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Alexa O'Brien

Deep state orbit analyst and writer focused on intelligence and national security including whistleblowers, specifically Wikileaks, Snowden, Assange and Chelsea Manning.

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    While the rank-and-file military are among the most patriotic of Americans and show unwavering support for the Constitution, there is a class of elite national security establishment who, whatever they may say on ceremonial occasions, believe they are above the Constitution. The “national security establishment” is colloquially known as the Deep State. In the past military leaders were part of the ruling class, intelligence agencies did not exist and there was no danger of a rogue national security establishment in 1789. That why for all their brilliance, the Framers of the Constitution did not foresee the emergence of this threat. JFK assassination was the crossing of the Rubicon, and the tail started wagging the dog. Brennan’s 2016 elections machinations were yet another vivid demonstration that the national security establishment spun out of control.

    This threat emerged only after WWII and national security state when Truman established intelligence agencies which comprise the core of the Deep State (CIA, NSA, FBI and Pentagon). Add to this State Department and you get what is called “Trumanites”. They brought with them the three cornerstones of American (Five Eyes) foreign policy

    • Exceptionalism – our unique status should exempt us from the rules we expect others to follow.  
    • Militarism –  favor the use of force to advance US security and priority matters of national interest.
    • Hegemony –   America ought to fight hard not to let any other power challenge our post WWII position.   

    Gradually the national security bureaucracy became so large and omnipotent that the Madisonian branches of government became mainly ceremonial institution providing legitimacy to the ruling elite via national election. Something like the British House of Lords, symbolically important but in reality without much power. Intelligence agencies “Nomenklatura“, not Trump, are moving the nation toward autocracy,  operated at an increasing removed from constitutional limits and restraints manner.

    Welcome to the Potemkin Village of Washington Power”  — (The American Conservative)

    Tufts law professor Michael Glennon points out in a recent essay in Humanitas that the Cold War brought something new and ominous in military-civilian relations. The national security bureaucracy became so large and omnipotent that the Madisonian branches of government became something like the British House of Lords, symbolically important but in reality with little power. The executive, legislature, and judiciary became a kind of Potemkin village, with real national security power lodged in, as Glennon describes it, “a concealed managerial directorate, comprising the several hundred leaders of the military, law enforcement and intelligence departments.” As this bureaucracy grew, Glennon argues, “those managers… operated at an increasing remove from constitutional limits and restraints, moving the nation slowly toward autocracy.”

    Glennon also points out that, prior to Trump, there was an unwritten pact between the bureaucracy and the Madisonian government: never publicly disagree. While national security policies have long been crafted and maintained by deep state bureaucracies, everyone played along and told the public these resulted from “intense deliberations.” Yet a few people noticed that, whether under Republican or Democrat administrations, national security policies never really changed, intelligence operations were never disrupted, and even peacenik-seeming presidential candidates became warlike presidents. For decades, neither elected officials nor bureaucratic leaders publicly acknowledged that American national security policy was being run by what Glennon describes as a “double government,” with elected officials impotent.

     However, with the staggering intelligence failure that was 9/11 and two protracted and losing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, some have questioned whether the “grown-ups” in the national security bureaucracy are even competent. Trump gave voice to those concerns in the 2016 campaign, and the result has been a breakdown in the Cold War truce between the two components of the double government. Leaders of the national security establishment, who know they have genuine power, took precautions in the unlikely event of a Trump victory and then tried to overturn Trump’s election. When they failed, they partnered with Congress to have Trump removed through impeachment, taking full advantage of the fractured nature of civilian control of national security institutions. Impeachment witnesses, such as Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, have been unanimous in their implicit belief that the foreign policy of the United States should be managed by a professional class of bureaucrats, not by the elected president.



    We can say that Deep State emerged simultaneously with powerful intelligence agencies after WWII. In the USA it was Truman who created added CIA to the roster of intelligence agencies and he can be called a godfather of the US deep state. This concept became more well known recently in view of color revolution against Trump launched by Clinton wing of Democratic party (so called “soft neoliberal” wing) in association the supporting them elements of intelligence agencies such as State Department, CIA and FBI.

    The concept of the Deep State is related to the answer another fundamental question: Can democracy exist in a state with powerful intelligence agencies like NSA, CIA, FBI (which plays the role of counterintelligence agency in the USA; look at Russiagate) and the State Department (which has functions, which duplicate those of CIA). Thus the concept of the “deep state” can be viewed as a reformulation of the iron law of oligarchy on a new level (state level), explaining the role of intelligence agencies as an immanent part of the ruling elite. For example, the neoliberals elite which rules the USA since late 1970s. Carter – not Reagan – was the first neoliberal president of the USA.

    “The concept of the Deep State is related to the answer another fundamental question: Can democracy exist in a state with powerful intelligence agencies like NSA, CIA, FBI?”

