Deep state

From New World Encyclopedia

A deep state (from Turkish: derin devlet), also known as a state within a state, connotes a form of clandestine government made up of hidden or covert networks of power operating independently of a state's elected officials, in pursuit of their own agenda and goals. Government entities that might be part of a deep state include such organs of state as the armed forces, intelligence agencies, police, secret police, or other administrative agencies and government bureaucracies). While the term refers to actions that run contrary to the best interests of the state, it is used to describe actions that have differing motivations. These motivations include the actions of entrenched, career civil servants to further their own personal interests, such as continuity of the state itself, job security for its members, and enhanced power and authority within the state. It can also describe an attempt to destabilize or disrupt the state for personal, political or ideological objectives.

Whatever the motivation, deep state usually refers to a conspiracy designed to thwart the will of the people. It is typically used to describe an organized cabal of state actors who have their own political agenda and seek to promote it in opposition to the directives of the elected officials. Their actions are designed to resist or sabotage the policies pursued by the elected officials. This conspiratorial notion of a deep state bears a striking similarity to that of a shadow government with one major difference. A shadow government refers to an organization or group of non-state actors that are behind the scenes directing the actions or "pulling the strings" of the government officials. The notion of a deep state suggests that the actors are part of the government bureaucracy who are promoting their own power, or an ideologically driven agenda that differs from those of the office holders.

Whatever the motivation, the term deep state is used to describe these state actors who operate in opposition to the agenda of elected officials, by obstructing, resisting, and subverting their policies, conditions and directives, or government-owned corporations or private companies that act independently of regulatory or governmental control.[1]

Shadow Government and State Within a State

The concept of a deep state has several historical antecedents. Accusations of a "power behind the throne" has a long history. The idea of a shadow government, a conspiracy to control the ruling power by a small group of conspirators, has roots at least as far back as the Middle Ages. The creation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, generally credited to the Okhrana, the Russian Tsarist regime's secret police, is an early example. The Protocols are widely considered to be the beginning of contemporary conspiracy theory literature,[2] and take the form of an instruction manual to a new member of the "elders," describing how they will run the world through control of the media and finance, replacing the traditional social order with one based on mass manipulation. Later, during the Enlightenment the Illuminati became another group accused of operating as a shadow government. The Freemasons, a secret society, were also frequently the object of suspicion as having undue influence over governments in Europe. In modern times, a chapter in Italy, the Propaganda chapter, was implicated in a scandal. Also, such groups as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group have also been accused of operating as a shadow government.

The idea of the deep state bears similarities to the concept of a shadow government with one significant difference. A shadow government is generally understood to be composed of non-state actors. The deep state by definition is a cabal of unelected state actors. The term itself suggests that there is a state within the state that is able to pursue their own interests and thwart the will of the elected officials. The concept of a state within a state (imperium in imperio_ can also be found in the political and ethical writings of Baruch Spinoza. It appears to be a translation of the Greek language κράτος ἐν κράτει, (kratos en kratei). [3] However, Spinoza's argument is a critique of the notion that humans operate by their own laws and not those that govern the rest of nature, not a description of manipulation of the government. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries political debate surrounding the separation of church and state often revolved around the perception that if left unchecked the Church might turn into a kind of State within a State, an illegitimate encroachment of the State's natural civil power.[4] However, it would not be until the rise of the modern, administrative state that the idea that a government within the government would develop.

