Jefferson Morley | December 21, 2018
Abrupt Withdrawals Leave Trump Besieged by the National Security Establishment
The phrase “the deep state” means different things to different people. The Deep State news blog reports on all of them by covering the world’s secret intelligence agencies.
On December 19, The Deep State news blog (deepstateblog.org) achieved its fall 2018 fundraising goal of $9,000. Thanks to 44 donors, we have paid off the cost of building, designing, and launching the site. The mission of the site: to illuminate the phenomenon that people call “the deep state.”
This news blog covers what secret intelligence agencies like CIA and NSA actually do. I report on MI6 (British intelligence), GRU (Russian military intelligence) and Mossad (Israeli intelligence) and MIT (Turkish intelligence) and other spy services in the news.
As editor, I use the term “the deep state” in its broadest and generic sense. The “deep state” in the United States and other countries is the realm of power exercised by secret intelligence agencies that operate beyond the control of democratic institutions.
In the United States, the conflict between President Trump and U.S. intelligence agencies is profound and unprecedented. These agencies are playing a prominent role in checking and controlling a lawless president who may be an agent of a foreign power. The president’s abrupt decision to withdraw from unwinnable wars in Syria and Afghanistan is elevating the power struggle to a crisis.
Because of his ignorance, incompetence and corruption, Trump is incapable of transforming his whims into policy. As 2018 comes to a close, the president is losing his power struggle with the so-called “deep state.”
Origins of ‘Deep State’
The term “deep state” originated in Turkey, where the phrase derin devlet was used to describe a parallel government in which unelected or unacknowledged officials play a key role in defining and implementing state policy.
In Egypt, observers used the term “deep state” to describe the military and business elite that wielded hidden power during the reign of strong man Hosni Mubarak.
In the United States, Peter Dale Scott, a Canadian diplomat turned literary professor, coined the term “Deep Politics” in the 1970s to account for the machinations of U.S. intelligence agencies, organized crime, and multinational business that shaped America during the Cold War.
In Washington, Mike Lofgren, a veteran Republican staffer on Capitol Hill, published a book in 2014 called The Deep State. Lofgren argued that embedded corporate, regulatory and national security institutions in the nation’s capital wield state-like powers that enable them to deflect or co-opt elected officials who seek to curb or control them.
Now President Trump claims that a “criminal deep state,” led by a cabal of FBI and CIA officials, is out to get him. Not one, but two, Trump’s supporters (racist conspiracy theorist Jerome Coris and former Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz) have written books alleging that a perfidious and corrupt liberal Deep State is seeking to undermine the will of the people with its hellish tricks. When the evidence fails to confirm this theory, the theory often mutates.
The “deep state” phenomenon has been described with other terms. Lofgren’s description of “deep state” that threatens constitutional government resembles Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the “military industrial complex.”
Trump’s vision of a “deep state” of smug liberal civil servants evokes Alabama governor George Wallace’s attacks on “pointy-headed bureaucrats.”
In his book The Assault on Intelligence, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden, argues there’s no such thing as “the deep state,” only civil servants doing their job.
The Deep State news blog, reports critically and factually, on all of these critiques of the “deep state.”
President Trump seems to be losing his animus against the Deep States. He has not tweeted the term since September 19. The claims made by his allies on the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence are weak, tendentious, when not actually false. When former FBI director James Comey was grilled by Republicans the results were tedium, not revelatory.
But when people ask me, “Is the Deep State out to get President Trump?” I say that’s a fair and important question. A substantial minority of Americans think so. And the conflict between Trump and U.S. intelligence agencies is a crisis of government.
So what is really going on with Trump and the secret intelligence agencies? The Deep State news blog seeks to answer that question on a daily basis.
As an editor and journalist I am indebted to the analysis presented by Professor Michael Glennon in his incisive book National Security and Double Government. Glennon, who teaches at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University, describes the secret U.S. intelligence agencies as a branch of government that operates largely independent of the public government lead by the Executive Branch, the Congress and the courts.
The agencies, created by the National Security Act of 1947, include CIA, NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and other agencies that you probably never heard of. They also include a portion of the FBI. James Clapper, former director of National Intelligence, told me last month that the FBI has 16,000 “billets”–job positions that are funded by the National Intelligence budget.
The open conflict between Trump and his CIA and FBI critics, Glennon argues, has exposed the power of the national security agencies.
“In earlier U.S. presidencies,” he told me in an interview, “that power was largely concealed because it would have undermined the legitimacy of the constitutionally established institutions—the Executive, Congress and the courts—if the public understood the extent to which those three branches had ceded authority over national security to an unelected bureaucracy. So they had an incentive to pretend they were in control.”
In writing biographies of two leading personalities of the CIA, I learned how other presidents have clashed with the secret agencies. Presidents Kennedy, Nixon and Carter each sought, in their own way, to gain control over the CIA. But these conflicts were, for the most part, subterranean. From 1960 to 1980, the struggle for power between the White House and the Langley headquarters that took place behind closed doors.
No more, Glennon notes.
“The open split between Trump and the intelligence community has made clear that the security managers have an agenda of their own, and pursue it with very few checks. This was concealed from the public during the Obama administration because Obama largely embraced their agenda as his own, and when they screwed up, he took responsibility, as had other presidents. Trump is different.”
At Home and Abroad
As a reporter, I also think about the “deep state’ phenomenon in international perspective. The United States is not the only country where people talk about a “deep state.” Since 2000, secret intelligence agencies have gained influence and power in countries as diverse as the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.
Some times these intelligence services clash. The American CIA and NSA now seek to thwart Russian GRU influence operations in the U.S. electoral arena. Sometimes these spy agencies cooperate, despited their differences. After 9/11, the CIA sent suspected terrorists (and at least one totally innocent man) to be tortured by Syria’s Mukhabarat intelligence agency.
Suffice it to say, secret intelligence agencies shape the world in which we live. In the United States, these agencies, only loosely controlled by Congress, will play a central role in the fate of the Trump presidency.