Watch “The Deep State Hiding in Plain Sight” on YouTube
Published on Apr 15, 2014
Mike Lofgren, a congressional staff member for 28 years, joins Bill Moyers to talk about what he calls Washington’s “Deep State,” in which elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests. “It is how we had deregulation, financialization of the economy, the Wall Street bust, the erosion or our civil liberties and perpetual war,” Lofgren tells Moyers.
Reproduced from: http://billmoyers.com/episode/the-deep-state-hiding-in-plain-sight/
The Deep State Hiding in Plain Sight
February 21, 2014
Everyone knows about the military-industrial complex, which, in his farewell address, President Eisenhower warned had the potential to “endanger our liberties or democratic process” but have you heard of the “Deep State?”
Mike Lofgren, a former GOP congressional staff member with the powerful House and Senate Budget Committees, joins Bill to talk about what he calls the Deep State, a hybrid of corporate America and the national security state, which is “out of control” and “unconstrained.” In it, Lofgren says, elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests. “It is … the red thread that runs through the history of the last three decades. It is how we had deregulation, financialization of the economy, the Wall Street bust, the erosion or our civil liberties and perpetual war,” Lofgren tells Bill.
Lofgren says the Deep State’s heart lies in Washington, DC, but its tentacles reach out to Wall Street, which Lofgren describes as “the ultimate backstop to the whole operation,” Silicon Valley and over 400,000 contractors, private citizens who have top-secret security clearances. Like any other bureaucracy, it’s groupthink that drives the Deep State.
In conjunction with this week’s show, Mike Lofgren has written an exclusive essay, “Anatomy of the Deep State.”
Producer: Gina Kim. Segment Producer: Lena Shemel. Editor: Rob Kuhns. Intro Editor: Sikay Tang.
Reproduced from: http://www.mikelofgren.net/introduction-to-the-deep-state/
Introduction to “the Deep State”
The Deep State (available January 5, 2016)
An excerpt from the introduction:
Anyone who has spent time on Capitol Hill will occasionally get the feeling when watching debates in the House or Senate chambers that he or she is seeing a kind of marionette theater, with members of Congress reading carefully vetted talking points about prefabricated issues. This impression was particularly strong both in the run-up to the Iraq war and later, during the mock deliberations over funding that ongoing debacle. While the public is now aware of the disproportionate influence of powerful corporations over Washington, best exemplified by the judicial travesty known as the Citizens United decision, few fully appreciate that the United States has in the last several decades gradually undergone a process first identified by Aristotle and later championed by Machiavelli that the journalist Lawrence Peter Garrett described in the 1930s as a “revolution within the form.” Our venerable institutions of government have outwardly remained the same, but they have grown more and more resistant to the popular will as they have become hardwired into a corporate and private influence network with almost unlimited cash to enforce its will.
Even as commentators decry a broken government that cannot marshal the money, the will, or the competence to repair our roads and bridges, heal our war veterans, or even roll out a health care website, there is always enough money and will, and maybe just enough competence, to overthrow foreign governments, fight the longest war in U.S. history, and conduct dragnet surveillance over the entire surface of the planet.
This paradox of penury and dysfunction on the one hand and unlimited wealth and seeming omnipotence on the other is replicated outside of government as well. By every international metric of health and living standards, the rural countries of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky qualify as third world. So do large areas of Detroit, Cleveland, Camden, Gary, and many other American cities. At the same time, wealth beyond computation, almost beyond imagining, piles up in the money center of New York and the technology hub of Palo Alto. It piles up long enough to purchase a $95,000 truffle, a $38 million vintage Ferrari GTO, or a $179 million Picasso before the balance finds its way to an offshore hiding place.
These paradoxes, both within the government and within the ostensibly private economy, are related. They are symptoms of a shadow government ruling the United States that pays little heed to the plain words of the Constitution. Its governing philosophy profoundly influences foreign and national security policy and such domestic matters as spending priorities, trade, investment, income inequality, privatization of government services, media presentation of news, and the whole meaning and worth of citizens’ participation in their government.