The Administrative State

In the western world, the nineteenth century saw a rise in the professional civil service. Prior to 1871, the president could select federal employees, naturally choosing those who would do his bidding. He also hired people as a political favor to solidify his base, even selling positions to those who wanted them. This changed with the introduction of a nonpolitical civil service, proposed by Carl Schurz, a German-born Union Army general:

It would be both a meritocracy and a technocracy – not his words, but his idea. Civil servants would be selected by competitive exams measuring their skills for the job. And the job of civil servants would be to implement laws passed by Congress in the manner the president wanted them enforced. Previously, all government employees – save those from the two other branches of government – served at the pleasure of the president. This was no longer true, and it meant that a civil servant could not be fired on political whim, but rather with cause, such as failing to do his job competently or refusing to obey instructions from the office of the president.[5]

The rise of the civil service coincided with the emphasis on government efficiency and a new, more expansive role for government during the Progressive Era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. One of the leaders of this reform movement was future President Woodrow Wilson, whose studies of the state helped promote the rise of the administrative state and permanent bureaucracies to address social and political problems:

The functions of government are in a very real sense independent of legislation, and even constitutions, because [they are] as old as government and inherent in its very nature. The bulk and complex minuteness of our positive law, which covers almost every case that can arise in Administration, obscures for us the fact that Administration cannot wait upon legislation, but must be given leave, or take it, to proceed without specific warrant in giving effect to the characteristic life of the State.[6]

The result was a rise in the development of government bureaucracies and the growth of government employees. This trend was not limited to the U. S. In Germany, Max Weber gave his famous lecture on "Politics as a Vocation" in 1919. [7] Weber argued not only that the state had a monopoly on coercive power but also that the administrative state operated separately from the political leadership. The bureaucracy's role was elevated and a separation of functions would create some tension between the two, and create room for the suspicions that many have of the bureaucracy. Schurz, Wilson, Weber and many others pointed the way toward a permanent and separate administrative state that would take on increasing responsibility for the role of government. The notion of effectiveness from the Progressive Era would develop into the contemporary technocracy, a government run by a class of experts whose expertise would be the only way to carry out the functions of modern government.

Historical Examples

The rise of the modern state apparatus was not restricted to western democratic states. Examples of deep state entities can be found in a number of non-Western and even non-democratic states.

Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia

The Soviet Union was a totalitarian state and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union exerted control over the "commanding heights" of Soviet power. The notion of a totalitarian state suggests that the state is a monolithic entity in complete control of state power. In the wake of its collapse a reassessment of the relationship between the party and its security apparatus has taken place. Given its reliance on the Soviet secret police, some revisionist Russian historians are now claiming that the secret police operated as a "state within a state." Some, like Yevgenia Albats, point out a struggle for power between the security apparatus and the Communist Party: "Most KGB leaders, including Lavrenty Beria, Yuri Andropov, and Vladimir Kryuchkov, always competed for power with the Communist Party and manipulated communist leaders for their own ends."[8]

Others see a full blown deep state at work. According to Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov in 1991:

It is not true that the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party is a supreme power. The Political Bureau is only a shadow of the real supreme power that stands behind the chair of every Bureau member ... The real power thinks, acts and dictates for all of us. The name of the power is NKVD—MVD—MGB. The Stalin regime is based not on the Soviets, Party ideals, the power of the Political Bureau or Stalin's personality, but on the organization and the techniques of the Soviet political police where Stalin plays the role of the first policeman.[9]

However, he also noted that "To say that NKVD is ‘a state within the state’ means to belittle the importance of the NKVD because this question allows two forces – a normal state and a supernormal NKVD – whereas the only force is Chekism." (The Cheka was the first secret police and the prototype for what would follow.)

More recently Ion Mihai Pacepa in 2006 applied this view not only to the Soviet regime but to its successor:

In the Soviet Union, the KGB was a state within a state. Now former KGB officers are running the state. They have custody of the country's 6,000 nuclear weapons, entrusted to the KGB in the 1950s, and they now also manage the strategic oil industry renationalized by Putin. The KGB successor, rechristened FSB, still has the right to electronically monitor the population, control political groups, search homes and businesses, infiltrate the federal government, create its own front enterprises, investigate cases, and run its own prison system. The Soviet Union had one KGB officer for every 428 citizens. Putin's Russia has one FSB-ist for every 297 citizens.[10]


The term deep state is part of Turkish political culture (from Turkish: derin devlet).

