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Deep State America

It has frequently been alleged that the modern Turkish Republic operates on two levels. It has a parliamentary democracy complete with a constitution and regular elections, but there also exists a secret government that has been referred to as the “deep state,” [1] in Turkish “Derin Devlet.”

The concept of “deep state” has recently become fashionable [2] to a certain extent, particularly to explain the persistence of traditional political alignments when confronted by the recent revolutions in parts of the Middle East and Eastern Europe. For those who believe in the existence of the deep state, there are a number of institutional as well as extralegal relationships that might suggest its presence.

Some believe that this deep state arose out of a secret NATO operation called “Gladio,” which created an infrastructure for so-called “stay behind operations” if Western Europe were to be overrun by the Soviet Union and its allies. There is a certain logic to that assumption, as a deep state has to be organized around a center of official and publicly accepted power, which means it normally includes senior officials of the police and intelligence services as well as the military. For the police and intelligence agencies, the propensity to operate in secret is a sine qua non for the deep state, as it provides cover for the maintenance of relationships that under other circumstances would be considered suspect or even illegal.

In Turkey, the notion that there has to be an outside force restraining dissent from political norms was, until recently, even given a legal fig leaf through the Constitution of 1982 [3], which granted to the military’s National Security Council authority to intervene in developing political situations to “protect” the state. There have, in fact, been four military coups in Turkey. But deep state goes far beyond those overt interventions. It has been claimed that deep state activities in Turkey are frequently conducted through connivance with politicians who provide cover for the activity, with corporate interests and with criminal groups who can operate across borders and help in the mundane tasks of political corruption, including drug trafficking and money laundering.


A number of senior Turkish politicians have spoken openly of the existence of the deep state. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit tried to learn more about the organization and, for his pains, endured an assassination attempt in 1977. Tansu Ciller eulogized [1] “those who died for the state and those who killed for the state,” referring to the assassinations of communists and Kurds. There have been several significant exposures of Turkish deep state activities, most notably an automobile accident in 1996 in Susurluk that killed the Deputy Chief of the Istanbul Police and the leader of the Grey Wolves [4] extreme right wing nationalist group. A member of parliament was also in the car and a fake passport was discovered, tying together a criminal group that had operated death squads with a senior security official and an elected member of the legislature. A subsequent investigation determined that the police had been using the criminals to support their operations against leftist groups and other dissidents. Deep state operatives have also been linked to assassinations of a judge, Kurds, leftists, potential state witnesses, and an Armenian journalist. They have also bombed a Kurdish bookstore and the offices of a leading newspaper.

As all governments—sometimes for good reasons—engage in concealment of their more questionable activities, or even resort to out and out deception, one must ask how the deep state differs. While an elected government might sometimes engage in activity that is legally questionable, there is normally some plausible pretext employed to cover up or explain the act.

But for players in the deep state, there is no accountability and no legal limit. Everything is based on self-interest, justified through an assertion of patriotism and the national interest. In Turkey, there is a belief amongst senior officials who consider themselves to be parts of the status in statu that they are guardians of the constitution and the true interests of the nation. In their own minds, they are thereby not bound by the normal rules. Engagement in criminal activity is fine as long as it is done to protect the Turkish people and to covertly address errors made by the citizenry, which can easily be led astray by political fads and charismatic leaders. When things go too far in a certain direction, the deep state steps in to correct course.

And deep state players are to be rewarded for their patriotism. They benefit materially from the criminal activity that they engage in, including protecting Turkey’s role as a conduit for drugs heading to Europe from Central Asia, but more recently involving the movement of weapons and people to and from Syria. This has meant collaborating with groups like ISIS [5], enabling militants to ignore borders and sell their stolen archeological artifacts while also negotiating deals for the oil from the fields in the areas that they occupy. All the transactions include a large cut for the deep state.

If all this sounds familiar to an American reader, it should, and given some local idiosyncrasies, it invites the question whether the United States of America has its own deep state.