I have come to call this shadow government the Deep State. The term was actually coined in Turkey, and is said to be a system composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services, military, security, judiciary, and organized crime. In John le Carré’s recent novel, A Delicate Truth, a character in the book 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.” I use the term to mean a hybrid association of key elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States with only limited reference to the consent of the governed as normally expressed through elections.
The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism and the militarization of foreign policy, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure that has given us the most unequal society in almost a century, and the political dysfunction that has paralyzed day-to-day governance.
Edward Snowden’s June 2013 exposure of the pervasiveness of the National Security Agency’s surveillance has partially awakened a Congress that was asleep at the switch and ignited a national debate about who is really in charge of our government. At the same time, a few politicians, most notably Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, are beginning to argue that the American economy is rigged. But these isolated cases have not provided a framework for understanding the extent of the shadow government, how it arose, the interactions of its various parts, and the extent to which it influences and controls the leaders whom we think we choose in elections. This book, based in large part on my experiences and observations while in public service, aims to provide that framework.
My reflection on our shadow system of government has come only after my retirement in 2011 and my physical withdrawal from Washington, D.C. proper and the institutions located there. Unlike the vast majority of Capitol Hill strivers who leave the place for greener pastures, I had no desire to join a lobbying shop, trade association, think tank, or consultancy. But I did have a need to see the events I had witnessed in perspective, and I came to realize that the nation’s capital, where I lived and worked for more than half my lifetime, has its own peculiar ecology.
To look upon Washington once again with fresh eyes, I sometimes feel as Darwin must have when he first set foot on the Galapagos Islands. From the Pentagon to K Street, and from the contractor cube farms in Crystal City to the public policy foundations along Massachusetts Avenue, the terrain and its people are exotic and well worth examining in a scientific manner. The official United States government has its capital there, and so does our state within a state. To describe them in the language of physics, they coexist in the same way it is possible for two subatomic particles to coexist in an entangled quantum state. The characteristics of each particle, or each governmental structure, cannot fully be described independently; instead, we must find a way to describe the system as a whole.
How the Powers That Be Maintain the “Deep State”: An Interview With Mike Lofgren
Date created Sunday, 21 February 2016 By Leslie Thatcher, Truthout | Interview
The New World Order should more accurately be called the Deep State.
September 24, 2015
(ANTIMEDIA) For decades, extreme ideologies on both the left and the right have clashed over the conspiratorial concept of a shadowy secret government often called the New World Order pulling the strings on the world’s heads of state and captains of industry.
The phrase New World Order is largely derided as a sophomoric conspiracy theory entertained by minds that lack the sophistication necessary to understand the nuances of geopolitics. But it turns out the core idea — one of deep and overarching collusion between Wall Street and government with a globalist agenda — is operational in what a number of insiders call the “Deep State.”
In the past couple of years, the term has gained traction across a wide swath of ideologies. Former Republican congressional aide Mike Lofgren says it is the nexus of Wall Street and the national security state — a relationship where elected and unelected figures join forces to consolidate power and serve vested interests. Calling it “the big story of our time,” Lofgren says the deep state represents the failure of our visible constitutional government and the cross-fertilization of corporatism with the globalist war on terror.
“It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street,” he explained.
Even parts of the judiciary, namely the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, belong to the deep state.
How does the deep state operate?
A complex web of revolving doors between the military-industrial-complex, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley consolidates the interests of defense contractors, banksters, military campaigns, and both foreign and domestic surveillance intelligence.
According to Mike Lofgren and many other insiders, this is not a conspiracy theory. The deep state hides in plain sight and goes far beyond the military-industrial complex President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about in his farewell speech over fifty years ago.
While most citizens are at least passively aware of the surveillance state and collusion between the government and the corporate heads of Wall Street, few people are aware of how much the intelligence functions of the government have been outsourced to privatized groups that are not subject to oversight or accountability. According to Lofgren, 70% of our intelligence budget goes to contractors.
