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Inside the dark conspiracy that made its way from the fringe to the White House

Inside the dark conspiracy that made its way from the fringe to the White House thumbnail

The modern history of the “deep state” in American politics — real or imagined — starts with real leaks of classified information and ends as a conspiracy theory on popular yet dubious websites.

And how it got there raises serious questions about whether the intelligence community is trying to subvert a new president or whether it’s a convenient scapegoat for an administration that’s had its share of early foibles.

A deep state is a network of influential members of a government’s agencies or military who operate against a democratically elected government. It might work to undermine an elected president’s authority or legitimacy and has been common in countries such as Egypt and Turkey.

The concern in the US started shortly after Donald Trump took office. In early February, The New York Times and The Washington Post published a series of explosive reports about the intelligence community’s investigations into the Trump campaign’s communications with Russian officials during the 2016 election.

The reports, citing anonymous officials, revealed that then national-security adviser Michael Flynn had discussed US sanctions on Russia with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump took office, despite Flynn’s claims that he and Kislyak had not discussed anything sensitive during their phone calls.

The next day, The Times broke a story on what it said were “repeated contacts” that Trump associates had with Russian officials during the campaign. CNN published another report that night in which sources said communication between Trump associates and Russian officials during the campaign was “constant.”

Flynn resigned a short time later.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions later had to recuse himself from any Department of Justice investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia after additional leaks revealed that he had also had contact with Russian officials during the campaign.

An American deep state?

The steady drip of classified leaks about President Trump’s young administration has led some to speculate about the beginnings of an American deep state.

The term is derived from the Turkish “derin devlet,” which refers to an intricate network made up of government officials, often including those from the military and intelligence communities, whose primary goal is to subvert a democratically elected leader’s agenda and ultimately remove that leader from power.

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Thomson Reuters

Turkey’s deep state is tethered to the army but consists of elements from the intelligence community, the judiciary, and the mafia. Turkish leaders, like current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have waged political campaigns aimed at inciting public anger against the deep state.

In Egypt, less than a year after former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi was elected into office by the people, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, backed by Egypt’s military might, detained Morsi and toppled his government. El-Sisi is now Egypt’s head of state. El-Sisi’s ascent to power is thought by many to have been the result of an Egyptian deep state’s response to the 2011 Arab Spring.

But experts and former government officials have warned against using the term deep state to refer to rifts between the US president and the intelligence community.

The deep state, as it exists in Turkey and Egypt, has two defining characteristics, Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider. First, it involves cooperation across multiple government agencies, like intelligence officials, military officials, and often executive branch officials. Second, the execution of the deep state’s agenda often results in bloody outcomes.

“You see dramatic results like assassinations, mass killings, pogroms, bombings — it’s not about tension between the executive and the bureaucracy, it’s not about a failure to work together,” Erdemir said, adding that he would recommend “extreme caution” in adapting the term “deep state” from other political cultures and applying it to the US.

“‘Deep state’ I would never use,” Michael Hayden, the former CIA director who served under Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, told MSNBC in March. “That’s a phrase we’ve used for Turkey and other countries like that, but not the American republic.”

From the fringe to Washington

But soon after the possibility of the beginnings of an American deep state was first raised by the mainstream media, the idea took hold of the far-right media, quickly reaching a fever pitch.

“The Deep State Bumps off General Flynn. Who’s Next?” blared a February Breitbart headline after the resignation of Flynn. The article pointed to the mainstream media as an arm of the deep state, saying that the “ultimate target, of course, is Trump himself.”

InfoWars editor at large Paul Joseph Watson recorded a segment posted to YouTube in early March titled “The Deep State War on Trump.”

“Purge your administration of this globalist fifth column. There can be no compromise. These people literally want to overthrow a democratically elected government,” Watson said.

From the fringe, the idea of a deep state working against the Trump administration made its way to the mainstream conservative media.

Sean Hannity Sean Hannity. Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images

Fox News host and ardent Trump supporter Sean Hannity reiterated Watson’s words during a segment that aired a week after Watson’s video was posted on YouTube. “Tonight, it’s time for the Trump administration to purge these saboteurs before it’s too late,” Hannity said, referring to “deep-state Obama-holdover government bureaucrats who are hell bent on destroying this president.”

And from there, the fears of an American deep state powered by intelligence leaks, which started out as mild speculation and reached the heights of conspiracy theory, made their way to the halls of Washington.