First of all, one should note that for the deep state to be effective, it must be intimately associated with the development or pre-existence of a national security state. There must also be a perception that the nation is in peril, justifying extraordinary measures undertaken by brave patriots to preserve life and property of the citizenry. Those measures are generically conservative in nature, intended to protect the status quo with the implication that change is dangerous.

Those requirements certainly prevail in post 9/11 America, and also feed the other essential component of the deep state: that the intervening should work secretly or at least under the radar. Consider for a moment how Washington operates. There is gridlock in Congress and the legislature opposes nearly everything that the White House supports. Nevertheless, certain things happen seemingly without any discussion: Banks are bailed out and corporate interests are protected by law. Huge multi-year defense contracts are approved. Citizens are assassinated by drones, the public is routinely surveilled, people are imprisoned without be charged, military action against “rogue” regimes is authorized, and whistleblowers are punished with prison. The war crimes committed by U.S. troops and contractors on far-flung battlefields, as well as torture and rendition, are rarely investigated and punishment of any kind is rare. America, the warlike predatory capitalist, might be considered a virtual definition of deep state.

One critic describes [6] deep state as driven by the “Washington Consensus,” a subset of the “American exceptionalism” meme. It is plausible to consider it a post-World War II creation, the end result of the “military industrial complex” that Dwight Eisenhower warned about, but some believe its infrastructure was actually put in place through the passage of the Federal Reserve Act prior to the First World War. Several years after signing the bill, Woodrow Wilson reportedly lamented [7], “We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated governments in the civilized world, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.”

In truth America’s deep state is, not unlike Turkey’s, a hybrid creature that operates along a New York to Washington axis. Where the Turks engage in criminal activity to fund themselves, the Washington elite instead turns to banksters, lobbyists, and defense contractors, operating much more in the open and, ostensibly, legally. U.S.-style deep state includes all the obvious parties, both public and private, who benefit from the status quo: including key players in the police and intelligence agencies, the military, the treasury and justice departments, and the judiciary. It is structured to materially reward those who play along with the charade, and the glue to accomplish that ultimately comes from Wall Street. “Financial services” might well be considered the epicenter of the entire process. Even though government is needed to implement desired policies, the banksters comprise the truly essential element, capable of providing genuine rewards for compliance. As corporate interests increasingly own the media, little dissent comes from the Fourth Estate as the process plays out, while many of the proliferating Washington think tanks that provide deep state “intellectual” credibility are similarly funded by defense contractors.

The cross fertilization that is essential to making the system work takes place through the famous revolving door whereby senior government officials enter the private sector at a high level. In some cases the door revolves a number of times, with officials leaving government before returning to an even more elevated position. Along the way, those select individuals are protected, promoted, and groomed for bigger things. And bigger things do occur that justify the considerable costs, to include bank bailouts, tax breaks, and resistance to legislation that would regulate Wall Street, political donors, and lobbyists. The senior government officials, ex-generals, and high level intelligence operatives who participate find themselves with multi-million dollar homes in which to spend their retirement years, cushioned by a tidy pile of investments.

America’s deep state is completely corrupt: it exists to sell out the public interest, and includes both major political parties as well as government officials. Politicians like the Clintons who leave the White House “broke” and accumulate $100 million in a few years exemplify how it rewards. A bloated Pentagon churns out hundreds of unneeded flag officers who receive munificent pensions and benefits for the rest of their lives. And no one is punished, ever. Disgraced former general and CIA Director David Petraeus is now a partner at the KKR private equity firm, even though he knows nothing about financial services. More recently, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell has become a Senior Counselor at Beacon Global Strategies. Both are being rewarded for their loyalty to the system and for providing current access to their replacements in government.

What makes the deep state so successful? It wins no matter who is in power, by creating bipartisan-supported money pits within the system. Monetizing the completely unnecessary and hideously expensive global war on terror benefits the senior government officials, beltway industries, and financial services that feed off it. Because it is essential to keep the money flowing, the deep state persists in promoting policies that make no sense, to include the unwinnable wars currently enjoying marquee status in Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan. The deep state knows that a fearful public will buy its product and does not even have to make much of an effort to sell it.

