroin and Cocaine, unlicensed human experimentation, or controlling the editorial desk & ownership if the Washington Post. In that sense, the clandestine activity are even deeper, and the set of people in the know, is even smaller.

      1. Jim Haygood

        barely subject to democratic accountability, if they’re subject to it at all” — Glenn Greenwald

        The $50 billion-plus black budget for the IC, covering many clandestine projects and activities, is not even subject to Congressional accountability. It is discussed verbally with the majority and minority leaders, and the ranking members of the intelligence committees.

        Then the other 427 members (or at least a majority of them) are obliged on instructions from their caucus to whoop it through, without a clue (or even a right to ask) what is in it. To paraphrase the great stateswoman Nancy Pelosi, “We have to pass it to avoid finding out what’s in it.

        Secret funding via this procedure is unconstitutional and illegitimate. Yet neither the president, the judiciary, nor anyone in Congress appears able to stop it. The IC is a fourth-stage cancer devouring the guts of the former republic.

        1. Josh Stern

          Secret funding is a huge unknown. Everything from mostly legitimate front companies, to business donations for favors, to drug running. One would think, incorrectly, that the drug running is some kind of big secret…the following links show it is not:
          Collection of quotes from DEA agents, John Kerry, etc:

          Video with Robert Bonner, ex-head of DEA, on 60 minutes in 1993, just after he stepped down:

        2. Crazy Horse

          50 billion? That is just the cost of coffee and donuts. A week before 911 Rumsfeld acknowledged that 2.3 TRILLION dollars was missing and unaccounted for in the DOD budget.

          ” CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales reports, while its own auditors admit the military cannot account for 25 percent of what it spends.
          “According to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions,” Rumsfeld admitted.
          $2.3 trillion — that’s $8,000 for every man, woman and child in America. To understand how the Pentagon can lose track of trillions, consider the case of one military accountant who tried to find out what happened to a mere $300 million.
          “We know it’s gone. But we don’t know what they spent it on,” said Jim Minnery, Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

          Conveniently the accounting records that might have made possible an investigation of that little error were located in Building 7 of the WTC and in the exact section of the Pentagon which the skilled Saudi pilots targeted and and then vaporized their airliner leaving only a few token pieces on the lawn.Of course 911 is ancient history that nobody cares about anymore. Apparently we are in need of another accounting cleansing, since the Inspector General reports that an additional 6.5 TRILLLION has gone missing since then.

        3. ex-PFC Chuck

          Susan Lindauer, in her memoir of her role as a CIA asset serving as a go-between in the failed negotiations to avert the Iraq War (Extreme Prejudice: The Terrifying Story of the Patriot Act and the Cover Ups of 9/11 and Iraq), recounts that in the desperate last few weeks before March 20, 2003, she was paying her considerable expenses out-of-pocket. Her handler was having trouble getting her reimbursement approved, and by the time he did she was making a pest of herself about the fact that the negotiations had been deliberately sabotaged, and had become a pariah. At that point the handler had no difficulty, not to mention compunction, about simply stiffing her and diverting the funds to the McMansion he was building.

          How much of that $50B black budget is similarly diverted?

        4. JTFaraday

          The upshot of which is that “ruling class” is not an adequate short hand descriptor. Nor “permanent government,” which I use from time to time. Hence “deep state.”

          If using that term gets more of the security state– occluded behind increasingly circus like electoral politics– out into the open, is that really a problem?

      2. Elasmo Branch

        “Covert” means the activity is against the law. “Clandestine” means the activity is secret but within the confines of the law. The military undertakes clandestine activity authorized by law, not covert activity. A US soldiers cannot break the law. On the other hand paramilitary activity is often covert.

        For example, a US soldier on a clandestine mission is captured. Since the soldier is acting legally, albeit in secret, he is afforded all of the rights as a prisoner of war if he id’s himself as a US soldier in uniform, name, rank, serial number. A CIA agent [likely a contractor and not a gov’t employee] is captured on a covert mission, he can be summarily executed, legally, on the spot for a number of reasons: conducting warfare in civilian clothes and not in uniform, espionage, piracy, etc. There is grey area, for instance, if soldiers ingress to an area in civilian clothes [or the enemy’s uniform] then put on their own uniforms before conducting an attack, as the SS did in the Ardenne.

      1. steelhead23

        I don’t see the Deep State as monolithic at all. And yes, the overarching ideology is neocon, American Exceptionalism, but behind that is hubris. High ranking military officers and experienced intelligence officers hold a kind of professional disdain for the political class. Largely, they believe the political class caused the loss in Viet Nam and other embarrassments, and they are determined not to let that happen again. It is that mind-set that is the gateway to the Deep State. There likely are small cadres of these men and women who collude to shape U.S. policy, but it is the ideology that unites them – and we will never know who they are, but the Kochs may. I also remind everyone that the CIA, or its rogue operatives, ran drugs for decades (Gen. Richard Secord), an operation that defied Congress and the rest of the political class. In their minds, these folks knew what had to be done – and they did it.

        1. steelhead23

          I also suspect that conservative religious organizations, like Opus Dei, provide a bit of organizational structure to the Deep State, but that’s just conjecture. They both tend to view their more liberal superiors with disdain.

  7. NotSoSure

    Don’t forget the final property of Deep State: “No objections to Goldman Sachs”. At least in that one they see eye to eye with Trump.

    1. andyb

      Ah; the supreme bankster, aka the Giant Squid. Once you examine the connection among the various assassination attempts (both failed and successful) of Jackson, Lincoln, Garfield. McKinley, JFK, Reagan, you’ll find the common denominator of the Red Shield whose banking agenda was anathema to the affected Presidents. Wilson’s treasonous act establishing the FED and rushing it through Congress at a time when many of the politicians needed for legal ratification were absent, is minutely examined in the Creature from Jekyll Island, a must read for all.

  8. ebr

    No Illuminati ? — but I jest.

    It would be good if we could separate ‘what is the deep state’ and ‘what are the factions of the deep state’ and ‘who belongs to the deep state’ I suspect that Cambridge Analytics & their Facebook scraping could answer the question ‘who belongs to the deep state’ as they could they easier track a social network of people more loyal to each other than to the US Gov or the POTUS of the day. Asking the ‘Deep State’ to define itself could be an exercise in futility as members of the ‘Deep State’ likely mix ideology & the opportunity to make money in ways that blind them to the full implications of their actions.
    Slate magazine today had an article up of a doctor who tried the revolving door and then wrote about it
    If you all need a fun book to read, try Interface by Neal Stephenson (written after Snow Crash and before Cryptonomicon)

    1. UserFriendly

      IMO: Deep State: Anyone who will be in DC regardless of who is president and can still have some degree of power. They are sometimes well known people like Neera Tanden and sometimes they work in the IC. They are the people who no matter how many times they fuck up, destroy lives, lose a campaign, or completely fail at whatever task they are given, they can always count on a nice cushy paycheck and a new gig where they can [Family Blog} it up some more. The entire class of DC insiders who just can’t fail down no matter what.

      1. JTFaraday

        Neera Tanden is a bootlicker. She can be gone tomorrow.

        And Hillary Clinton herself is only somewhat less temporary.

  9. Carla

    A couple more books of interest: “National Security and Double Government” by Michael J Glennon (2014) and “The Deep State” by Mike Lofgren (2016).