Moreover, while Wall Street and the federal government suck money out of the economy, relegating tens of millions of people to food stamps and incarcerating more people than China — a totalitarian state with four times more people than us — the deep state has, since 9/11, built the equivalent of three Pentagons, a bloated state apparatus that keeps defense contractors, intelligence contractors, and privatized non-accountable citizens marching in stride.
After years of serving in Congress, Lofgren’s moment of truth regarding this matter came in 2001. He observed the government appropriating an enormous amount of money that was ostensibly meant to go to Afghanistan but instead went to the Persian Gulf region. This, he says, “disenchanted” him from the groupthink, which he says keeps all of Washington’s minions in lockstep.
Groupthink — an unconscious assimilation of the views of your superiors and peers — also works to keep Silicon Valley funneling technology and information into the federal surveillance state. Lofgren believes the NSA and CIA could not do what they do without Silicon Valley. It has developed a de facto partnership with NSA surveillance activities, as facilitated by a FISA court order.
Now, Lofgren notes, these CEOs want to complain about foreign market share and the damage this collusion has wrought on both the domestic and international reputation of their brands. Under the pretense of pseudo-libertarianism, they helmed a commercial tech sector that is every bit as intrusive as the NSA. Meanwhile, rigging of the DMCA intellectual property laws — so that the government can imprison and fine citizens who jailbreak devices — behooves Wall Street. It’s no surprise that the government has upheld the draconian legislation for 15 years.
It is also unsurprising that the growth of the corporatocracy aids the deep state. The revolving door between government and Wall Street money allows top firms to offer premium jobs to senior government officials and military yes-men. This, says Philip Giraldi, a former counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer for the CIA, explains how the Clintons left the White House nearly broke but soon amassed $100 million. It also explains how former general and CIA Director David Petraeus, who has no experience in finance, became a partner at the KKR private equity firm, and how former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell became Senior Counselor at Beacon Global Strategies.
Wall Street is the ultimate foundation for the deep state because the incredible amount of money it generates can provide these cushy jobs to those in the government after they retire. Nepotism reigns supreme as the revolving door between Wall Street and government facilitates a great deal of our domestic strife:
“Bank bailouts, tax breaks, and resistance to legislation that would regulate Wall Street, political donors, and lobbyists. The senior government officials, ex-generals, and high level intelligence operatives who participate find themselves with multi-million dollar homes in which to spend their retirement years, cushioned by a tidy pile of investments,” said Giraldi.
How did the deep state come to be?
Some say it is the evolutionary hybrid offspring of the military-industrial complex while others say it came into being with the Federal Reserve Act, even before the First World War. At this time, Woodrow Wilson remarked,
“We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated governments in the civilized world, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.”
This quasi-secret cabal pulling the strings in Washington and much of America’s foreign policy is maintained by a corporatist ideology that thrives on deregulation, outsourcing, deindustrialization, and financialization. American exceptionalism, or the great “Washington Consensus,” yields perpetual war and economic imperialism abroad while consolidating the interests of the oligarchy here at home.
Mike Lofgren says this government within a government operates off tax dollars but is not constrained by the constitution, nor are its machinations derailed by political shifts in the White House. In this world — where the deep state functions with impunity — it doesn’t matter who is president so long as he or she perpetuates the war on terror, which serves this interconnected web of corporate special interests and disingenuous geopolitical objectives.
“As long as appropriations bills get passed on time, promotion lists get confirmed, black (i.e., secret) budgets get rubber stamped, special tax subsidies for certain corporations are approved without controversy, as long as too many awkward questions are not asked, the gears of the hybrid state will mesh noiselessly,” according to Mike Lofgren in an interview with Bill Moyers.
Interestingly, according to Philip Giraldi, the ever-militaristic Turkey has its own deep state, which uses overt criminality to keep the money flowing. By comparison, the U.S. deep state relies on a symbiotic relationship between banksters, lobbyists, and defense contractors, a mutant hybrid that also owns the Fourth Estate and Washington think tanks.
Is there hope for the future?