Of course I know that the United States of America is not Turkey. But there are lessons to be learned from its example of how a democracy can be subverted by particular interests hiding behind the mask of patriotism. Ordinary Americans frequently ask why politicians and government officials appear to be so obtuse, rarely recognizing what is actually occurring in the country. That is partly due to the fact that the political class lives in a bubble of its own creation, but it might also be because many of America’s leaders actually accept that there is an unelected, unappointed, and unaccountable presence within the system that actually manages what is taking place behind the scenes. That would be the American deep state.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

29 Comments (Open | Close)

29 Comments To "Deep State America"

#1 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 30, 2015 @ 1:42 am

It’s amazing how obvious it all ought to be, given all the evidence. It’s not even a fantastical conspiracy theory, because the outlines are all reported credibly if in fits and starts. The reason we find it hard to accept, and only come to realize it grudgingly, is because most of us want it very much not to be the way things have become.

I think from the perspective of political and economic philosophy, Sheldon Wolin has explained it well, accurately and dispassionately, if not calling what has developed quite the Deep State. His description is just as Phil describes its outlines in the American instance: Inverted Totalitarianism, Managed Democracy and Superpower. Well worth reading, just to prove to yourself you’re not going mad, and that your eyes aren’t lying to you and that very reasonable, sane people not given to hyperbole or being cranks see just the same evidence and already came to the conclusions confronting and vexing you. It is, of course, all very disappointing to those of us who internalized the ideals that were all along being betrayed. If you listen to Snowden talk, his idealism is clearly profoundly in support of what yesterday were supposed to be core American beliefs. Yet the whistleblower to the public is so hated for that by power elites, and their power so complete, he likely will always be a dissident in exile, whom Washington has just told the hundreds of thousands brave enough to sign the whitehouse.gov petition for his pardon, that the government regards him implacably as a traitor. How thoroughly subverted from democratic accountability the secret power, the Deep State, has become.

#2 Comment By Neal On July 30, 2015 @ 5:30 am

I read that article by Lofgren at the link some time ago and all this seems rather plausible. There is a basic consensus in this country (among educated professional white people anyway) and we enforce it collectively whether we realize it or not. Is it the same what we also call “culture”? I’ve worked in large multi-national corporations for some time now and those of us working there are almost all exactly the same. We operate the bureaucracies of these organizations the same way from one company to another because we just know that’s how it works. We implement without question whatever policy the company wants us to. Managers fire or discipline the rogues seemingly without thought to the consequences for the individual involved. It is, I suspect, that fear of the consequences that keeps most people from acting out. Who can afford to buck the system? The “system” doesn’t need a secret, conspiratorial cabal. It has us.

#3 Comment By EdK On July 30, 2015 @ 7:28 am

Great Article, That’s why Trump is winning lots of votes. Many people hope that he will stand to those operating in the deep state domain since he will not be needed their money and/or backing to run & win.

#4 Comment By TB On July 30, 2015 @ 7:51 am

“Democracy is often subverted by special interests operating behind the scenes.”

1. Are there any adults in the USA who don’t know this?
2. Is there any doubt that the cost of running a political campaign drives candidates to raise money?
3. Don’t the donor class members have a right to assume they should get what they pay for?

Let’s start with this…
“We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United and other related cases, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.”

#5 Comment By Liam On July 30, 2015 @ 10:42 am

A man like Trump is part and parcel of the Washington Consensus – he’s just a carnival distraction to make people think otherwise. His fortune depends on cheap immigrant labor either directly or indirectly and on the gutting of middle class jobs.

#6 Comment By Richard B On July 30, 2015 @ 12:26 pm

This is why I read TAC – it’s encouraging to know that there are people on the political right who think America functions more or less exactly the same as many folks on the far left do.

#7 Comment By Jim Bovard On July 30, 2015 @ 12:38 pm

Bravo, Phil! May God save us from the “Washington Consensus.”