    The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government by David Talbot

    The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil, and the attack on U.S. Democracy by Peter Dale Scott

    The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government by Mike Lofgren

    Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World by Tom Engelhardt and Glenn Greenwald

    Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer

    Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky

    The New Media Monopoly: A Completely Revised and Updated Edition With Seven New Chapters by Ben H. Bagdikian

    They Rule: The 1% VS. Democracy by Paul Street

    NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe (Contemporary Security Studies) by Daniele Ganser

    An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King (Updated Edition) by William F. Pepper

    The True Story of the Bilderberg Group by Daniel Estulin

    JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters by James W. Douglass

    9/11 Ten Years Later: When State Crimes Against Democracy Succeed by David Ray Griffin (2011)

    JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy by Fletcher L. Prouty (2011)

    The Secret Team: The CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World by Fletcher L. Prouty (2011)

    Mounting Evidence: Why We Need A New Investigation Into 9/11 by Paul W. Rea (2011)

    The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War by Peter Dale Scott (2013)

    JFK-9/11: 50 Years of Deep State by Laurent Guyenot (2014)

    All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power by Nomi Prins (2014)

    The Orwellian Empire by Gilbert Mercier (2015)

    The Hidden Structure of Violence: Who Benefits from Global Violence and War
    by Marc Pilisuk (2015)

    Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World (American Empire Project) by David Vine (2015)

    The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins (2016)

    The End of the Republic and the Delusion of Empire by James Petras (2016)

    Two web sites:

    Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth:

    Patriots Question 9/11 – Responsible Criticism of the 9/11 Commission Report:

    1. Jim Haygood

      Excellent list.

      Don’t forget the late, great Chalmers Johnson, who coined the term blowback and left us with guides such as The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic.

        1. sgt_doom

          No offense, sir, but Chalmers was most decidedly one of the redirection specialists, pointing away from the target, meaning to confuse and bewilder people.

          In every single interview I ever heard with him, he was always blaming the grunt, the foot soldier, always diverting attention away from his patrician class!

          1. James McFadden

            Where does Mr. Doom come up with this “redirection specialist” BS. First he accuses C. Wright Mills, now Chalmers Johnson.

            Clearly he has not read Johnson’s brilliant trilogy – Blowback, Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis. Johnson’s analysis describes and explains American imperialism, our empire of bases, and the blowback from that military industrial complex strategy. Johnson’s peak behind the military’s curtain during his early years as an expert analyst on Japan and China provides a deep understanding of the evolution of American military policies and its basis in ideologies of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny. His deep understanding of history allows him to put American policy in context and outline why the US is on path not unlike USSR, which collapsed for 3 reasons: 1. internal economic contradictions driven by ideological rigidity, 2. imperial overstretch, 3. an inability to reform. If you want to understand the military-petroleum complex, then you should read Chalmers Johnson.

    2. dbk

      Yes, thanks for that list, much appreciated.

      As long as we’re on the subject, more or less, I have a question about Dark Money (I’m reading Mayer’s book these days) and the Deep State: Do they overlap, or are they rivals? Or are their goals sometimes in sync and sometimes at odds with one another?

      Another way of posing this question is this: If we assume that the President is not the preference of the Deep State, are we also to assume he was not the preference of Dark Money?

      I’m having a hard time figuring out who’s going after whom these days, and what short- and long-term objectives are being fought out, almost – but not quite – before our eyes.

      Here’s a case from a different field, education, which is the one I follow most closely. A blogger has recently identified the “blueprint” for the new Sec of Education to follow, laid out in a planning document by a Dark Money group which is below the radar (well, below my radar, anyway). It’s pretty clear that the Sec is their cabinet member, but are there others? Were these appointments made in the form of favors called in? For what, though, if the Pres isn’t part of this network?

      The Sec of Education, it emerged in the course of contentious hearings, had contributed to no less than 23 Republican Senators’ campaign war chests. What are we to conclude about them?

      Anyway, here’s the link to the post (link to the actual document through it – it was removed from the organization’s own site, so is no longer available there):

    3. Josh Stern

      Another good book to mention, which plays a different role, is “Legacy of Ashes” by Tim Weiner. It covers a lot of CIA dirt – coups, assassinations, defying/lying to Presidents, etc. – but it is different because basically all of it is drawn from the CIA’s own files. So it is purely historical and outside of any “conspiracy” controversy. The files are not complete. Richard Helms ordered the most incriminating ones destroyed in a giant purge in the early ’70s – this is described in the book too. But what is there and was saved is often pretty dirty.

      Scott Noble’s film series is entertaining on free video:

    4. Persona au gratin

      To add: Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years, by Russ Baker (2010).

    5. Kim Kaufman

      Imo, a must read: Operation Gladio: The Unholy Alliance Between the Vatican, the CIA and the Mafia by Paul Williams. I think it’s newer than most of the books above and connects a lot of dots.

    6. peter

      I’ve always throught that ‘Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’ should be mandatory on high school curriculum as a speed course on intellectual self-defense.

      1. George S

        I completely agree. It was a consciousness-raising book for me, maybe THE book (influential along with some of the reporting in the early 1980s about our support for death squads in Central America). Chomsky preferred the term “national security state,” and the term did encompass much more than the alphabet agencies.

        By the way, I’ve long wondered what values the “values voters” are talking about when lauding “traditional American values.” Faith? Nothing uniquely American there. Hard work? Nope. Family? Please. For a uniquely American value, how about “get there before the other guy.” (And if some other guy is there already, feed him whisky or burn him and his family in his home.) These are certainly (though not exclusively) corporate values, and they are and long have been central to the core American project. Maybe “deep tissue state” is a better term, referring to an order that starts with the oligarchy–which isn’t so “deep”–and percolating down to the enablers who worship them–i.e., many in the general public–because they still believe they’ll be rich someday.

    7. nobody

      Another for the list:

      Conjuring Hitler: How Britain and America Made the Third Reich, by Guido Giacomo Preparata

      1. nobody

        Three essays by Charles Hollander: “Pynchon’s Inferno,” “Pynchon’s Politics: The Presence of an Absence,” and “Pynchon, JFK and the CIA: Magic Eye Views of The Crying of Lot 49.”

      2. nobody

        No bibliography on this subject would be complete without Carroll Quigley’s The Anglo-American Establishment.

    8. VK

      You probably would like to browse through and read the articles written by Robin Ramsay e.a. for years, who have dedicated their whole site and magazine to the study of “deep state” and “deep politicas”, (primarily british affairs).
      There’s a whole lot of stuff being reported or analized over the years…

  11. PlutoniumKun

    I would put it simpler and define a ‘Deep State’ as a major (i.e. not minority rogue) element within the existing government structures (or quasi-government structures) which is willing to commit serious illegal acts or unauthorised acts of violence within the territory of the State to achieve its aims independent of the legally constituted government. In other words, I’d not define it by its structure or nature, but by what it actually does.

    I’d define it this way to distinguish it from the sort of bureaucratic plotting which takes place within any large institution which finds itself led by someone who doesn’t buy into the organisations core consensus. An example I would use would be Operation Gladio. If Operation Gladio had simply operated as designed, as a secretive military operation which government leaders may not have been aware of, then it was not an example of Deep State. But if, as alleged (but never proved), it carried out acts of terrorism and false flag operations with the specific aim of forcing elected governments to do what they didn’t want to do, and this was part of a deliberate high level strategy (i.e. not just the act of a rogue element), then it would be an example of the Deep State at work within democratic western governments.