Perhaps. At present, discord and unrest continues to build. Various groups, establishments, organizations, and portions of the populace from all corners of the political spectrum, including Silicon Valley, Occupy, the Tea Party, Anonymous, WikiLeaks, anarchists and libertarians from both the left and right, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and others are beginning to vigorously question and reject the labyrinth of power wielded by the deep state.
Can these groups — can we, the people — overcome the divide and conquer tactics used to quell dissent? The future of freedom may depend on it.
This article (Forget the New World Order, Here’s Who Really Runs the World) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Jake Anderson and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email email@example.com.
The Deep State: The Unelected Shadow Government Is Here to Stay
By John W. Whitehead
November 10, 2015
America’s next president will inherit more than a bitterly divided nation teetering on the brink of financial catastrophe when he or she assumes office. He will also inherit a shadow government, one that is fully operational and staffed by unelected officials who are, in essence, running the country.
To be precise, however, the future president will actually inherit not one but two shadow governments.
The first shadow government, referred to as COG or continuity of government, is made up of unelected individuals who have been appointed to run the government in the event of a “catastrophe.”
The second shadow government, referred to as the Deep State, is comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes right now.
The first shadow government, COG, is a phantom menace waiting for the right circumstances—a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, an economic meltdown—to bring it out of the shadows, where it operates even now. When and if COG takes over, the police state will transition to martial law.
Yet as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it is the second shadow government, the Deep State, which poses the greater threat to our freedoms. This permanent, corporatized, militarized, entrenched bureaucracy is unaffected by elections, unaltered by populist movements, and beyond the reach of the law.
This is the hidden face of the police state.
These two shadow governments, which make a mockery of representative government and the “reassurance ritual” of voting, have been a long time in the making. Yet they have been so shrouded in secrecy, well hidden from the eyes and ears of the American people, that they exist and function in contravention to the principles of democratic government.
As the following makes clear, these shadow governments, which operate beyond the reach of the Constitution and with no real accountability to the citizenry, are the reason why “we the people” have no control over our government.
The COG shadow government plan was devised during the Cold War as a means of ensuring that a nuclear strike didn’t paralyze the federal government.
COG initially called for three teams consisting of a cabinet member, an executive chief of staff and military and intelligence officials to practice evacuating and directing a counter nuclear strike against the Soviet Union from a variety of high-tech, mobile command vehicles. If the president and vice president were both killed, one of these teams would take control, with the ranking cabinet official serving as president.
This all changed after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when it became clear that there would be no warning against a terrorist attack. Instead of waiting until an attack occurred to mobilize part-time bureaucrats and activate evacuation schemes, George W. Bush opted to change COG and establish a full-time, permanent shadow government, stationed outside the capital, run by permanently appointed (not elected) executive officials.
COG has since taken on a power—and a budget—of its own.
Incredibly, under the Obama administration, the plans for the shadow government have expanded and grown far more elaborate and costly than many realize. It is what investigative journalist William M. Arkin refers to as “the latest manifestation of an obsession with government survival.”
In much the same way that the nation was taken hostage after 9/11 by color-coded terror alerts and “See Something, Say Something” campaigns that transformed us into a fearful, watchful nation of suspects, the government’s efforts to prepare us for a so-called national disaster have, in turn, left us a constant state of near-emergency and acclimated us to the sight of militarized police, military drills on American soil, privatized prisons, the specter of internment camps, and the erosion of constitutional rights, especially as they pertain to so-called “extremists,” domestic or otherwise.
Study the COG plans carefully, however, and you’ll find that the concern isn’t so much about protecting our government as it is about protecting the nation’s governmental elite.
As Arkin reports: “Countless billions have been spent on this endeavor over the years, a secret orgy of preparedness going on behind the scenes, one that ensures Washington can defend itself, take care of its own, and survive no matter what.”
To this end, the government has invested heavily in the “architecture of fear”: massive underground bunkers—the size of small cities—which are sprinkled throughout the country for the government elite to escape to “in case of an imminent nuclear strike so that they can set up a kind of Administration-in-exile, directing every order of business from retaliation to recovery.”
These bunkers, strategically located around the nation’s capital and in key states, represent a who’s who on the shadow government’s payroll, with every department and agency represented, from the Department of Education and the Trademark Office to the Small Business Administration and the National Archives.