#8 Comment By sglover On July 30, 2015 @ 12:59 pm

We’re indebted to the Turks for the “Deep State” coinage, because it really is a useful phrase for understanding how state power works. Another useful term comes from Russia — “managed democracy”. It applies here as well.

#9 Comment By N. Joseph Potts On July 30, 2015 @ 1:31 pm

“The public interest” is, after all, unknowable. Not only do people who might or might not themselves BE “the public” really know “it,” the rest of us (the Public) don’t quite know it, either.

The public interest is ME – ME, N. Joseph Potts. Give ME more money. Getting any more-sophisticated than that kind of sends things off into limbo.

What’s “wrong” with the whole scene is supposing that “democracy” or the similacrum thereof that we perform in the US today, is any sort of, or even the best-possible, answer.

It clearly isn’t. What is? Got me, there!

#10 Comment By bacon On July 30, 2015 @ 1:43 pm

Mr. Giraldi says “Democracy is often subverted by special interests…..”. A more accurate statement would be “democracy is usually subverted by special interests”.

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 30, 2015 @ 6:11 pm

“What’s “wrong” with the whole scene is supposing that “democracy” or the similacrum thereof that we perform in the US today, is any sort of, or even the best-possible, answer.”

This is an astute observation. And i think I largely agree.

#12 Comment By Joan On July 30, 2015 @ 7:31 pm

What’s missing here is the thing educated Americans know but don’t want to know: that our ongoing prosperity depends on the intimidation, brutalization, and barely concealed robbery of any nation that has anything of value and is too weak to stand against us. We want our politicians to continue to provide us with something resembling prosperity and, if something nasty needs to be done to some bunch of foriegners in order for that to happen, we want that nastiness to be concealed from us so that we can continue to regard ourselves as virtuous. Thus, the deep state does our will by the very act of subverting the democracy we say we value. We get the government we deserve.

#13 Comment By Thaddeus J Kozinski On July 31, 2015 @ 11:28 pm

@Joan Your comment is marvelous. You made my day. Such truth, expressed clearly and pulling no punches. Wonderful. Another way of putting what you say is that our government engages in scapegoating violence, and we are complicit in it simply by reaping its fruits, and then pretending we don’t know what it’s doing it, and then demanding this same government to lie to us. We know what’s really going on, but we even lie to our selves. This is a satanic liturgy, for the true liturgy is about truth and requires truth from its faithful. The liturgy we engage in is the opposite of this.

And we scapegoat anyone who would unmask this diabolical set up. God help us.

#14 Comment By Winston On August 1, 2015 @ 3:49 am

Seems to me Deep State started with Dulles Brothers, one of whom had Wall Street ties and then evolved from there.

#15 Comment By Maxime Chaix On August 1, 2015 @ 7:46 pm

Great article, but the part about the deep state in the USA seems like a summary of Peter Dale Scott’s latest book, called “The American Deep State”: [8]

#16 Comment By Bluerider On August 1, 2015 @ 7:47 pm

the “deep state” concept should be attached to Canadian professor Peter Dale Scott whose books on the subject are just masterpieces. He is the authentic founder of the concept and the first scholar to investigate it.

#17 Comment By Neil Kitson On August 3, 2015 @ 4:30 am

“These men, largely private, were functioning on a level different from the foreign policy of the United States, and years later when New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan read through the entire documentary history of the war, that history known as the Pentagon Papers, he would come away with one impression above all, which was that the government of the United States was not what he had thought it was; it was as if there were an inner U.S. government, what he called ‘a centralized state, far more powerful than anything else, for whom the enemy is not simply the Communists but everything else, its own press, its own judiciary, its own Congress, foreign and friendly governments – all these are potentially antagonistic. It had survived and perpetuated itself,’ Sheehan continued, ‘often using the issue of anti-Communism as a weapon against the other branches of government and the press, and finally, it does not function necessarily for the benefit of the Republic but rather for its own ends, its own perpetuation; it has its own codes which are quite different from public codes. Secrecy was a way of protecting itself, not so much from threats by foreign governments but from detection from its own population on charges of its own competence and wisdom.’ Each succeeding Administration, Sheehan noted, was careful, once in office, not to expose the weaknesses of its predecessor. After all, essentially the same people were running the governments, they had continuity to each other, and each succeeding Administration found itself faced with virtually the same enemies. Thus the national security apparatus kept its continuity, and every outgoing President tended to rally to the side of the incumbent President.