The deep state is alleged to be a group of influential anti-democratic coalitions within the Turkish political system, composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services (domestic and foreign), the Turkish military, security agencies, the judiciary, and mafia[11] For those who believe in its existence, the political agenda of the deep state involves an allegiance to nationalism, corporatism, and state interests. Violence and other means of pressure have historically been employed in a largely covert manner to manipulate political and economic elites and ensure specific interests are met within the seemingly democratic framework of the political landscape.[12] Former president Süleyman Demirel says that the outlook and behavior of the (predominantly military) elites who constitute the deep state, and work to uphold national interests, are shaped by an entrenched belief, dating to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, that the country is always "on the brink."

The deep state is a presumed clandestine network of military officers and their civilian allies who, for decades, suppressed and sometimes murdered dissidents, Communists, reporters, Islamists, Christian missionaries, and member of minority groups—anyone thought to pose a threat to the secular order, established in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal, or Atatürk. The deep state, historians say, has functioned as a kind of shadow government, disseminating propaganda to whip up public fear or destabilizing civilian governments not to its liking.[13]

Western Cases


In 1981 the Masons were implicated in a scandal that brought down the Italian government.[14] Propaganda Due (better known as P2) was a Masonic lodge belonging to the Grand Orient of Italy (GOI). It was founded in 1877 with the name of Masonic Propaganda.[15] While under the management by the entrepreneur Licio Gelli, who served as the Grand Master, it became embroiled in a banking controversy that led to the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano, which was closely tied to the Vatican Bank. A police raid of Gelli's home uncovered a list of prominent politicians, military and industrialists, among others. The Masons eventually withdrew the charter of the chapter, saying that it deviated from the statutes of the Freemasonry and was determined to be subversive towards the Italian legal order. The P2 was suspended by the GOI on July 2, 1976; subsequently, the parliamentary commission of inquiry into the P2 Masonic lodge under the presidency of Minister Tina Anselmi concluded the P2 case denouncing the lodge as a real "criminal organization"[16] and "subversive." It was dissolved with a special law in January 1982.

United Kingdom

The opposing interests between elected politicians and the bureaucracy has roots in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century but the opposition between the two groups has not lessened over time. Intense "turf wars" still break out from time to time on the political left as well as the right. The Civil Service was called a "deep state" by the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Tony Blair said of the Civil Service:

You cannot underestimate how much they believe it's their job to actually run the country and to resist the changes put forward by people they dismiss as 'here today, gone tomorrow' politicians. They genuinely see themselves as the true guardians of the national interest, and think that their job is simply to wear you down and wait you out.[17]

The efforts of the Civil Service to frustrate elected politicians has even spawned a popular satiric BBC TV comedy, Yes Minister.

United States of America

As with other Western states, the rise of the administrative state has created permanent bureaucracies that can be at odds with their political leadership. Both the political left and right have used to term as well as related terms to describe actions on the part of some state actors that they believe to be at odds with the best interests of the country. According to political scientist George Friedman, the Deep State has been in place since 1871 and continues beneath the federal government, controlling and frequently reshaping policies; in this view the U.S. civil service, was created to limit the power of the president. Prior to 1871, the president could select federal employees, all of whom served at the pleasure of the president. This is no longer the case.[18]

For some on the left, the term "deep state" has been associated with the "military–industrial complex." Potential risks from the military–industrial complex were raised in President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1961 farewell address: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." Stephen F. Cohen in his book War with Russia? (released November 27, 2018), claims that "At least one U.S.–Soviet summit seems to have been sabotaged. The third Eisenhower–Khrushchev meeting, scheduled for Paris in 1960, was aborted by the Soviet shoot-down of a US U-2 spy plane sent, some think, by 'deep state' foes of detente."[19]