No sector has been overlooked: military, surveillance, counterintelligence, scientific, political, judicial, corporate contractors, as well as computer programmers, engineers, fire fighters, craftsmen, security guards, branch chiefs, financial managers, supply officers, secretaries and stenographers, all of whom have been entrusted with special ID cards allowing them clearance into the doomsday survival sites. They’ve even included individuals tasked with patent and trademark processing. They even have contingency plans to save priceless works of art.
The Federal Relocation Arc near Washington DC will reportedly serve as the emergency bunker for “every Cabinet department (and every government organization deemed essential).” Site R, a 700,000-foot facility inside Raven Rock Mountain near Camp David, will serve as a backup Pentagon. Peters Mountain near Charlottesville, Va., is the likely site for the nation’s domestic spies to hide out. Congress will retire to a subterranean facility near the posh Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, which served as an internment facility for Japanese, Italian and German diplomats during World War II. And a 600,000-square-foot complex inside Virginia’s Mount Weather is expected to be the primary relocation site for the White House, the Supreme Court and much of the executive branch.
Built into the side of a mountain, Mount Weather, near Bluemont, Va., is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This self-contained facility contains, among other things, a hospital, crematorium, dining and recreation areas, sleeping quarters, reservoirs of drinking and cooling water, an emergency power plant, a radio/television studio and a full-time police and fire department.
There is also an Office of the Presidency at Mount Weather, which regularly receives top-secret national security information from all the federal departments and agencies. This facility was largely unknown to everyone, including Congress, until it came to light in the mid-1970s. Military personnel connected to the bunker have refused to reveal any information about it, even before congressional committees. In fact, Congress has no oversight, budgetary or otherwise, on Mount Weather, and the specifics of the facility remain top-secret.
These facilities reinforce a troubling government mindset that treats the American people as relatively insignificant and expendable. Because you know who’s not on the list of key-individuals-to-be-saved-in-the-eventuality-of-a-disaster? You and me and every other American citizen who is viewed as a mere economic unit to be tallied, bought and sold by those in power.
Not to worry, however. The government hasn’t completely forgotten about us.
In the event of a “national emergency”—loosely defined as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions”—the executive branch and its unelected appointees will be given unchecked executive, legislative and judicial power.
In such an event, the Constitution will effectively be suspended, thereby ushering in martial law.
However, writing for Radar magazine, Christopher Ketcham suggests that the government won’t have completely forgotten about the rest of us. In fact, Ketcham believes that the government also has plans to imprison hundreds of thousands of “potentially suspect” Americans in detention camps.
Ketcham describes a program created by the Department of Homeland Security that relies on a database of Americans who might be considered potential threats in the event of a national emergency. Referred to by the code name Main Core, this database reportedly contains the names of millions of Americans who, “often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.”
Sounds unnervingly like the objectives of the government’s new Domestic Terrorism Czar and the Strong Cities network, which will be working to identify and target potential extremists, doesn’t it?
Under Ketcham’s scenario, if a terrorist attack occurs, the president will declare a national emergency, activating COG procedures and throwing the country into martial law with the shadow government at the helm. The administration will then round up the “dangerous” Americans listed in Main Core and place them in one of the many internment camps or private prisons built for just such an eventuality.
For all intents and purposes, the nation is one national “emergency” away from having a full-fledged, unelected, authoritarian state emerge from the shadows. All it will take is the right event—another terrorist attack, perhaps, or a natural disaster—for such a regime to emerge from the shadows.
As unnerving as that prospect may be, however, it is the second shadow government, what former congressional staffer Mike Lofgren refers to as “the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power,” that poses the greater threat right now.
Consider this: how is it that partisan gridlock has seemingly jammed up the gears (and funding sources) in Washington, yet the government has been unhindered in its ability to wage endless wars abroad, in the process turning America into a battlefield and its citizens into enemy combatants?
The credit for such relentless, entrenched, profit-driven governance, according to Lofgren, goes to “another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose.”