“Out of this of course came a willingness to use covert operations; it was a necessity of the times, to match the Communists, and what your own population and your own Congress did not know was not particularly important; it was almost better if they did not know…”

David Halberstam
The Best and The Brightest

#18 Comment By carroll price On August 3, 2015 @ 9:25 am

There is undoubtedly an American Deep State, but strike up a conversation with the average Walmart shopper,and after doing so, ask yourself if you think they are capable of making decisions that effect you and your family’s welfare.

#19 Comment By Maxime Chaix On August 3, 2015 @ 1:54 pm

On August 1st, I wrote: “Great article, but the part about the deep state in the USA seems like a summary of Peter Dale Scott’s latest book, called “The American Deep State”: [8]

It turned out that Mr. Giraldi does not know Peter Dale Scott. I apologize for this inappropriate comment.

#20 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 3, 2015 @ 9:25 pm

“There is undoubtedly an American Deep State, but strike up a conversation with the average Walmart shopper,and after doing so, ask yourself if you think they are capable of making decisions that effect you and your family’s welfare.”

I have no doubt that “The People of Wal Mart” would institute policies far less harmful than those of the democratically unaccountable elite oligarchy. The policies, for one important aspect, would not be in the exclusive interests of the elites to the detriment of the rest of us, even Wal Mart shoppers.

As part of the selfishness of the way the elites rule us, great evil is propagated in the name of Wal Mart shoppers and all of us. If it is to be done in our name, let us be responsible and accountable, rather than be ruled by self satisfying tyrants, whose actions are for themselves and which by design they seek to hide due to guilty conscience.

#21 Comment By Zverkov On August 4, 2015 @ 1:26 am

So the “deep state” is a sort of perpetual “Babylonian papacy” dating from the immediate post-Civil War period, or perhaps even from before, and consisting of governments, which regardless of party, overlap in an overarching complicity in the preservation of the restrictively rotative system of power that contains a modicum of aleatoriness in its alternation, but which fundamentally only means that one economic sector (the one favored by the party in question) prevails (relatively, with particular attention/focus given, to the point that it flavors the regime) over competing sectors. However, is a “deep state” required for this system to develop and be maintained, or is it sufficient to recognize and describe (with a certain adjectival variation) that in America “democracy is indistinguishable from the ‘capitalism’ of the most powerful sectors,” or as a 1926 periodical put it: “The ‘permanent government which is going on all the time’ in Capitalist Democracy is— Capitalism,” or what Chomsky has referred to as the “virtual Senate” and the “de facto world government” of American (and now globalized) capital?

#22 Comment By SolontoCroesus On August 6, 2015 @ 6:02 pm

What Joan said is, to our (or my) shame, true.

There’s one more element to the deep state that is a subset of Neal’s comment, about working in a large corporation and thereby reflexively supporting the Deep State.
We work and raise our children to achieve the success of working for such a “large corporation.” A number of years ago I went to a holiday party and sat across from the proud mother of a recent college graduate who shared the same skills, training, and qualifications as one of our children. She glowed as she talked about how her son had been courted, hired by, and ushered into the luxurious fold of his defense-contractor-employer. He was very well paid and provided every benefit; she was proud and felt the effort their family had invested in his rearing and education was bearing fruit.

What’s a parent to do?

How do we think and talk about where our children find employment, and how far do we stick our necks out to try to undo the Deep State, if one way or the other it may destroy our children’s careers? Do we destroy our children’s future in an effort to make the world a better place for our children?

Sophie’s Choice.