    Put into contemporary terms, if the internal resistance to Trump takes the form of leaks, internal manoeuvres to slow down his agenda, etc., then that is ‘normal’ bureaucratic operations. If it takes the form of blackmail, false flag terrorist attacks, assassinations, etc., then it is the Deep State in operation.

    Given that we know parts of the US and allied intelligence communities have for decades been involved in highly illegal operations around the world which has included torture, murder, blackmail and high level assassinations, is it really so far fetched that there is an element willing to do the same thing within the US?

    1. Greg Taylor

      Defining “Deep State” by its actions is appealing. Would the military veto of Kerry-negotiated ceasefire in Syria count? Some officers acted without apparent authority and were not reprimanded as a result. Would this have transpired “within the territory of the State” and, thus, meet this definition? Should it?

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Thats an interesting question. There can be a fine line between bureaucratic infighting and actual illegal and anti-democratic actions. On my definition I would say ‘no’, its not Deep State in that the actions were insubordinate and dangerous, but they took place outside the US so arguably were more the result of a power struggle between government factions. It was the result I think of Obama’s weakness as a leader, not an actual Deep State action.

  12. Quentin

    Wouldn’t any so-called Deep State be supported by factions in Congress? Sure. For instance, John McCain is in my view the epitome of the Deep State, one of its chief representatives, out in the open, a vanguard. The Clintons too, doubtless, though now outside government. If Congress gives no pushback, it bestows tacit/active agreement. Congress can rescind the privileges and power of all the organisations observers ascribe to the Deep State. So what’s so mysterious? The notion of a Deep State’s existence might just serve as a way to avoid responsibility, accountability, deny agency. Some shadowy bunch is running things, anything else new? On the other hand think tanks, contractors and subcontracters are less easily kept in place. Yet Congress can put an end to prisons for profit and erase one element of the deception, reduce the numbers if security clearances by defunding, etc. not things were are about to do. Eminence grise, one two buckle my shoe…

    1. sgt_doom

      McCain is too stupid. To better understand the Deep State, one must go a bit higher up the ladder.

      Look into the membership of the Bretton Woods Committee — the lobbyist group for the international super-rich (, and the Group of Thirty (

      Once you understand these two groups, you’ll be more aware.

      1. Persona au gratin

        Loved the Group of Thirty pictorials on their home page. I counted exactly one genuine person of color (aka, “token negro”) among the melange, with a handful of “half and halfs” of former British colonial heritage who of course have had time to assimilate and duly “see the light” as to the wisdom of continued perpetual white northern European supremacy. As for the few token Asians, they’ll come around soon enough as well, although they ARE amazing students, aren’t they?

  13. Steve H.

    We can avoid definite articles, but this is a defining article, and could become the definitive article.

    The most curious fact is that the phrase is showing up in the msm. I take it as confirmation of Lambert’s point: ‘Factional conflict within the deep state exists!’

  14. roger gathmann

    I always attributed the use of the word to Peter Dale Scott. The Turkish phrase seems to me more of a parallel usage than the place from which the phrase is derived. In my cursory reading, the phrase originated in conspiracy theory – particularly around the assassination of JFK. I am not using conspiracy theory in a disparaging sense, since I don’t think a belief in conspiracies (which is legally recognized, and was long one of the great themes of political science, from Aristotle to Montesquieu) is per se disqualifying. Scott, in the preface to Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, has a good take on the prototype of the Deep State – in his theory, there is always a deep political practice that is unacknowledged officially. For instance, Tammany New York of the late 19th century operated, on the surface, according to the legal order with a mayor and a bureaucracy, etc., but in practice, it was run by an elaborate system of kickbacks and the investment of certain private players with enormous governmental power. The Deep State, under this p.o.v., shouldn’t be confused with bureaucrats and those invested with public power, but instead, is a collaboration between such bureaucrats and those in private positions who retain unacknowledged public power. To quote Scott: ” A deep political system or process is one which habitually resorts to decision making and enforcement procedures outside as well as inside those publicly sanctioned by law and society.” By this definition, the endorsement of Trump by the National Border Patrol Council and the way in which, under Obama, certain Border Patrol officials sought to impede or change processes for taking in and giving due process to refugees are evidences of a deep political process.

    1. Cat's paw

      Well, Scott’s Deep Politics is published in 93. The Turkish term Deep State appears in print around 96 (maybe as late as 98–I’d have to look around for a cite). While the terms are relatively synonymous they are by no means equal. Best I can tell, Scott’s starts using the word Deep State widely in the mid-2000’s.

      Additionally, as I’ve come to understand it the term did not originate in conspiracy theory. Rather the term was picked up by conspiracy theorists from Turkish journalism as a useful shorthand for the alleged (and hidden) events and actors they were trying to describe. Personally, not that it matters, I think it’s important to keep the original usage/meaning in mind. 1. b/c it was coined to describe a real yet inexplicable event–not speculation or a theory of some conspiracy: i.e., the JFK assassination. Wherein agents of military, representative government, and criminality (along with a “bimbo” straight out of central casting) who have no legitimate business doing business were obviously doing business–but what kind of business? Who knows, that’s why it’s Deep. 2. The term itself can easily drift into being an amorphous, ill-defined, but overdetermined and overly unified signifier on the order of “cabal” which is likely to happen anyway now that its wound its way into common parlance.

      I may just be quibbling, but I don’t see deep political processes like Tammany or Border Patrol shenanigans as being of the same phenomena as the so-called Deep State. Deep State would usually imply elements of the military or, more especially, elements of the security apparatus (public and private) at times coordinating with, at other times interfering with, known political/institutional actors, corporate power, and criminal concerns that might involve money laundering or drug and human trafficking. As most here are noting, it is factional and adversarial–a network of several or many discreet entities that coordinate, align, and conflict according to shifting interests. It’s paralegal, parapolitical, paraeconomic (or paramarket), and parainstitutional.

      And all of that to say that such a definition is wholly contingent upon there being empirical and on-going phenomena which corresponds approximately to the term itself.

    2. Yves Smith

      Lambert debunked Scott’s sloppy and internally inconsistent analysis, per the link he provided at the very top of the post. That’s why he kept arguing against its use.

  15. DonCoyote

    Thanks Lambert. Here’s a bit more grist for this particular mill/passages from the rabbit hole (depending on what set of metaphors you like)

    1) Paranoia, a tabletop RPG game from the 80’s. “The game’s main setting is an immense, futuristic city called Alpha Complex. Alpha Complex is controlled by The Computer, a civil service AI construct…The Computer employs Troubleshooters, whose job is to go out, find trouble, and shoot it. Player characters are usually Troubleshooters…The player characters frequently receive mission instructions from the Computer that are incomprehensible, self-contradictory, or obviously fatal if adhered to, and side-missions (such as Mandatory Bonus Duties) that conflict with the main mission…each player character is generally an unregistered mutant and a secret society member (which are both termination offenses in Alpha Complex), and has a hidden agenda separate from the group’s goals, often involving stealing from or killing teammates.”

    So: big on non-monolithic, also big on double/triple identities (troubleshooter/mutant/secret society), which we associate with the intelligence agencies, but also with revolving door politicians/lobbyists.