Trump has repeatedly and emphatically expressed his belief that there has been a concerted effort, fueled by politicians, those within the intelligence community, and the “fake news” media, to undermine his presidency and policy agenda.

He notably accused the former president, without evidence, of personally ordering the surveillance of phones at Trump Tower. Trump likely made the accusation based on a monologue by far-right radio talk-show host Mark Levin and a Breitbart write-up of Levin’s belief that there is a “silent coup” underway to overthrow Trump.

Trump’s cold war with the intelligence community

The president has also publicly castigated the media and the intelligence community.

“Leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem in Washington for years. Failing @nytimes (and others) must apologize!” Trump tweeted in February, shortly after Flynn resigned. “The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!” he said.

In a meeting later with several members of Congress, he added: “We’re going to find the leakers, and they’re going to pay a big price.”

As the media continued publishing classified information, Trump tweeted that “information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia.”

“The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy,” he continued. “Very un-American!”

Trump’s loyalists quickly followed his lead, pointing to the intelligence leaks as a key piece of evidence they say supports the existence of an American deep state. They’ve also consistently singled out Trump’s chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, as a source of knowledge on the American deep state.

Bannon is the former head of Breitbart, a largely Trump-friendly outlet that has published a slew of articles asserting the existence of an American deep state.

Steve Bannon Steve Bannon. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

“We are talking about the emergence of a deep state led by Barack Obama, and that is something that we should prevent,” Iowa Rep. Steve King told The New York Times. “The person who understands this best is Steve Bannon, and I would think that he’s advocating to make some moves to fix it.”

Echoing Hannity’s and Watson’s words, King later said that Trump “needs to purge the leftists within the administration that are holdovers from the Obama administration, because it appears that they are undermining his administration and his chances of success.”

Trump adviser and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also believes in the deep state and said he discussed the concept with Bannon. “Of course, the deep state exists. There’s a permanent state of massive bureaucracies that do whatever they want and set up deliberate leaks to attack the president,” Gingrich told the Associated Press in March.

“This is what the deep state does: They create a lie, spread a lie, fail to check the lie and then deny that they were behind the lie,” Gingrich said.

He added that he and Bannon had discussed the idea and that Bannon compared its perils to the plot of the new season of “Homeland,” which includes a storyline in which career intelligence officials try to undermine the president-elect.

Though Bannon has never used the term “deep state” publicly, he has repeatedly expressed distrust toward American institutions and the intelligence community.

After he was removed from his post on the National Security Council in April, Bannon said that he was put on the council to “ensure that it was de-operationalized,” and added that the NSC has now returned “to its proper function.”

‘There have always been scandals … this is not new’

Despite the theories and headlines, the leaking of classified information is not all that unusual and not enough to prompt suspicions of a legitimate deep state in the US, according to former intelligence officials.

Intelligence leaks “happened during the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, and long before that,” Bob Deitz, a former NSA and CIA veteran who worked under presidents Clinton and Bush, told Business Insider.

“It’s possible that they came from directly within the White House, perhaps from people from the intelligence community on loan to the White House,” he added. While the classified leaks that have been published in the media have reflected poorly on the administration, “there are a lot of leaks from people in the White House that reflect badly on them. Just look at all the reports of infighting between Bannon and Kushner,” Deitz said.

“There have always been scandals,” Glenn Carle, a former CIA clandestine services officer and an expert on national security, told Business Insider. “The torture black sites were leaked, the Pentagon Papers were leaked, the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident was leaked. This is not new.”

Both Carle and Deitz added that more often than not, leaks of classified information come from the Hill. “It is rare for them to come from the rank-and-file of the CIA” or other intelligence agencies, Carle said.

Donald Trump Salute Salutes REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

‘If you serve the state, you betray it. If you betray the state, you betray it’

The dangers of a president and his allies believing in the existence of a covert effort to undermine him are profound, experts say, and it has placed those in the intelligence community in a tough position.

“The president has cast doubt on proven truths, undermined the laws, undermined the judiciary, the free press, the intelligence community,” Carle said. “He’s undermined the very values upon which this society was built. So, what do you do if you’re an intelligence official? If you serve the state, you betray it. If you betray the state, you betray it,” he continued.

