The History of the Deep State

A look at the origins of the shadowy force trying to bring down the President of the United States.

The History of the Deep State

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the “Deep State.”  An Op-Ed in the New York Times seemed to lend credence to the accusations made by President Trump that there is a group of people within the administration who are working to undermine his orders and his ability to govern as president. This is utterly unsurprising and is only considered a “conspiracy theory” by the NPR crowd who believe that Trump is delusional. President Trump threatened and, in some ways, continues to threaten the institutional power of the intelligence community and other established institutions in Washington. What does the Left think that these centers of power were going to do? Roll over and give up? No, that isn’t how power works, even in a democracy. When you threaten the power of powerful people and institutions, they push back, and that is precisely what the intelligence community has been doing since the day Donald Trump was elected president.

When they hear “Deep State,” about half of America thinks of people in a CIA war room plotting covert actions to influence the government for their own benefit. We could refer to this as the “Intelligence Deep State.” The other half think of a group of Washington bureaucrats who, year in, year out, make the real policy in the US and not the president. We could refer to this as the “Bureaucratic Deep State.” There are also Americans who see the Deep State as something in between. The lack of exact clarity as to what we mean when we mean Deep State doesn’t mean that the term doesn’t describe something that is real. Powerful people have always and will always plot to carry out actions that they believe will increase their power and wealth. Powerful people will certainly carry out sometimes radical actions in attempts to keep their power if they see it threatened. To not understand this is to not understand politics or power, and if you think that America’s “democratic norms and traditions” protect us from this kind of scheming, go join the Boy Scouts.

The Bureaucratic Deep State is as old as representative government itself. Governments that rely upon the citizens of a nation to elect the people who hold positions of power simply could not function if a wholly new government were installed every two or four years. That is simply not enough time to build up expertise, institutional structures, or any of the things necessary to run a functioning government. The reality is, there are certain key elections that replace the old Deep State with a new Deep State. The FDR election was certainly one of those elections. David Brinkley’s book “Washington Goes to War” describes an old Washington Deep State establishment being unseated by the New Deal Deep State. Instead of looking at every two or four years as a transition of power, it would be more helpful to view American government through the lens of power being transitioned from one faction to another about every twenty to thirty years. The faction that is being replaced certainly doesn’t like being taken out of power, but back when American institutions were highly respected, the losing faction knew that if it built up its ranks and strategized, it could take back power again. If it won a few elections, then it could unseat the current Deep State, and this is how the peace was kept between the various political factions within America. The current Bureaucratic Deep State is being far more resistant to the new political administration than any that I can think of in the past. The current Bureaucratic Deep State was defined by political moderation and staying within a certain globalist political narrative. You could call it the Bush/Clinton spectrum or the Cato Institute/Brookings Institution spectrum. Republicans argued for tax cuts and foreign wars, Democrats argued for welfare and minority rights. At the end of the day, the disagreements were mostly marginal, with both sides agreeing to never venture too far outside of these prescriptions. Trump seemed to destroy all of that by getting elected in 2016. Trump didn’t obey any of those rules and came into Washington like a bull in a China shop. That same set of bureaucrats on the kosher Left and Right are still in power, but they seem to see Trump as an omen of things to come and thus want to get out ahead of him and sabotage him in hopes of preventing a new Bureaucratic Deep State from rising to power and unseating them.

Now, let’s look at the Intelligence Deep State. The idea that a group of intelligence operators are carrying out actions that are independent and, sometimes, contradictory to the desires of the president is a far more recent phenomena. By virtue of how the CIA and NSA develop intelligence and carry out operations, there is a certain lack of control that is built into the structure. The CIA especially carries out a process of compartmentalization. What that means is that only a certain number of people know about any given operation at a given time. This means that there are certain operations that even the Director of the CIA doesn’t know about because the CIA field officer has decided that the operation is necessary because the mission has taken on a life of its own. Because of the structure of the CIA, it is fairly easy to carry out break-away operations that don’t have the approval of anyone. There is endless speculation of various operations the CIA may have carried out—so-called “conspiracy theories.” We know for certain that the entirety of the intelligence community used their clout to say that they believed “with a high degree of confidence” that Vladimir Putin himself ordered Russian intelligence to try and win the election for Trump.  They released this statement in January, right before the newly elected president was about to be sworn into office.

The idea that the CIA would carry out operations on their own initiative, or carry out operations that undermine or contradict the wishes of the president shouldn’t surprise us. The CIA, after all, was created through a Deep State action. I was reading the book “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA” by mainstream historian Tim Weiner, when I ran across this incredible passage: “He sat down with an old friend of Donovan’s, the assistant secretary of war, John McClory, one of the great movers and shakers of Washington. Together, the two men countermanded the president. Magruder walked out of the Pentagon that day with an order from McCloy that said, ‘the continuing operations of OSS must be performed in order to preserve them.’ That piece of paper kept the hope for a Central Intelligence Agency alive. The Spies would stay on duty, under a new name, the Strategic Services Unit, the SSU. McCloy then asked his good friend Robert A. Lovett, the assistant secretary of air war and a future secretary of defense, to set up a secret commission to plot the course for American intelligence—and to tell Harry Truman what had to be done.” President Harry Truman had ordered the OSS to be shut down. Men underneath him decided that they knew better, and they continued the organization under a different name. After disobeying a direct order from the president, they decided to go further. They got millions of dollars of funding from other members of the government for the purposes of carrying out an armed operation in Romania, and did so as representatives of the United States of America, but without the approval of anyone in the executive branch. The men who founded the CIA were, objectively, traitors to their country. But being the Washington outsider that he was, President Truman felt that he needed to listen to these men to get through the rocky early years of the Cold War. So to anyone who calls the idea of a Deep State a “conspiracy theory,” let them know that one of the most prominent official histories of the CIA describes the creation of the CIA as a series of illegal activities taken against the president’s wishes.  In other words, the creation of the CIA was an act of the Deep State.

In the time of Trump it is easy to assume that every negative thing that is happening is as a result of the Deep State. I say “easy” because it is better to believe that than to believe that Trump is failing on his own. The Bureaucratic Deep State has always existed and will always exist. What the Trump era has revealed is how self-righteous, stale, and resistant to change the current Bureaucratic Deep State has become in recent years. Many of them are under the misapprehension that they are the ones who should be running the country, instead of the elected representatives. New ideas are constantly referred to as “breaking norms,” as if a policy should be kept only because it was practiced in the past. Every single major and important president broke the norms of the past, that is how they became major and important.  The Bureaucratic Deep State must be reformed for the sake of the future of our country. No organization should be so resistant to the orders of the president that they are in rebellion to his authority. As to the Intelligence Deep State, their actions verge on treason. This Intelligence Deep State has been cancerous since its origins, and needs to be, as President Kennedy once said, “smashed into a thousand pieces and scattered into the wind”.

Eric King
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