#23 Comment By Aleister Crowley On September 19, 2015 @ 9:51 am

(I can’t believe that it took ZeroHedge so long to find and post this article, since it was originally posted here in July.)
The Deep State, whether in the US or Turkey or anywhere else, is an obvious thing if you think objectively about it. Psychopathy in humans creates the Deep State because of the very nature of the desire for power in a psychopathic personality. The Deep State then grows as sociopaths are attracted to the psychopaths at the top. History is replete with examples. The Deep State that underlies ‘government’ and ‘society’ IS the status quo. A recent piece written by Charles Hugh Smith entitled: Here’s Why the Status Quo Is Doomed, posits that it cannot remain in power (in its current form) for much longer due to the nature of how it is structured. He says, “The Status Quo has been optimized for this world of limitless growth. There’s one tiny little problem with this: the real world has limits.” He refers to the growing realization that cheap energy, easy to acquire resources, and population growth are all reaching an inevitable plateau that will necessarily put an end to the limitless growth paradigm of the current status quo. The current Deep State that comprises the status quo will do anything in the next few years to hold onto this. Anything goes, with no regard for the greatest proportion of the human race. We see this happening now. When the status quo cannot be sustained, there will be some sort of collapse and reshuffling of global power as the psychopaths that comprise the Deep State remake the world. A new status quo will emerge and the world will go on. There will be a lot of pain and bloodshed during this reshuffling, but psychopaths have little concern for the human race at large. We are more or less a herd of sheep to be managed. The Deep State will hold onto power in America, Turkey, Russia, and everywhere else. It is human nature to seek power for the sake of power.
“Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” George Orwell

#24 Comment By Stewart Ogilby On September 19, 2015 @ 8:36 pm

So many astute and perceptive comments are encouraging. What is both frightening and tentatively optimistic is that the current state of affairs and affairs of state are doomed. Rather than encourage your children to become cogs in a capitalist wheel rolling toward disaster teach them humanitarian ideals and personal ethics. You can skip metaphysics and superstition. We know, in our hearts, that a saner and more just world is possible. It has been the goal of the best of our species since recorded history began.

#25 Comment By Kim On September 24, 2015 @ 12:52 am

So,here is the meeting point between the “real” conservatives (not reactionary right wing warmongers) and liberals (at least those not too snobby to work with conservatives). Let’s work together. How do we start?

#26 Comment By Simon On December 17, 2015 @ 4:07 am

The American permanent regime seems much less secretive than the Turkish Deep State, it generally acts more or less in the open, relying on a compliant media not to question its activities such as the gun-running and bailouts.

Something the article does not make clear is that the secular-nationalist Turkish Deep State was overthrown by the Islamists; having been weakened by Turkey’s aspiration to join the European Union which meant the secularists could no longer act so ruthlessly against their rivals. The US system seems more deeply embedded; while there is some dissent it is able to maintain compliance from the bulk of the population through control of the media. In Turkey most of the population are not middle class secularists so Deep State support was always shallow.

#27 Comment By lysias On February 16, 2017 @ 12:11 pm

Vote them out. I always vote third-party, when I am offered the choice. Why do so few Americans do this?

#28 Comment By Bruce Kolinski On March 10, 2017 @ 8:24 pm

I don’t see how the so-called deep state(s) can be correctly understood in terms of country, as opposed to countries. History clearly exposes – well OK, maybe not so clearly – this beast as having a trans-national nature. Examples might be noticing who financed both sides of WWI, WWII, Vietnam and now Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Ukraine. In other words “follow the money”. The geopolitics underlying national politics, which then underlies local politics, along with planning, press (read propaganda), financing, arms procurement, armies, supplies, etc.; and after the profitable destruction is wreaked; the profitable re-building – so more geopolitics, etc.; all occurring on a multinational level, though national governments are employed as tools or resources to be manipulated at the whim of the international cartel of psychopathic Puppet Masters. It’s hard to grasp because the picture is so incredibly large; truly a global matrix.

#29 Comment By Vox Day On August 1, 2017 @ 3:01 pm

Considering that the author worked for the CIA, understood its operations and the goals of the Deep State, why has he not run for political office or create a group dedicated to exposing them to the general public 24-7?