This dilemma, Carle said, has been widely discussed among those in the intelligence community, who have been forced to assess which is the greater threat: Trump’s “authoritarian tendencies” which threaten “the fabric of the nation,” or the clear national-security risks posed by a sustained stream of classified information being made public.

In this particular situation, in which the president of the US’s campaign surrogates are under an active counterintelligence investigation for their suspected ties to a foreign power, “when leaks come from the intelligence community, it’s not to undermine the president or to protect the deep state. It’s to protect democracy — it stems from a sense of profound patriotism,” Carle said.

Whatever the cause, classified information being leaked on a prolonged basis is treacherous, because it can send a message to the broader US intelligence community and government officials that leaking information is permissible.

“Everybody knows the White House has leaked information in pursuit of various foreign policy objectives throughout American history. When people see that, they might think, ‘So, leaks are OK when the White House does it, but not OK if they come from somewhere other than the White House,'” Deitz said. “You lose the moral high ground.”

A ‘gold mine’ for foreign intelligence

There are a number of national-security risks that can result from tension between a president who believes he’s being undermined and the government officials or agencies who find themselves the target of that president’s ire.

“By definition, information is classified because its release could jeopardize national security,” Deitz said, adding that while there are instances of over-classification, “people cannot decide for themselves what information is OK to leak and what isn’t. It doesn’t work that way.”

If the administration continues to publicly attack the intelligence community based on the belief that the national security apparatus is working against it, that could also open doors to hostile foreign powers looking to infiltrate American society.

Vladimir Putin Russian President Vladimir Putin. Adam Berry/Getty Images

“I spent my career exploiting the positions into which foreign officials were placed when they wanted the best for their society and wanted to uphold the oaths they made to their laws, and yet, the actions of their government undermined the very oaths they took,” said Carle.

Now, he said, American intelligence officials may well be in the same position.

“This is a gold mine of opportunity for foreign intelligence services,” he said.

There are other national-security risks posed by the actions of a president who believes in the existence of a shadow government. In some cases, it has placed intelligence officials in the position of having to determine whether they can share information with their commander-in-chief.

In February, for instance, The Wall Street Journal reported that US intelligence officials had withheld some sensitive information from the president. Though information has been withheld from presidents and congressional members in the past, officials told The Journal none of those past decisions were affected by concerns about a president’s trustworthiness or discretion. This decision to withhold information from Trump highlighted the “deep mistrust” between Trump and the intelligence community.

And if the rift between a White House that believes it’s being undermined by the institutions designed to serve American interests and those institutions themselves continues to widen, the risks to national security could be almost as severe as those posed by a legitimate deep state.

“The deep state does not exist in fact but it exists in the minds of Trump supporters. That’s just as much a threat to society,” Carle said.

Business Insider

19 Comments on "Inside the dark conspiracy that made its way from the fringe to the White House"

  1. onlooker on Mon, 8th May 2017 9:03 am 

    Trump should be wary he was not the chosen of the Deep State it was Killary. The Deep State is alive and well for they are sponsored by those with deep pockets

  2. AFDF on Mon, 8th May 2017 9:22 am 

    “A deep state is a network of influential members of a government’s agencies or military who operate against a democratically elected government.”

    When you get the concept wrong, it doesn’t matter what you say next. The American system is not democratic. It’s a republi-democrat system. You use the majority to win at certain levels of the election, but on other levels you win though “representation”.

    Deep State bs. Same contents from the trash bin that “Western Civilization” concept inhabits.

    Define it, name the individual and orgs. involved or have some integrity and stop receiving donations from hapless audience desperately trying to make sense of the mass influx of information.

  3. Dredd on Mon, 8th May 2017 10:00 am 

    Well then, can we have The World According To Measurements ?

  4. Sissyfuss on Mon, 8th May 2017 10:36 am 

    Gingrich speaks of the deep state promulgating lies, spreading them and later denying they had anything to do with them. That’s sounds exactly like Trump’s modus operandi.

  5. Cloggie on Mon, 8th May 2017 11:14 am 

    A small Trump victory over the deep state: appointment anti-immigration hardliner.

  6. Boat on Mon, 8th May 2017 12:09 pm 

    Remember when warring factions of politicians held duels? US politics has always been a full contact sport. Our first president took an army early in our history to extract taxes from whiskey producers. The very reason unhappy people fought the British, taxes. Google whisky rebellion. Nothing has changed, BAU.

  7. Cloggie on Mon, 8th May 2017 1:11 pm 

    Conspiracy Theory Time! Yippeee!