This “state within a state” hides “mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day,” says Lofgren, and yet the “Deep State does not consist of the entire government.”
Rather, Lofgren continues:
It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street.
All these agencies are coordinated by the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council. Certain key areas of the judiciary belong to the Deep State, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose actions are mysterious even to most members of Congress. Also included are a handful of vital federal trial courts, such as the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of Manhattan, where sensitive proceedings in national security cases are conducted.
The final government component (and possibly last in precedence among the formal branches of government established by the Constitution) is a kind of rump Congress consisting of the congressional leadership and some (but not all) of the members of the defense and intelligence committees. The rest of Congress, normally so fractious and partisan, is mostly only intermittently aware of the Deep State and when required usually submits to a few well-chosen words from the State’s emissaries.
In an expose titled “Top Secret America,” The Washington Post revealed the private side of this shadow government, made up of 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances, “a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government.”
Reporting on the Post’s findings, Lofgren points out:
These contractors now set the political and social tone of Washington, just as they are increasingly setting the direction of the country, but they are doing it quietly, their doings unrecorded in the Congressional Record or the Federal Register, and are rarely subject to congressional hearings…
The Deep State not only holds the nation’s capital in thrall, but it also controls Wall Street (“which supplies the cash that keeps the political machine quiescent and operating as a diversionary marionette theater”) and Silicon Valley.
As Lofgren concludes:
[T]he Deep State is so heavily entrenched, so well protected by surveillance, firepower, money and its ability to co-opt resistance that it is almost impervious to change… If there is anything the Deep State requires it is silent, uninterrupted cash flow and the confidence that things will go on as they have in the past. It is even willing to tolerate a degree of gridlock: Partisan mud wrestling over cultural issues may be a useful distraction from its agenda.
Remember this the next time you find yourselves mesmerized by the antics of the 2016 presidential candidates or drawn into a politicized debate over the machinations of Congress, the president or the judiciary: it’s all intended to distract you from the fact that you have no authority and no rights in the face of the shadow governments.
TUESDAY, JAN 5, 2016 06:52 PM AST
Controlled by shadow government: Mike Lofgren reveals how top U.S. officials are at the mercy of the “deep state”
A corrupt network of wealthy elites has hijacked our government, ex-GOP staffer and best-selling author tells Salon
TOPICS: 1 PERCENT, 9/11, BARACK OBAMA, CIA, DAVID PETRAEUS, DEEP STATE, EDITOR’S PICKS, EDWARD SNOWDEN, GEORGE W. BUSH, INEQUALITY, MIKE LOFGREN, MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, NSA, SILICON VALLEY, TERRORISM, WALL STREET, ELECTIONS NEWS, MEDIA NEWS, NEWS, POLITICS NEWS
One of the predominant themes of the 2016 presidential campaign thus far — and one that is unlikely to lose significance once the primaries give way to the general election — is the American people’s exasperation with a political system they see as corrupt, self-serving, disingenuous and out of touch.
It is not an especially partisan or ideological sentiment; you can just as easily find it among supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders as among fans of Donald Trump. You can even find those who support paragons of the status quo, like Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush, making similar complaints. It’s about as close to a consensus position as you’re likely to find nowadays in American politics.
Yet despite the widespread agreement that something is seriously wrong with democracy in the U.S., there’s much less of a consensus as to what that something is — and, crucially, how to fix it. The answers Bernie Sanders offers, for example, are not exactly the same as those proffered by Donald Trump. Is the problem too much government? Not enough government? Too much immigration? Not enough immigration? Too much taxing and regulating? Not enough taxing and regulating?
Our lack of a systemic analysis of the problem is part of the reason why our answers are so diffuse and ill-fitting. And that’s just one of the reasons why “The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government,” the new book from ex-longtime GOP staffer turned best-selling author Mike Lofgren, is so valuable. Lofgren puts a name and a shape to a problem that has often been only nebulously defined; and while his conclusions are not exactly uplifting, the logic and sophistication of his argument is hard to resist.