    2) The “incomprehensible/self-contradictory/conflict with the main mission” made me think of seven/eleven/twelve (depending on scholarship/personal preference) chess, most recently attributed to BHO–that is, actions who on the surface don’t seem to make sense given the situation, but which conspiracy theorists/true believers think are actually directed at a future/buried/hidden/alternative problem. Although this would seem to fit better with at least a semi-monolithic Deep Society, because it is strategy, and a non-monolithic Deep Society would presumably be less organized/more tactically inclined.

    3) The Final Reflection, and especially the Klingon “equivalent” of chess, klin zha , and it’s reflective version. Reflective klin zha is played with only one set of pieces. “The Reflective is not so much a variation but a strategic approach to an otherwise tactical game…Once set up, the first to place is also the first to move. During each turn, the player chooses one piece, making all others the enemy. The player who captures the Goal on his turn is the victor.” So I kill a piece protecting (next to) the goal, but on your turn you now control that piece, use it to capture the goal, and beat me.

    So: a smaller (but still non-monolithic) Deep State, with a large unitary set of “pieces” (the non-Deep State?). Again, while there are two sides playing, they are both using the same pieces to try to do the same thing, and they only have “control of the board” some of the time.

    So my takeaways: non-monolithic (and especially more than two sides), partial control (whether because of multiple/hidden identities or non-monolithic is unknown), and given the pathetic state of most of our media, most motives are “hidden”, at least from casual view (cf for the media’s “hidden” motives in today’s links

  16. susan the other

    Here’s a reminder (from NC a while back). It is a waste of time to deliberate over the existence of the deep state. What’s important is participating in a state – a society – that is well run; where inequality is always exposed; where propaganda is always obvious. It’s impossible to define “the deep state.” I think Lambert was right when he said the definition of the deep state always turned out to be a big hairball.

    1. hemeantwell

      I agree with the spirit of what you’re saying, but try this: I think that factional conflict, occurring during periods of systemic strain/crisis, is what leads otherwise contented and inertial sections of the state to act in ways that require concealment, either of actor or action. Reading a bit from the Glennon book linked above, wherein he makes much of Bagehot, reminded me of how the French political system used to be described as having something like a bureaucratic ballast keeping the ship of state from capsizing. That sort of conservative, continuity-maintaining function can grow claws, and that’s what we’re seeing now, particularly when US elites are trying to cobble a revised foreign/imperial policy to deal with China and Russia and the president is having trouble intoning the verities of US exceptionalism.

  17. barrisj

    Well, that lengthy disquisition seems to indeed “validate” – as it were – the “deep state” terminology if not its epistemological derivation(s)…at the very least, readers keeping to the various formulae offered for “correct usage” won’t be whacked upside their haids by the moderators if the term appears in a comment.

  18. JTMcPhee

    Maybe worth a footnote or something? Is Charlie Wilson “deep state” in any way? And his apparently occasional bed partner, Joanne Herring?

    How about those little quiet gatherings of the Koch-convened sort, that attract so little “press” attention, at Palm Springs and etcetera? Is the “deep state” limited to Great Game and globalism, or is the long steady erosion of even the myth of “democracy” and the transformation of that word into its opposite, via the efforts of all those very small number of people who profit from killing public education and regulatory capture and ascension to elected positions in everything from little town councils and school boards to state legislatures and statehouses, constitute part of what might qualify as some sort of “deep state?” ALEC is not on everyone’s tongue, after all, but the power the people in it exert, through long application, sure forks over a whole lot of what maybe most people would think of as “the general welfare” and “public goods.” IS Davos “over?” Is Bilderburg?

    Interesting how many of what would seem to me to be deep-staters are tied to Afghanistan, and of course Israel. One might even posit the Israelites have their own deep state, that has interlocking membership with players and factions and elements of the unelected and maybe public but mostly invisible thing that the phrase calls up in the minds of many of us.

    Having named the demon, if there is ever any agreement on a name and frame, does that give us mopes any power over the demon, or just another opening for its immanence in our sad little lives?

    1. integer

      The first step would seem to be forcing the demon out from the shadows and into the sunlight so everyone can get a good look at it. I imagine it will then lash out with everything it has like a cornered animal, which will harden public opinion against it, and then it will be game on for real. A very dangerous game, to be sure, but what is the alternative?

      1. JTMcPhee

        What ever happened to the Stasi?


        The Stasi was the official state security service of East Germany, the German Democratic Republic or GDR. The Stasi motto was “Schild und Schwert der Partei” (Shield and Sword of the Party). “The Party” was the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany. The main job of the Stasi was to prevent opposition to the Party.

        It was one of the most effective and ruthless secret police agencies in the world.[2][3][4][5][6][7] The Stasi headquarter was in East Berlin, with a group of buildings in Lichtenberg and several other buildings in Berlin.

        One of its main tasks was spying on the people, through a vast network of citizens who were informants (“snitches”). Informants were paid, or given favours for this.

        The Stasi also worked as an intelligence agency abroad, using espionage and covert operations in foreign countries. Under its long-time head Markus Wolf it got a reputation as one of the most effective intelligence agencies of the Cold War. After German reunification in 1990, many Stasi officials were prosecuted for their crimes. The files that the Stasi had kept on millions of East Germans were laid open. Now citizens can see their personal files on request; these files are kept by the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives.

        So it can happen, to part of the Thing at least, in some circumstances possibly not repeatable…

  19. Horsewithnoname

    From [Charles Hugh Smith, 02/2014]
    I have been studying the Deep State for 40 years, before it had gained the nifty name “deep state.” What others describe as the Deep State I term the National Security State which enables the American Empire, a vast structure that incorporates hard and soft power–military, diplomatic, intelligence, finance, commercial, energy, media, higher education–in a system of global domination and influence.

    Back in 2007 I drew a simplified chart of the Imperial structure, what I called the Elite Maintaining and Extending Global Dominance (EMEGD):

  20. stockbrokher

    1. “Example: “The Iraq WMD’s yellowcake uranium episode was a Deep State Blooper.” (See here for details; the yellowcake uranium was part of the Bush administration’s WMD propaganda operation to foment the Iraq War.)”

    How is this an example of a blooper? It helped to achieve its intended goal. That it was exposed much later as a fabrication didn’t vitiate its effect.

    2. Surprised so many examples/references (especially here) but none with Wall Street as a primary Deep State actor. Read something revelatory ( to me, anyway) recently re the CIA ( post WWII) being engineered mostly by Wall Street for the sole purpose of protecting big U.S Corporate interests. Sorry no time to dig it up, but I’m sure others more knowledgeable can expound. (As SerenityNow notes, Scott’s book puts WS in the title.)

    1. Skip Intro

      Good points.
      What is interesting to me is the similarity of the modus operandi revealed in the yellowcake episode, where privileged information was ‘leaked’ to a tame ‘journalist’ to take out an enemy. In the case of the yellowcake, we generally accept the narrative that blowing Joe Wilson’s wife’s Non-Official Cover, but as part of a non-proliferation team, Valerie Plame was also in a position to directly interfere with WMD claims from the administration. OTOH, the WHIG and OVP are not very deep.
      In addition, it is easy to point to the Iraq debacle as a failure on the part of the ‘deep state’ that contrived it, but a more cynical view would consider that a quick victory is less profitable than a slow defeat. In that light, apparently glaring errors, like the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, may be understood to be insurance that has paid off with a successful insurgency, a weakened state where oil can be bought or taken without any pesky national government interference, and eventually, trained military leaders for IS, the next-gen enemy with actual ground troops and conquered territory.