    What’s a deep state and how deep is it?

    Seriously… Business Insider, hmmm:

    Axel Springer SE will hold a stake of approximately 97%, and Jeff Bezos’ personal investment company will hold the remaining shares.

    Right, I’m not going to read this article as it will teach me nothing about the mysterious deep state. The folks of BI represent the interests of said deep state.

    Short definition deep state: a group of people who really hold the power in a society, although the system claims that the real power is held by the official transparent organs like presidency and Congress. The essence of the deep state is its secrecy, not to disturb the official illusion and to hide that “there is something very rotten in the deep state of Denmark”.

    Does every state have a deep state?


    Hitler and Mussolini held absolute power and there were no secret figures in the background, controlling them. No Tiefen Staat there.

    Stalin same story, but with annotations. In the early years of the USSR there was very well a deep state in the USSR. But Stalin overcame it. From ca. 1938 Stalin was the true dictator and sole ruler of the USSR.

    But now the meat… USofA. That country has an heavy duty, industrial strength, 5 star deep state. And has so for more than 100 years.

    It is interesting that the article refers to an article of the NYT with the title: “As Leaks Multiply, Fears of a ‘Deep State’ in America”

    The NYT, to its horror, has observed that the term “deep state” is ever more used on the “social media”. The truth is that the NYT IS the deep state. But in a futile attempt to confuse, it tries to couple the deep state with Donald Trump, who in reality is the opponent of the deep state.

    How to get a good understanding of the deep state, here a list of sources that can be studied to get a better understanding of the nature of the deep state:

    – Henry Ford
    – Carroll Quigley, “Tragedy and Hope”
    – Curtis Bean Dall (married to FDR’s daughter Anna, divorced and spilled the beans over what happened in the White House in his book ” My Exploited Father-in-Law”, pdf/internet). As far as I know he was the first to report on the (entirely provoked) Pearl Harbor scam, long before Stinnett.
    – JFK (Ruthless Conspiracy speech, Youtube)
    – Eustace Mullins on the Federal Reserve
    Institute Historical Review:
    – American hard right: William Luther Pierce
    – Justin Raimondo, on neocons
    – Mearsheimer & Walt, The Israel Lobby
    Dutch leftist broadcasting organisation VPRO, with “Tegenlicht” documentary “De Israel Lobby” (Youtube)
    – Kevin MacDonald, Culture of Critique (pdf can be easily found on the web)
    Ron Paul, neocon speech (Youtube)
    – Paul Findley, Congressman
    – James Traficant
    – Louis Farrakhan (who supported Trump)

    Happy reading

  8. Apneaman on Mon, 8th May 2017 2:38 pm 

    Now I see why clog likes watching Trump so much.

  9. Apneaman on Mon, 8th May 2017 2:46 pm 

    Conspiracy Theorists May Really Just Be Lonely

    People prone to believing in elaborate cover-ups could just be seeking more meaning in life

  10. Apneaman on Mon, 8th May 2017 3:08 pm 

    “It’s hard to imagine that the plug-ugliness of the American climate-change denier could be made more loathsome, but it has been. The Masters of the Universe and their wholly-owned-and-operated politicians have plumbed new depths in their ability to make money while aiding and abetting the increasing misery of their fellow human beings.”

  11. DerHundistlos on Mon, 8th May 2017 5:08 pm 

    @ Davy / Rockman / Cloggie

    I apologize for not thanking you gentlemen sooner for the excellent information on the feasibility of dams along the Mississippi River.

  12. DerHundistlos on Mon, 8th May 2017 6:28 pm 

    @ APE

    I don’t know how you find all the links, but thank you and keep ’em coming.

  13. DerHundistlos on Mon, 8th May 2017 6:35 pm 

    “Think the days of arrogant white ignorance are over? Consider that just a few weeks ago, American Geek-in-chief Bill Gates grandly offered to give Bolivia, which he referred to as a poverty stricken country, 100,000 chickens. (Sort of a “Let them eat eggs” statement — or, with a little extra trouble, cake.) Bolivia, it turns out, has a thriving economy, exports 36 million chickens a year, produces nearly 200 million. But thanks anyway, Great White Father.”

  14. Kevin Cobley on Mon, 8th May 2017 7:19 pm 

    Trump is the deep state, he represents the “corporate state” that has taken over American democracy. America got what it asked for “Richie Rich”.