    Intelligence agencies gained a special status under corporatism. They became the backbone and the intellectual center of the Media-Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) which also now includes major Wall Street banks (which historically have very close ties with CIA; CIA was formed by lawyers which served their interests such as Allen Dulles). Under neoliberalism the financial oligarchy became an important part of MIC (especially oligarchy of such banks as Goldman Sachs and Citibank) because the power of the US military secure their global expansion.  Recently Silicon Valley mega corporations also joined it. All of them are closely connected via and to NSA and CIA (especially Amazon, Google and Facebook).  

    Julian Assange’s short book “When Google Met Wikileaks” is an unparalleled firsthand account of the confluence of forces that’ve mutated the Military-Industrial Complex mutated into a far more powerful entity: the Media-Military-Financial-Industrial-Silicon Valley Complex. It is a de facto unelected aristocracy with huge financial resources, total proliferation (reach) and zero significant accountability. Members of this cabal stand above law and can’t be easily demoted or replaced by civil authorities. When the members fuck up, they may lose a job but soon appear again in an even more senior position. They now are a new incarnation of the “Royal Court” of a feudal hegemony, or in more modern term a Nomenklatura, which can, like in old times, to depose a monarch (or Supreme Leader, President, politburo, cabinet) or even kill if opposed too publicly. 

    The Media-Military-Financial-Industrial-Silicon Valley Complex is a new unelected aristocracy with huge financial resources and zero accountability. Members of this transnational clan stand above law and can’t be easily blocked by civil authorities from their ascent through positions of power by civil authorities (e.g. intelligence agencies level, J Edgar Hoover who died in his official position as head of the FBI, much like Soviet members of Politburo). 

    So in a way the concept of Deep State  implies and emphasizes the hypertrophied role of three letter agencies among unelected government bureaucracy. They are joined at the heap with financial oligarchy, MIC and Silicon Valley in national politics. Especially in formulating foreign policy. Influence of MIC on the US foreign policy is nothing new and power of neocon, who are lobbyists of MIC attests that. They came to dominate the USA foreign policy from then end of WWII.  One of the most plausible hypotheses about JFK’s assassination is its origin as a CIA plot, because his policies threatened to limit the power of intelligence agencies (especially CIA, which the Kennedy’s hated) and curtail weaponized international expansion which Wall Street and MIC depended on to maximize their profits and plunder.

    Some features of the American Deep State are different to the Deep State in other neoliberal countries such as EU, GB, Turkey, or Russia.

    The “deep state” victory over voters and political dominance is always “incomplete” – at least to date. The “surface state” retains some positions of power and periodically even tries to counterattack the Deep State leviathan (in certain areas e.g. Church Committee). The merger of interests of three letter agencies like CIA/NSA/ FBI also has its own internal contradictions. For example, NSA and CIA competes for funds. State Department, which is forth most important intelligence  agency in the USA (and the oldest of all four) now lost its independence and can be viewed as a subsidiary of CIA, see Emailgate and  Strzogate for details ). Alliance of CIA and Wall Street also can never be absolute. They have somewhat different worldviews on both the USA foreign policy priorities and methods of achieving them. There is a fierce and perpetual competition between intelligence agencies for state resources (public funding) which regularly pits, for example, CIA against NSA and both of them against DIA (e.g. requiring the sacrifice of Michael Flynn to placate neocons with a vote on budget allocation).

    In the Syria War, these agency differences can lead to essentially supporting groups of insurgents hostile to each other while trying to achieve an America-friendly corporate satisfactory revolution-based “regime change” in the country. All of the well known Islamic terrorist groups began using funds and training and equipment supplied by Anglo-American agencies in pursuit of “regime change”.

    It’s worth looking into the Vault 7 scandal for insight into the tricky relations between American agedncies. In this case the CIA (‘humint“) was concerned by the rise in status and capabilities of NSA (“sigint“) and autonomously tried to duplicate its capabilities. These American agencies demonstrably lie to each other and try to poach funds from the other agencies. Vault 7 confirms CIA top brass concerns about the increased role and influence of NSA as internet communications continue to redefine espionage, power over networks becoming a new foundation of agency power.

    In the US, the intel agencies are also competing with the semi-independent status and role of military intelligence. The Pentagon frequently clashes with both CIA and NSA. Exampoe: General Flynn, who served as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and in 2017 was entrapped by FBI with the help of NSA and CIA, a strong sign there’s not much love between DIA and other agencies (with DIA probably being the most competent of them all three). In certain areas these powerful institutions of the Deep State are like spiders in a jar. There is no monolith unity across the entire Deep State landscape.



    The rise of intelligence agencies inevitably led to conversion of the state into national security state and we can talk about “election democracy” in such state only with great reservations. Some freedom to choose candidates still exists – as Sanders and, possibly, Trump emergence in 2016 elections attests – but the ultimate choice is determined by intelligence agencies, not so much by voters. FBI derailing of Sanders in favour of establishment candidate – Hillary Clinton – vividly attests to this; not that Sanders fought a good fight in this respect serving more like a sheepdog in the elections.