      I was surprised that there wasn’t a reference to Ike’s warning about the Military Industrial Complex, which seems like the original American reference to an extra-democratic coalition of interests that could influence or control policy.
      Another milestone would be the Iran-Contra affair, where we heard North and Poindexter drooling over an ‘off the shelf operational capacity’ to circumvent constitutional control of foreign policy (a market niche now filled by Erik Prince and Blackwater/Xe/Academi). In connection with this scheme, we also witnessed intelligence officials colluding with arms merchants to influence a US election by arming enemies, as well as running drugs into the US to fund said independent foreign policy. I think the illegality is well established, as for killings within the US territory, we can ask Orlando Letelier.

    2. thoughtful person

      Michael Ruppert, I think it is, who had a blog called ‘from the wilderness’, wrote some about this wall st – deep state link in one of his books, Crossing the Rubicon. He claimed the cia is wall street, and wall street is the cia…

      “Wall Street” is, of course, like “the deep state” not a monolith.

      I would expand on Lambert’s number 4, above. “4. Is composed of “cross-institutional” networks of individuals in both state (agencies, law enforcement) and civil society (media, contractors)”

      To civil society, we need to include ceos of major corporations, (esp military contractors, banks, energy) private equity fund managers, the occasional billionaire, and the think tanks they fund.

      Occasionally, these actors appear more visibly. One example, iran-contra.

      One other thought, recently the article in scout about Cambridge Analytics was linked to, but the division in comments seemed to focus mostly on facebook. Facebook was just a means to days and serving up adds. The article was clear that there are plenty of other data sources available, and other ways to serve add to individuals than facebook. I was surprised not more was made of the billionaires who funded/own the company, and the implications for democracy (what little we have).

      As I see it, our present situation is likely one of two possibilities: one is that there is a split between two wings of the “deep state”, the cia wing that backed Clinton and is backing the “resistance/restoration” against the clique of billionaires who put trump in the white house. The other which I am currently thinking is more likely, is, as pointed out in the scout article, that a kind of coup against democracy is going on, and much of the anti-trump stuff out there is promoted by trumps billionaire supporters to distract from the real story, which is the end of democracy, and the rise of micro targeted propaganda.

  21. scraping_by

    Ran into an interesting passage in Kevin Phillips’s 1994 book Arrogant Capital: Washington, Wall Street, and the Frustration of American Politics. He speaks of an ‘iron triangle’ of politics, interest groups, and media that turns aside the cyclic outsider revolutions that would otherwise renew American political institutions. If Trump has this view of his populism, it makes sense he spends so much time disparaging the MSM; not just a celebrity feud, not just annoyance about bitchiness, but a reasoned effort to break an elite power tool.

    If Phillips’s iron triangle fits the description of a Deep State, and it can, this may be an actual conflict over principles and convictions. Because the elite believe deeply in their own position, and are convinced they’re doing God’s work.

  22. PhilM

    To me this is the kind of synthetic journalism that really sifts meaning from noise. And uniquely, on this site, the reading lists and comments are sophisticated and thoughtful additions and refinements, like the peer review offered from any scholarly community. This article is not definitive; but it could grow and grow, and then one could easily call it “seminal.” This is work that I happily pay for.

    From the history of the 1930s: one notes that for Heydrich to consolidate his bosses’ power over Germany, he felt it necessary to “declare war” on the existing German civil service in 1935–not just the police force, but the entire bureaucracy; and to seize control of the foreign intelligence services as well as the domestic. The only successful hold-out was the Abwehr, the military intelligence service, which succeeded in preserving its independence in a very much more closely circumscribed field.

    So Heydrich definitely felt there was a “state within the state” that needed to be co-opted and ideologically purified and above all surveilled, before Hitler’s power was secured. That, in my humble view, is what the “deep state” is. It’s the most important part of the question “quis custodiet custodes ipsos,” and why Plato had a philosopher king instead of just a bunch Guardians, and why a nobility requires a monarchy.

    1. integer

      Yes it’s great to see this issue being given the attention it deserves and being subjected to serious analysis by NC and the commentariat. Thanks Lambert!

    2. witters

      A philosopher king who was poor, lived on public provision, owned no property, had no family, and lived in accomodation from whom none could be forbidden. And so just & virtuous.

  23. Gman

    Only relatively recently having become aware of the term, ‘deep state’ I would assume, in its most basic form, it refers to those mostly ‘unseen’ and ‘unknown’ conservative we know best types who wield uninterrupted, often disproportionate influence without having to suffer the dreadful inconvenience or potential indignity of seeking a periodic democratic mandate.

  24. Watt4Bob

    It seems to me that there was a lot of talk about the birth of the DHS being the biggest reorganization of the federal government since the New Deal.

    That talk included concerns that Bush was putting thousands of dead-enders in bureaucratic positions, and that they would be impossible to remove in the future.

    From (May 2013);

    But here’s the strange thing: unlike the Pentagon, this monstrosity draws no attention whatsoever — even though, by our calculations, this country has spent a jaw-dropping $791 billion on “homeland security” since 9/11. To give you a sense of just how big that is, Washington spent an inflation-adjusted $500 billion on the entire New Deal.

    We’ve been talking around here about the breaking of rice bowls and its affect on the credentialed class, the implication being the hysterical, unorganized revolt of people who feel their well-being threatened by the rise of Trump.

    Bush II broke a lot of rice bowls when he leveraged the fearful post 9/11 environment to bring about the reorganization of the federal government under the DHS;

    From Legislating Civil Service Reform:
    The Homeland Security Act of 2002
    ; (emphasis mine)

    The Administration presents their strategy as one that requires them
    to have more control over federal personnel in order to provide national
    security and protect America. For example, President Bush argued that he needed the freedom “to put the right people at the right place at the right
    time to protect the American people.”

    The metaphor of physical placement—to “put” federal workers in particular places at particular times—is rationalized as a strategy to protect America,
    much like one would move a Bishop or Knight in a chess game to protect
    the King.

    This physical placement metaphor was also picked up by the news
    media. In one summary of the issues, an article in the Washington Post
    noted, “The White House wants to retain the ability to remove
    some employees from unions for national security reasons,” and “Bush
    wants the ability to move workers from one part of the department to
    another to meet rapidly changing needs.

    This metaphor of physical placement suggests that the Administration requires a particularly high degree of power and control over personnel,
    but that degree of power is presented as rational and justified in light of national security.

    To the extent that the audience is concerned about national security, then
    they are invited to see the Administration strategy—in this case,
    its need for power over personnel—as one that is consistent with that concern.

    From the same paper, the other side of the argument; (emphasis mine)

    Union leaders saw this issue in a different light; they disputed the details of the proposal and also questioned the motives behind them.
    Brian DeWyngaert, Assistant to the President of AFGE, saw the reforms
    as an attempt by the administration to weaken the civil service system, to shift from “public administration” to “political administration.”

    DeWyngaert cites a paper, written by two former Republican personnel
    management officials, that asserts, “The President can expect opposition
    from official Washington’s ‘permanent government
    ,’ a network that includes the career civil service, and its allies in Congress, the leaders of federal
    unions, and the chiefs of managerial and professional associations
    representing civil servants.”