  15. Cloggie on Tue, 9th May 2017 1:26 am 

    Conspiracy Theorists May Really Just Be Lonely

    You know what it is Apey, when you are 125 years old like me (thanks to Bulgarian yogurt) you have had a lot of time to read books and think things over.

    Do they discuss the deep state a lot at your kehila, Apey?

  16. Theedrich on Tue, 9th May 2017 3:46 am 

    The Burnaby man-ape is too psychotic to read such things as Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, and Henry Harpending’s Natural History Of Ashkenazi Intelligence or, for that matter, anything other than trivial flotsam on the web.  So I doubt he has any interest in anything else than what his anti-White tribesmen feed him.

  17. Cloggie on Tue, 9th May 2017 7:51 am 

    Front National heading for some serious introspection.

    Although FN scored her best result ever, many were disappointed with the result. Marine le Pen announced that the party needs to rethink its strategy and its name:

    Dad Jean-Marine le Pen perfectly indicated what the biggest mistake was: anti-EU and anti-euro positions.

    What Marine stood for was “la petite nation” (inward looking France, afraid of competition) instead of the old idea of “la Grande Nation”, that is France as a core European state, together with Germany.

    Hopefully Marine le Pen will draw the right conclusion and lead a European right-wing movement and concentrate on fighting immigration c.q. invaders c.q. colonizers c.q. f* Islamic imperialists.

  18. efarmer on Tue, 9th May 2017 9:54 am 

    I remember when growth was working for the American working and middle class, and the government bumbled along, and the embedded financial power in the nation was most content when the Washington political duality was deadlocked and could not screw things up by tugging things to a left or right ideological position and destroying balance in the economic machinery. The working class and middle class saw the system ceasing to work for them more and more, and Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump were both selected as hero figures to go to Washington and make the political machine that never delivered their former economic progress in the first place, make it work somehow. The need emerges for the newly empowered political leaders to come up with cover stories for why their promised miracles are being stymied by sinister forces and why they can’t make the political machine deliver the goods that it never wielded in the firts place. Growth allows wealth to concentrate and during early and maturing periods the working and middle class experience the boost, and when it concentrates to a very mature place, the top runs fine, and the bottom and middle become financial prey animals. The Deep State and other cover stories come from people who always claimed the credit for widespread societal financial progress, but who largely never really provided it but are expected to do so. We are at the end of the bloom of boomers and they are gray and financially taxing to the system they flourished within, we have used the petroleum exploit to build out a tremendous sprawled infrastructure that demands exponential growth to persist. We rode this resource exploit and wealth concentration rocket to the stratosphere and it seems we wish to find scapegoats and villians as we tumble at apogee and face the reality of reentry without a heat shield. The end of exponential growth is always a unraveling that creates the chaos and space for what is next to emerge. We go tribal and pick us a witch doctor who has all the trappings of success and wealth and who negotiated great deals during the heady accleration towards apogee, and then we expect him to defy gravity only to find he can for awhile but only for himself and a small group of those who can burn money for a little more hang time. Most of us are going to get gravity. Hey let’s do a sustainable little close to nature thing next and see if we can lay off of the overshoot heroin, all we need is to lose our gonads, greed, and human nature. I am going to channel my mentor Tutor Turtle: “Heeeelp Mister Wizard!”

  19. Cloggie on Fri, 12th May 2017 4:33 am

    The real #1 defender of European civilization in Western Europe is Jean-Marie le Pen. He gave an analysis of why his daughter lost the election:

    Jean-Marie Le Pen, believes his daughter Marine, who lost in the French presidential election on Sunday to Emmanuel Macron, should have focused on unemployment and immigration instead of the European Union. The EU is still popular in France, even among Front National voters despite its problems.
    Marine le Pen meeting Putin in Russia. Note the French interior The le Pen family supports the Gaullist vision of Europe of the Fatherlands (“Paris-Berlin-Moscow”), but Marine is a little too nationalist, where the true Gaullist always supports the idea of France as “La Grande Nation” and European backbone nation.

    Marine le Pen perhaps understands this as she has announced that she wants to get rid of the name “Front National” and will come with a complete overhaul of her party’s strategy as there can’t be a shred of doubt that Greater Europe with 700 million inhabitants and anti-Europe Britain that volunteered to move itself out of the way, will become once a again the first address on this planet.

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