    Two-party system (duopoly) as an instrument of central governmental power continuity was invented and implemented by the British elite in the 19th-century as a solution to universal suffrage (see Walter Bagehot “The English Constitution”) and unsurprisingly, it was exported to the American democracy after the Civil War ended (1865) as a perfect mechanism for inverted totalitarianism (i.e. US hegemonic neoliberalism).

    But there is second trend here which increases the elite control of the country: this is a dramatic transfer of power to institutions of “deep state”, which in certain sense now like TBTF are beyond civil control. As well as a secret alliance between Wall Street and CIA and other three letter agencies.

    All those factors essentially make Presidential and Congress election in the USA truly optional, serving mostly ceremonial, decorative function. Yes, elections still continue to exist and sometime provide good theater, within the strict rules of an emasculated “two parties, winner takes all” system, which is not that different from one-party show elections in Russia.

    They still have a role in legitimizing the current rulers, although actual rules are not the same as those who were elected. This is especially true about the two recent US Presidents: George W Bush and Barack Obama. And that explains why Barack Obama foreign policy is essentially a continuation of the policy of George W Bush with minor tweaks. Just the fact that neocon Victoria Nuland who worked for Cheney was promoted to the key role of the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs tells that Obama controls very little in foreign policy area and that ‘deep state” is functioning autonomously and without control of “surface state”.



    The US political system does not have a single government. It actually has two distinct governments. They are called “surface state” or Madisonians and “deep state” or Trumanites (national security establishment in alliance with selected members of financial oligarchy, media owners and technocrats). The latter term emerged because it was Harry Truman who signed the National Security Act of 1947, which created major three letter agencies (CIA, DOD, FBI and NSA).

    Simplifying the complex relation between those two US governments (sometimes Madisonians fight back and have Trumanites to make a temporary retreat) we can say that:

    • The “surface state” exists mainly to provide legitimacy and the illusion of democracy and comprise traditional three branches of government (the Congress, the presidency, and the courts.). Elections are a tool for providing legitimacy to government and change nothing fundamental. That explains strange continuity between foreign policies of different presidents (for example Bush and Obama; in the latter case Obama foreign policy was completely opposite is election promised)
    • The “deep state” is represented by unelected alliance by top level government bureaucrats (and first of intelligence brass of three major intelligence agencies), selected members of financial oligarchy, think tanks, manufactures and media. Its institutions (and first three letter agencies and military-industrial complex) actually create and implement country foreign policy with no feedback from electorate. Trump’s betrayal of three key foreign policy election promises (detente with Russia, finishing foreign wars and dissolution of NATO) is a marvellous example of the power and efficiency of this mechanism).  A large part of domestic policies (especially national security policy) also created and implemented with no control of electorate and with very little control of traditional three branches of government. Just look at PATRIOT Act.

    The “deep state” represents the actual government of the society by unelected elite, which is composed of high-level officials within the intelligence services, military, law enforcement, judiciary and, often, organized crime. It should be viewed as an extended and more realistic variant of military industrial complex dominance (see Media-Military-Industrial Complex) as it includes selected members of financial oligarchy along with industrialists, Internet moguls, and media owners.

    In British author John le Carré’s latest novel, A Delicate Truth: character describes the Deep State as “… the ever-expanding circle of non-governmental insiders from banking, industry and commerce who were cleared for highly classified information denied to large swathes of Whitehall and Westminster.”

    Conversion of system of governance to “deep state” which happened in the USA almost immediately after 1947 essentially made a large part of federal elections including Presidential elections optional, but they still continue to exist as a ceremonial function for the sake of providing the legitimacy of the government in an emasculated “two parties system” form. While relationship is more complex than simple dominance, “deep state” is the tail that wags the dog. And JFK assassination (Nov 22, 1963) meant first the triumph of “deep state” over “surface state”. In this sense 9/11 was just the last nail in the coffin of democracy.

    The “Deep State” is a widespread modern phenomenon which is a typical model of governance in all major neoliberal states, including the USA, GB and France. For example, it able to govern the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process. That’s why elected candidates swiftly perform “bat and switch” maneuver and conduct polices radically different from those for which they were elected. As any elite dominance project it is deeply anti-democratic although it uses fig leaf of democracy for foreign expansion via color revolutions and wars.

    Like in Third Reich, this dominance is supported by relentless propaganda and brainwashing with mechanisms polished since Reagan to perfection. There is now no problem to create an “enemy of the people” when the elite wants and it does not matter which country or individual is selected as an enemy. The essence of elite politics in this area was best formulated by Hermann Goering, President of the Reichstag, Nazi Party, and Luftwaffe Commander-in-Chief.

    Naturally, the common people don’t want war; not in Russia, nor in England, nor in Germany, nor the United States. That is understood. But it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country. This is a hidden set of political actors and powerful institutions that are concealed within the wider, “visible” state which took over the functions of traditional state, leaving such organization of Executive branch, President, congress and courts mainly ceremonial role.