    DeWyngaert expresses union distrust of the administration, arguing that
    the real goal of the administration was to “control what agencies do
    […] to change some of the personnel rules […] to the point where they are going to follow your line because you control their pay, their determination at will,
    their layoff.


    What I’m pointing out, is that what we’re calling the Deep State includes the “permanent government” mentioned above, and that in reorganizing the government under the control of the new DHS, the right, in the person of Bush II was attempting to replace a unionized, independent, New Deal flavored government bureaucracy with one that could be more easily controlled, because it was more politicized.

    I’m saying that both the democratic, and the republican wings of the republican party have made peace with the notion of a more politicized “permanent government”, and that more politicized “permanent government”, is now showing its loyalty to the status quo by doing what’s expected of it, joining the resistance.

    1. PhilM

      This is exactly what I think, too, and what Heydrich recognized in 1935: that a large government has a hive mind. Without the SD (“Security Services”), the SS, and the Nazi Party organization, he could never have bent that hive mind, made of all those entrenched, entitled, relatively law-abiding functionaries, to his will.

      Trump has none of those tools at his disposal, so there’s no reason to expect his lasting very long or getting much done.

      That’s what makes the hysteria about his being like Hitler so very misplaced. If Trump had an organization like the Nazi party hundreds of thousands strong, ready to die in the streets for him, with operatives ready to put into place to take over the management of the government effectively at all upper levels, it would be another matter. As it is, he’s grasping at straws from other talent pools. No wonder the bookies are giving him lower odds.

  25. schultzzz

    Chris Hedges, on his RT show, recently defined it almost exclusively in terms of big business. I think the quote was something very short like, “It’s Raytheon, Goldman, and Exxon!!!”

    Which complicates things, as Trump’s cabinet has reps from Goldman and Exxon in it.

    1. neo-realist

      On that tip more or less, I recall watching a video of Dick Gregory and Mark Lane talking about the MLK Assassination, and Gregory made a point of saying more or less that the intelligence apparatus doesn’t act unilaterally, but that it acts at the direction of the aristocrats, i.e., oligarchs, big business, etc. The aristocrats tells the apparatus to go after those governments and politicians that are acting against their interests.

      In a documentary called King–Montgomery to Memphis (GREAT DOCUMENTARY), Harry Belafonte said that when King antagonized the “money power” , he was pretty much marked for death.

  26. Anonymous

    Anecdotally, I was working with a former Senator at the time of the DHS formation who was still highly involved with the Bush administration. in fact Cheney had them on speed dial. I can tell you flat out that despite spouting the same garbage about freedom to reorganize on the fly, if you talked with them long enough the ability to fire employees at will ALWAYS ended up being the reason when anyone pinned him down about how departments would be reorganized on the fly. Very clearly it was about making sure that employees would know that they should show no integrity at all in doing their job most particularly in regards to either upholding the Constitution or recognizing the legal rights of any person, citizen of America or not.

  27. Dave in Austin

    Deep state versus deep government

    All modern states are bureaucratic. So the surface state which the public can replace, what we usually call “the government”, is underpinned by a deep and essentially invisible substrate of people and institutions. The characteristics of the deep government are 1) opaque bureaucratic decision-making and written output designed to mislead not inform, 2) invisibility because the press cant easily turn the story into a narrative with individuals who represent good and evil, and because the national press (NYT, WP, and even the WSJ) no longer reports the news but filters the policies to either spark outrage or encourage cooperation, 3) The deep government employees are smart, educated and have come up through the ranks (think Bob Gates). They are great people, fun to be with but often incredibly insular and sure that “You people out there don’t understand”. And they are often right about that. Don’t underestimate their knowledge.

    Under most conditions the surface government, the deep government and the parts of the deep state outside the government (ie the press) are in general agreement and work together smoothly. Today the surface state (President, congress and soon probably the courts) are trying to bring about change that the individuals within the deep government fundamentally disagrees with on issues like immigration, national self-sufficiency and overseas threats. All major changes (our entry into WWI and WWII, the civil rights movement, tax and subsidy law, Obama’s immigration program) generate resistance. Sometimes I agree with the deep, sneaky part of the government (entering WWII); other times, I don’t (Vietnam, Bush in Iraq, Obama’s immigration policy).

    Our deep state is like that of most democracies and differs from authoritarian deep states in a number of fundamental ways: 1) our military is adamantly apolitical. All officers take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution, not the government (in the late 1960s, as the military got sucked into domestic policing, many senior officers started reading and discussing the Constitution among themselves), 2) No U.S. deep state emerged out of our two formative struggles, the revolution and the Civil War . Much of the world (China, Russia and the colonies that became free in the 1950s and 60s) had a different history, 3) We have no ethnic and religious deep states- no Moslem Brotherhood, no Burmese Buddhist nationalist, although we do have passionate ethnic groups that prefer to operate out-of-sight (Jewish, Irish Catholic, Cuban, Indian to name a few) . 4) Countries that fight overseas wars or that fear internal revolutions all develop a deep state. All the ex-colonies that didn’t (Iraq, Egypt, Guatemala and a hundred more) had the weak state overthrown and replaced with a strong and deep state. In the US the first deep state hints came after WWI (not WWII) with large caches of unappropriated money going into the hands of Naval Intelligence (who do you think paid for the Flying Tigers?). The original sin of our liberal deep state was the campaign to get us into WWII. A good cause- and a terrible precedent.

    Finally, the deep government and the national elite are not the same. The deep government is largely a meritocracy filled with alert people who know which way the wind is blowing. If real Communists or real Fascists took over they would either stay inside, keep getting paid, and quietly try to undermine the new leaders or they would take early retirement. They don’t write biographies or make statements because they are essentially private people immersed in their private lives, what the Communists used to call Careerists. The national elites are something else. They either feel independent (the hereditary rich, celebrities and Trump and the self-made billionaires) or are the insecure product of upper middle class families, Ivy League and second-level private colleges and good social backgrounds. They work in large institutions they don’t own or control. The latter group wants to exercise power because it gives meaning to their otherwise uninteresting lives (think, academics, the non-profit sector and Federal judges). The self-made rich exercise power to become richer and because they love to control organizations that compete (Who owns all the NFL teams?). Both the deep state and the deep government are open to people of education, good breeding, ambition, discretion and good luck.

    Is there any way to fix this? Probably not but nobody seems to bother the countries that don’t do foreign adventures To roughly quote from the Bin Laden interview after 9/11, when he as asked “Why did you attack America?” he laughed and said “We didn’t attack Switzerland”. A better national press would help. If there are any billionaires out there interested in providing $100K salaries to real smart MBA students who like to dig, let me know. A few platoons of young I.F. Stones of various political hews might go a long way. But deep states are here to stay. The best we can do is monitor. analyze and publicize them.

    1. Patricia

      What a fascinatingly bland presentation, revering deep state careerists for their solid private lives and good-breeding, while others are power-hungry insecure product searching for a cure to their dullness.

      And calling for “platoons” of new IF Stones from among MBAs, of all places!

      Thanks for the entertainment.

    2. PhilM

      To me this is a systematic, thorough discussion adequately garnished by specific instances drawn from history and current events. It is thoughtful sociology. Moreover it is concluded by a prescription of exactly “What is to be done?” to improve the situation. Bravo.