In The Concealment of the State, Professor Jason Royce Lindsey argues that even without a conspiratorial agenda, the term deep state is useful for understanding aspects of the national security establishment in developed countries, with emphasis on the United States. Lindsey writes that the deep state draws power from the national security and intelligence communities, a realm where secrecy is a source of power.[20] Alfred W. McCoy states that the increase in the power of the U.S. intelligence community since the September 11 attacks "has built a fourth branch of the U.S. government" that is "in many ways autonomous from the executive, and increasingly so."[21]

Former NSA leaker Edward Snowden has used the term generally to refer to the influence of civil servants over elected officials:

The deep state is not just the intelligence agencies, it is really a way of referring to the career bureaucracy of government. These are officials who sit in powerful positions, who don't leave when presidents do, who watch presidents come and go ... they influence policy, they influence presidents.[22]

President Trump

The term "deep state" has been widely used by President Donald J. Trump and his defenders on the political right to describe certain actions of the U. S. Intelligence Agencies. In 2017 Rich Higgins was fired from his National Security Council post for writing a seven page memo in which he argued that the Trump administration was the target of deep state actors seeking to undermine his presidency.[23]

The F. B. I. investigation of Russian interference in the U. S. 2016 Presidential election, code name "Crossfire Hurricane," has been frequently referred to as a "deep state" operation. During the summer of 2016, the FBI applied for a warrant to conduct surveillance on four members of the Trump campaign, but this application was rejected by the FISA court as too broad.[24] On October 21, 2016, the FBI filed a new FISA warrant application for Page alone, expressing that the Russian government was collaborating with Page and possibly others associated with the Trump campaign,[25] and that Page had been the subject of targeted recruitment by Russian intelligence agencies.[26] The rationale advanced in support of this warrant relied in part on Page's prior activities, in part on intercepts of Russian communications or confidential human intelligence sources, and in part on a "dossier" of raw intelligence findings gathered by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele. The Steele dossier alleged that Page had originated the idea of leaking the DNC emails,[27] and that he was negotiating a share of Rosneft in exchange for Trump lifting sanctions against Russia if elected.[28] The application disclosed in a footnote that the dossier had been compiled by someone "likely looking for information that could be used to discredit" the Trump campaign, but did not disclose that it was indirectly funded as opposition research by the DNC and the Clinton campaign.[29]

The request was signed by F.B.I. Director, James Comey and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and Judge Rosemary M. Collyer issued the warrant, concluding there was probable cause to believe that Page was a foreign agent knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence for the Russian government. The warrant on Page was renewed three times, each for an additional 90 days.[26] On December 9, 2019 Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, whose earlier investigation into the Hillary Clinton "Midyear Exam" investigation had unearthed text messages between lead investigator Peter Strzok to FBI attorney Lisa Page showing their personal disdain for the President and his supporters, released his report on the F.I.S.A. applications. While he said he could find no documentary evidence of bias in the initiation of the investigation, he found 17 separate instances of mistakes in the four applications by three different teams. These mistakes included doctoring an email from the C.I.A. to read that Carter Page was not a source. The email had stated that he was a source. In an appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee he elaborated on this finding, ""although we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence of intentional misconduct, we also did not receive satisfactory explanations for the errors or the missing information and the failures that occurred." [30]


The term "deep state" is the subject of a lot of controversy. Some, including historians and political scientists, use the term to describe a rift in modern states between the political leadership and the administrative state. Others label it as a conspiracy theory. As long as the government consists of bureaucracies overseen by political appointees, there will remain at least the possibility of a natural tension between the two. The term generally implies more than this tension, however. It suggests that those within the bureaucracy are pursuing interests antithetical to either the political class whom they serve, or the public good itself.