Recently, Salon spoke over the phone with Lofgren about his book, the deep state and his read on the current sorry state of American government and politics. Our conversation, which also touched on President Obama’s relationship with the deep state, was edited for clarity and length.
How should we think about the deep state? Is it an elite conspiracy? A loosely defined social group? A network of specific institutions? How should we conceive of it?
Well, first of all, it is not a conspiracy. It is something that operates in broad daylight. It is not a conspiratorial cabal. These are simply people who have evolved [into] a kind of position. It is in their best interest to act in this way.
And given the fact that people would rather know about Kim Kardashian than what makes up the budget or what the government is doing in Mali or Sudan or other unknown places, this is what you get: a disconnected, self-serving bureaucracy that is … simply evolving to do what it’s doing now. That is, to maintain and enhance its own power.
When do you think the American deep state first started?
Probably, it started in WWII, when we had the Manhattan Project, which was a huge secret project that required tens of thousands of people to be working in complete secrecy — and we actually built enormous cities [for the project’s workers] … and no one knew they existed.
You also had the so-called Ultra and Magic secret [operations], the decoding of the Nazi and Japanese codes that required an enormous number of people to be doing absolutely top secret work that they did not reveal to anybody for decades. So, WWII created this kind of infrastructure of the deep state, which increased and consolidated during the Cold War.
What are the key institutions and players within the deep state?
The key institutions are exactly what people would think they are. The military-industrial complex; the Pentagon and all their contractors (but also, now, our entire homeland security apparatus); the Department of Treasury; the Justice Department; certain courts, like the southern district of Manhattan, and the eastern district of Virginia; the FISA courts. And you got this kind of rump Congress that consists of certain people in the leadership, defense and intelligence committees who kind of know what’s going on. The rest of Congress doesn’t really know or care; they’re too busy looking about the next election.
So that’s the governmental aspect. What about in the private sector?
You’ve got Wall Street. Many of these people — whether it is David Petraeus … or someone like [Bill] Daley, who is the former chief of staff to President Obama … or Hank Paulson, who came from Goldman Sachs to become Treasury Secretary and bailed out Wall Street in 2008; or the people that Obama chose to be Treasury secretary — like Tim Geithner. They all have that Wall Street connection.
And the third thing now is Silicon Valley.
Oh? Why is Silicon Valley now so central?
Because they generate so much money that they are rivaling and sometimes surpassing Wall Street. The heads of Google or Apple make more money than the guys running Wall Street. They make more money than Jamie Dimon. So that’s the new source of cash to run the deep state.
Silicon Valley provides a lot of money. But it also has access to an unfathomable amount of information. Which do you think is more valuable to the deep state — the cash or the info?
I think you can’t distinguish the two. There is a tremendous amount of money coming, in terms of lobbying, for Silicon Valley to get what it wants in terms of intellectual property and so forth.
At the same time, NSA insiders have told me that they couldn’t even operate without the cooperation of Silicon Valley, because the communication backbones that are set up and operated by Silicon Valley provide the vast majority of information that the NSA and other intelligence agencies are going to exploit — and they can’t do it themselves. They need the willing or unwilling cooperation of Silicon Valley.
But when the Snowden leaks first hit, a lot of Silicon Valley elites implied they didn’t knowingly or willingly work with the government, no?
There was a certain amount of deception there, after the Edward Snowden revelations. They claimed, Oh, well, the NSA made us do all these things! — but not really, because NSA, CIA, and these other intelligence organizations were also involved in giving seed money or subsidies to various Silicon Valley companies to do these things.
Right. Which raises the question of whether the line between the public sector and the private sector even matters anymore, at least when it comes to the deep state.
It is hard to distinguish them anymore. All these guys simply go through the revolving door to the point where you can hardly distinguish [government employees from private sector workers]. A good percentage of the people sitting at their desks right now in the Pentagon are private sector contractors. They are literally in the Pentagon, in the NSA building, in all these organizations. They are the ones who essentially run the show, by virtue of having the technical knowledge.
Snowden himself was a contractor.