      I’m sure because you are not waving the tricolor and carrying placards, there will be plenty to deride you. I always find your comments thoughtful and in many ways reassuring.

  28. Tomonthebeach

    As a retired member of the Deep State, I find it amusing at the imbecility of right- (or left) wing conspiracy nuts who can invent amazing chains of undermining collaboration across agency lines orchestrated by some powerful shadow demons.

    If federal employees were really that effective, there would be no private sector wage gap, the VA and DOD would share a seamless electronic record system, and Snowden would have the Medal of Freedom, and HRC’s fingerprints would have been all over the gun that killed Vince Foster.

    The Deep State, if you want to call it that, exists so the people get the support and services they need despite confusing and often conflicting legislation, presidential directives, and agency regulations.

    1. DH

      I generally apply Occam’s Razor to conspiracy theories. It is generally more likely that events occur due to incompetence, lack of attention, or emotional reactions than conspiracy. To pull a secret conspiracy off successfully over a long time, you need to be really smart, really focused and not have many people, otherwise it is no longer secret.

      The bigger the organization, the more likely you are to have a reversion to the mean of most of the population, and most people are more likely to turn a blind eye than participate in something that means they could lose their pension as well as getting home late for dinner.

      So the biggest issue that Trump has with the bureaucracy is how to manage Parkinson’s Law. He did in the private sector by running around saying “You’re fired” but he can’t do that to career civil servants.

      I am sure that there are a bunch of bureaucrat top dogs that don’t like the invasion of their turf. They are, after all, fundamentally political animals very jealous of their territory. Some of them might even talk to each other, but probably half of them despise the other half.

      The biggest threat to us is that we slowly acquiesce to security theater that quietly gets more and more invasive. The police etc. are the most likely to be organized as some sort of “deep state” as some departments already have an us vs. them attitude.

    2. JTMcPhee

      Tom, maybe one part of the bigger thing called “federal service” does that. I spent 13 years with the US EPA through the Reagan Revolution (and it was an amazing coup). A number of EPA employees, despite the threats of “RIFs” (reductions in force, or wholesale politically motivated firings), worked hard and quietly to do everything they could to slow the assault on “regulation” of sh!tty corporate behavior that threatened human health and the environment. There were a lot of go-alongs, usually later comers who were looking to get their resumes padded before moving to the dark side, but there were a lot who were serious in their commitment, and aware of their vulnerability, who continued to press for enforcement actions, regulations with teeth that required industries to spend money (“internalize”) to install process changes and end-of-pipe-or-stack controls (which often resulted in increased profits for the corpos who had an excuse and tax deductions to update their plants. And there was continued insistence on doing the data gathering that supported the proofs of harm that pollution and toxics cause. There was an ‘environmental justice” initiative despite the “f__k the poor” administration attitudes and policies, and a criminal enforcement operation that actually put corporate officers in jail and at least made them take notice of potential consequences. There are obviously still a lot of employees at EPA to take their mission to be protection of public health and the environment, preserving decades of data collection and soldiering on despite the “Mandate for Leadership” quackery and fear-and-loathing fomenting.

      But your limiting the definition as you do is incomplete at best. The state security overlords, the oligokleptocracy, and the other inimical factions and parties that have been described in this post and comments, seem to me the real nuts and bolts of what ‘deep state’ is getting at. Not the many federal employees who, despite all the sh!t that flows down from above and laterally from the culture inside and outside the agencies, actually try to do the job of “positive governance,” like a few people I have dealt with in the Social Security Admin, the VA, the CMS behemoth and a few others. I often wonder how people persist in those jobs and don’t burn out or get fired. I was close to both while doing my thing at EPA, 1980-90 (the Reagan years — I had two-plus with Carter as president before that, to see how a less hostile-to-regulation-in-the-best-sense admin might operate.

    3. integer

      Hard to take your comment seriously. Do you really think that the Deep State consists of federal employees who are concerned with VA and the rank and file of the DOD, or that they are interested in providing “support and services” to the people? I think it’s likely that your belief that you were part of the Deep State is incorrect.

      1. Vatch

        Employees of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, Commerce, and Education are also not part of the Deep State. As you pointed out, even in the DoD, the low and middle ranking employees aren’t part of it, either. I probably overlooked a couple of departments, also.

    4. Mel

      In an essay in Talking Moscow Blues, writing about Czechoslovakia, Josef Skvorecky called this “The Grey Zone”. It didn’t need overarching structure or direction. It was simply the set of government functionaries who would bend the official ideology (the Black and White) enough to do their jobs usefully, and benefit the community.

  29. Mothy

    No discussion of the Deep State would be complete without reading “Spooks,” by Jim Hougan. It was a seminal book written in 1980 (I believe) that introduced the notion of retiring IC operatives joining private company security apparati. Tell your compatriots you’re acting on behalf of the government and a patriot will do ANYTHING. “The Conversation” was a depiction of one of the main characters in the book who had previously wiretapped most of Manhatten back in the early Sixties; he worked for either Hoffa or the Kennedy brothers or both. Really an unbelievable book getting more and more difficult to find. Ironically– or not– I believe it was Hougan’s last piece of investigative journalism.

  30. No Idea

    We cross out “conducting killings” for the American context (or do we?).

    “Character assassination. What a wonderful idea. Ordinary assassination only works once, but this one works every day.”
    ― Terry Pratchett, The Truth

  31. Vatch

    “It’s called the ruling class because it rules.” –Arthur Silber

    The rulers are the ones who rule. The ruling class includes non-rulers who are in the same socio-economic class as most of the people who rule.

  32. buermann

    I’d always assumed the concept originated with Peter Dale Scott, who, before he wrote the book “The American Deep State”, used it all over the place in 2007’s “The Road to 9/11”. I’ve read neither but for excerpts, the concept merely referred to covert agencies acting outside the scope of democratic oversight — whether it’s local police departments running out of control torture squads and black sites or national intelligence agencies acting as the private armies of the executive. That such groups might oust a sitting executive is of course the heart and soul of all his conspiracy mongering about the JFK assassination (I like his poetry an awful lot, but I remember trying to get through Cocaine Politics and either the sources didn’t check out or they were untraceable, in any case I gave up on it).

  33. H. Alexander Ivey

    If you want to find a consistent, broad, and useful meaning of a concept, and a phase or ‘name’ for that concept, look for books written on the subject. Postings, blogs, and even published articles do not have the authority that books have (it’s not just because being hit upside the head with a book will hurt a lot more than with a blog posting, har,har).

    My recommendation is Deep State, based on my understanding on Mike Lohgren’s The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government.

    I must say I personally don’t like the term. When I use it with people who believe that Rep & Dem describe the US government, I get the old eye roll, tin foil hat outfitting treatment. Humm, maybe I’ll lead in with the term ‘Washington Consensus’. They get that one around here in Southeast Asia. They haven’t forgotten or forgiven the IMF about the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

  34. fairleft

    The central task of the U.S. ‘deep state’ is to maintain or expand the permanent war economy. So it is the military-industrial complex. The top-of-food-chain spy agencies — whose primary task within the MIC is to create enemies and paranoia — are the brains and mouthpiece of the deep state.

  35. PH

    Think kaleidoscope in motion. Colors are real but hard to predict. Preset patterns, but affected by outside movement.