  1. Daniel De Leon, "Imperium in imperio" Daily People, June 4, 1903. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  2. Svetlana Boym, "Conspiracy theories and literary ethics: Umberto Eco, Danilo Kis and The Protocols of Zion" Comparative Literature 51(2) (Spring 1999):97-122.
  3. Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus politicus, Caput II, § 6.
  4. Cf William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, IV, c.4 ss. iii.2, p. 54, where the charge of being imperium in imperio was notably levied against the Church
  5. George Friedman, The Deep State RealClear World, March 16, 2017. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  6. Woodrow Wilson, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 7 (Princeton University Press, 1969).
  7. Max Weber, The Vocation Lectures: Science as a Vocation and Politics as a vocation (Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2004, ISBN 0872206661).
  8. Yevgenia Albats, trans. Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia—Past, Present, and Future (New York, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994, ISBN 0374527385).
  9. The Chechen Times №17, 30.08.2003. Translated from "Technology of Power", 1991, chapter 34 Russian text Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  10. Jamie Glazov, When an Evil Empire Returns — The Cold War: It's back Free Republic, June 23, 2006. Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  11. Jones, Gareth, "Bombing throws spotlight on Turkey", Turkish Daily News, 2005-11-20. Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  12. Jon Gorvett, Bombing Campaign a Response to Ankara's Kurdish Policies, or 'Deep State' Plot? Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2006. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  13. Dexter Filkins, The Deep State The New Yorker, March 12, 2012. Retrieved January 3, 2019.
  14. "BBC ON THIS DAY - 26 - 1981: Italy in crisis as cabinet resigns", 1981-05-26. Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  15. Dino P. Arrigo, Fratelli d'Italia. Cronache, storie, riti e personaggi (per capire la Massoneria), Soveria Mannelli, Rubbettino, 1994, p. 45.
  16. Philip Willan, Puppetmasters, The Political Use of Terrorism in Italy (Lincoln, Nebraska: Authors Choice Press 1991, ISBN 0595246974), 50.
  17. Shehab Khan, David Cameron's former director of strategy says Tony Blair warned him about a 'deep state' conspiracy The Independent, February 6, 2018. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  18. George Friedman, The Deep State Is A Very Real Thing The HuffingtonPost, March 16, 2017. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  19. Stephen F. Cohen, War with Russia? From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate (New York, New York: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2019, ISBN 9781510745810), 190.
  20. Jason Royce Lindsey, The Concealment of the State (New York, New York: Bloomsbury, 2013, ISBN 978441172457), 35-36.
  21. Jeremy Scahill, Donald Trump and the Coming Fall of the American Empire The Intercept, July 22, 2017. Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  22. Stefania Maurizi, Edward Snowden: 'Poisoning people who are long out of their service is contemptible' La Repubblica, March 19, 2018. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  23. Bill Gertz, Fired NSC Aide Reveals Political Warfare Operation Targeting Trump The Washington Free Beacon, August 11, 2017. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  24. Julian Borger, John McCain passes dossier alleging secret Trump-Russia contacts to FBI The Guardian, January 11, 2017. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  25. Charlie Savage, Carter Page FISA Documents Are Released by Justice Department The New York Times, July 21, 2018. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Daniella Cheslow, Trump Administration Releases Classified Warrants For FBI Wiretap Of Carter Page NPR, July 22, 2018. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  27. Matthew Yglesias and Andrew Prokop, The Steele dossier on Trump and Russia, explained Vox, February 2, 2018. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  28. Natasha Bertrand, Memos: CEO of Russia's state oil company offered Trump adviser, allies a cut of huge deal if sanctions were lifted Business Insider, January 27, 2017. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  29. At Best, The FBI Misled The Court To Wiretap Trump Campaign, FISA Application Shows Investor's Business Daily, July 23, 2018. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
  30. Ronn Blitzer, Horowitz hits FBI 'failures' in Senate testimony after FISA court rebuke Fox News, December 18, 2019. Retrieved December 31, 2019.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Albats, Yevgenia trans. Catherine A. Fitzpatrick. The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia—Past, Present, and Future. Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1994. ISBN 0374527385
  • Lindsey, Jason Royce. The Concealment of the State. Bloomsbury Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1441172457
  • Willan, Philip. Puppetmasters, The Political Use of Terrorism in Italy. Authors Choice Press 1991. ISBN 0595246974


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