Yes, he was a Booz Allen contractor. How is it that a Booz Allen contractor — a junior person — had access to all this information? It certainly doesn’t say much for Gen. Keith Alexander, who was the director of NSA at the time. How can he bitch and moan about Snowden? He was responsible for having him cleared, and for letting low-level contractors have that kind of access. And yet now he is working in some boutique cybersecurity firm on Wall Street and making a ton of money.
Do the people who work in the deep state have a common ideology or narrative that they tell themselves and one another, something that justifies their behavior or explains why their interventions into the democratic process are “necessary”?
I think it’s an ideology that dare not speak its name. They claim it is not an ideology, that it is simply their technocratic expertise giving you the benefit of their knowledge. However, their knowledge is always based on a neoconservative view of foreign policy, [and] in domestic policy, it enforces neoliberalism.
On a personal level, it is kind of, Well, we’re just doing the best we can or If only everyone appreciated how hard it is to decide whether to torture subject A or subject B when you are in the CIA or If only everyone appreciated how hard it is to decide to privatize this or that. You just don’t really appreciate how difficult things are for us.
They sort of act like stoical martyrs when you ask them about why they actually do these things.
Do you think that sense of martyrdom explains the revolving door problem? I’m imagining something along the lines of these people saying to themselves, Well, I sacrificed for my country; so now I deserve to cash out.
I am sure they all acculturate themselves to that viewpoint. And when the money is there; you don’t want to leave it lying on the table. They certainly don’t. And our laws against that kind of behavior are nonexistent, or can be gotten around, so why not take the money?
I once made a joke to a friend that President Obama was to the deep state what the press secretary is to the president. Was I closer to the truth than I realized? Or was I going too far?
I don’t believe so. [Obama] was a guy who was so carefully cultivated. You saw that already in the 2004 Democratic convention. He was going to filibuster the FISA Amendments Act regarding the telecoms illegal collusion with intelligence agencies, but somewhere in 2008, he decided he was going to vote for it. And that was right about the time that somebody supplied him with John Brennan, the current CIA director, who was going to tutor him on what it takes to be president from the national security perspective.
It doesn’t suggest a lot of autonomy on Obama’s part.
This guy is to some extent controlled. That doesn’t mean he is not articulate or bright or doesn’t know what’s going on; he is obviously more so, on all accounts, than his predecessor. But Obama, or any other president, has a very limited latitude of what he’s going to do on the very big issues of international finance and national security. He is very hemmed-in on those accounts. So he becomes a kind of a spokesman.
Just hypothetically, what do you think would happen if he tried to push the envelope and publicly reject some foundational element of the deep state?
I don’t think we really know what would happen, because the incentives for these people are so carefully aligned with what they’re “supposed” to do. Obama has already had White House dinners with very rich contributors about setting up his pharaonic monument, the Obama Presidential Library (which is going to require billions in funding). That already constraints how much he’s going to go rogue.
And we have to only have to think back to Clinton on his way out the door. He signed a bill which took the wraps off derivatives trading. He claimed later that somehow his hand was forced and that it was going to be written anyway and all that; I don’t think so. He ended up being paid over $100 million afterwards, mainly by corporate sponsors, to give speeches. It was kind of like compensation after the fact.
Given the ubiquity and continuity of the deep state, will it matter whether the Republican or the Democrat wins the presidential race later this year? Or will it be the same either way?
It matters to a certain extent. A competent rogue is probably preferable to an insane one. There are definable differences between Bush and Obama. However, the differences are so constrained. They’re not between the 40-yard lines; they are between the 48-yard lines.
Is there any scenario in which the deep state’s influence and power can be curtailed or eliminated? Or does the fact that it’s evolved sort of organically suggest that only something truly revolutionary could upend it?
The deep state has created so many contradictions in this country. You have this enormous disparity of rich and poor; and you have this perpetual war, even though we’re braying about freedom. We have a surveillance state, and we talk about freedom. We have internal contradictions. Who knows what this will fly into? It may collapse like the Soviet Union; or it might go into fascism with a populist camouflage — like Trump is selling us.
Elias Isquith is a staff writer at Salon