    I love histories, but I know they simplify and often mislead. Anyway, the trick is to spot the power emerging, not how it turned out with the last generation.

    I suggest that the best approach looking forward is to start with the existing visible power bureaucracies both inside govt and outside govt but on its periphery.

    For each behemoth, daily routine is the biggest driver. And with that usually goes shared values. Such things usually push events.

    Offhand, I can think of a few starting points. If these separate bureaucracies are subject to some common control, I would like to know exactly who and exactly how.

    Military/defense contractors. Mostly consumed with myopic concerns. Top generals and bureaucrats do think tank type stuff, but mostly technical. Obvious collusion with industry over defense budgets.

    Not sure what attitude is toward Donald.

    NSA and tech contractors. Foreign world to me, but obvious iceberg.

    State Dept and White House and press chattering class. Propaganda organizations, basically. I am sure they have clubs and secret handshakes, but not sure should’ve called organized.

    Main CIA. Narrow bureaucrats.

    Off-the-books CIA intersecting with business. These have been the most spectacular stories and escapades. Edwin Wilson. Air America. Coups in the 50s. Maybe CIA assassination of Kennedy.

    Did these operations drive history? Maybe. If those types of connections drive events today, what are they?

    I do not see a unitary deep state.

  36. Steven Greenberg

    Nobody has raised the issue of COG. Here is one excerpt from Peter Dale Scott’s book that talks about and somewhat defines it. Much more in the book of course.

    One factor linking Dallas, Watergate, the 1980 “October Surprise” plot to prevent Carter’s reelection, Iran-Contra, and 9/ 11 has been the background involvement in all these deep events of personnel from America’s highest-level emergency planning, that is, Continuity of Government (COG) planning, known inside the Pentagon as “the Doomsday Project.” The implementation of COG plans on 9/ 11 was the culmination of decades of such planning, and has resulted in the permanent militarization of the domestic United States, and the imposition at home of institutions and processes designed for domination abroad.

    Scott, Peter Dale. The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Attack on U.S. Democracy (War and Peace Library). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

  37. Mattski

    “Seems pretty big to be deep…”

    Not logical. The Deep State is those elements of the establishment that direct the course of government irrespective of e pluribus.

    Perfectly good term, arising from popular usage, whose boundaries–hopefully needless to say–people who know better will not dictate anyway. Would have been much better, rather than to attack its use at the outset, just to investigate it. Elitist exercise, shaped like this.

    1. fosforos

      Let me mention the one word that neither the article itself nor any commentator has mentioned although it is absolutely central to the part of the governmental iceberg we can call “Deep State”: that word is IMPUNITY. The “Official Investigation Commission” is always a deep-state operation. The Warren Commission was totally exemplary of that.

  38. MtnLife

    I think the deep state goes back much further than last century to the banking magnates of Europe who pulled the levers of power from behind the curtains. I believe the shift happened in the early 20th century between the world wars as they consolidated power in the US and UK to gain control of the larger economies and militaries to protect their interests as they saw mainland Europe becoming far too unstable. By grabbing the power of the intelligence services, military, and media alongside traditional finance and business they are on a quest to “make the world safe for extractive business models”, crushing people and democracies that promote worker or environmental rights in the process. From coups in South America, Africa, and Ukraine, to the assassinations of MLK and the Kennedys (JFK, RFK, and JFK jr) the deep state tends to be against all that is good for the people.
    I heard a guest on NPR the other day trying to explain that the deep state is really just another check on presidential power and that we have nothing to worry about.
    Lastly, it is deeply depressing to have a deep state discussion and Banger isn’t around. I was half expecting this post to draw him out of commentirement.

  39. Camelotkidd

    The basic formulation of the deep state was articulated at the Constitutional convention by John Jay–“Those who own the country ought to govern it.”
    Also, another must read book is The CIA As Organized Crime, by Douglas Valentine.

    1. PhilM

      I don’t understand, though. Why shouldn’t those who own the country govern it? They pay for government; they own what needs to be protected. Why does anyone else get a say?


    Unless I missed them, I saw no references to the work of Douglas Valentine. He has 5 major books, the latest is “THE CIA AS ORGANIZED CRIME: HOW ILLEGAL OPERATIONS CORRUPT AMERICA AND THE WORLD” His website: is interesting to me. His personal story is off-the-charts unbelievable. He interviewed almost 100 current and former CIA ’employees/agents’ Since Director Colby decided that Valentine was a “good American” many CIA employees — in depth interviews with almost 100 — thought that Valentine was ‘one of them’ He exposed of the Vietnam era torture/murder/drug dealing/bureaucratically intertwined and coordinated efforts to win over the Vietnamese in the South of Vietnam. The book is “The Phoenix Program” These lessons were then exported, after 1971 or so into many countries in Central and South America. Then key lessons of coordination among various institutions were imported in the structures of Homeland Security organizations in almost all major U.S. cities. Let me know what you think,

    1. SEMI ANON His website is worth a look, I believe. Does anyone follow his work?? Another writer is F. William Engdahl who presented an interesting analysis of the main groupings with deep state institutions: the reigning faction = neoliberal capitalist/imperialist globalists vs. another somewhat antagonistic faction, growing in power, mostly within nation sates = neo-nationalists a la some of Trump’s appointments.

  41. grizziz

    FWIW and after noting all the thoughtful remarks, a ‘deep state’ fits the description of ‘pornography’ as Justice Potter Stewart piquantly remarked, “I know it when I see it…”

  42. PKMKII

    Working on a metaphor that seems to keep coming back with the Trump era in Washington, the Deep State functions much as long-time counsels in a medieval court, ones who have served and survived multiple kings. They lack the political capital to be able to outright overthrow the monarch, and deal with the ensuing fallout with the plebs, but have gotten their claws deep enough into the power structures that they can effectively tip the scales of decision-making when they need to. Assuming the other long-time counsels don’t act against them. The difference in modern America is that, like everything else, it has morphed from individuals to institutions that carry out these wills, and the wills have become collective expressions of the institutions.

  43. nobody

    Ahmed, Nafeez. “Capitalism, Covert Action, and State-Terrorism: Toward a Political Economy of the Dual State.” In Eric Wilson (ed.), The Dual State: Parapolitics, Carl Schmitt and the National Security Complex (London: Ashgate, 2012).

    Ahmed, Nafeez. “How the Trump regime was manufactured by a war inside the Deep State.”

    Tunander, Ola. “Democratic State vs. Deep State: Approaching the Dual State of the West.” In Wilson, E. (ed.), Government of the Shadows: Parapolitics and Criminal Sovereignty (London: Pluto Press, 2009).

  44. VietnamVet

    This post and comments are a great read. This is “Three Days of the Condor” updated. Like Watergate, what is riveting about 2017 is that the coup to get rid of the President is very much out in the open where everyone can see it but today it is extra-constitutional. Obvious players are #Resistance, high level NSA surveillance leakers and Corporate Media. The goal is a permanent war with Russia. Will the Great Game be stopped since Donald Trump said it was stupid or will the wars continue in a neutered Trump Administration? If not, together with the democrats, there may be enough votes to elevate Mike Pence under the 25th Amendment. This political battle is between two different congressional paymasters; nationalist verses globalist oligarchs over their cut of the loot. The unexpected Trump election threw the globalists out of power in the White House. The mini-coup is their attempt to rectify their latest SNAFU.

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