A short disambiguation of the “subsurface part of the iceberg”

What is the „deep state“ that some political analysts see in the U.S.? In short: no structure like the daily observable „public state“, but a system – “as difficult to define, but also as real and powerful, as a weather system.“

By Lars Schall

“Citizens in many countries wonder,” former CIA officer Philip Giraldi wrote in a New York Times article, “how certain government policies can persist in spite of widespread popular opposition or clear perceptions that they are harmful. This persistence is frequently attributed to a ’deep state.’” Every country has a kind of deep state, Giraldi said. In the United States, it was called in the past The Establishment, “where it evolved from the Washington-New York axis of national security officials and financial services executives. They are said to know what is ‚best‘ for the country and to act accordingly, no matter who sits in the White House.” (1)

The resulting question, what the „deep state“ is, is answered by the German investigative journalist Jürgen Roth with the explanation that these are historically grown “hidden” respectively ”secret power structures,” (2) usually consisting of “intelligence services, entrepreneurs, police, Right-wing extremists and politicians, who operate outside of legality and can escape any parliamentary control,” while cooperating not infrequently with figures of organized crime. In many countries of the Western alliance, a deep state has developed, whose protagonists have pursued two objectives since the early 1950s, according to Roth: ”on the one hand, to be prepared against an attack by the Soviet Union, and on the other to fight system-critical movements or parties and to secure the dominance of the national elites, in case they should feel existentially threatened.” (3) Hajo Funke, a former Professor of Political Science at the Freie Universitaet Berlin, also emphasizes the lack of control by transferring the term to Germany: „For Germany, the deep state means: a separate structure that is not controlled, that is not integrated into the rule of law, in which this deep structure can act and exercise according to its own opportunity aspects. Without constitutional containment and without control by the division of powers in a democracy.” (4)

Not only the ex-CIA official Giraldi, but also the Republican analyst Mike Lofgren thinks that a „deep state“ exists in the USA, which exercises power from a hidden position: “There is the visible government situated around the Mall in Washington,” Lofgren explains, “and then there is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The former is traditional Washington partisan politics: the tip of the iceberg that a public watching C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections.” Lofgren calls the “subsurface part of the iceberg” the Deep State, “which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power.” (5)

The „deep state“ is closely linked to what Canadian political researcher and former diplomat Peter Dale Scott first described in the 1990s as Deep Politics: “all those political practices and arrangements, deliberate or not, which are usually repressed rather than acknowledged.“ (6)

In his book, The American Deep State, Scott points out that you can see „„in Henry Fairlie’s definition of a prevailing establishment in Great Britain” an antecedent to the term “deep state”, namely: : ‚the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised.‘ A more relevant antecedent was Wright Mills‘ notion of a tripartite American power elite, composed of corporate executives, the military establishment, and a ‚political directorate.‘ Both concepts are relevant, but Fairlie’s establishment was more of a restraining than an enabling force; while Mills‘ power elite (combining both state and deep state elements), was focused conversely on those with more open and active managerial roles.“ (7)

Originally, the term „deep state“ was developed in 1996 in Turkey after the so-called Susurluk incident as „gizli devlet“ or „derin devlet„. It referred to “United States-backed elements, primarily in the intelligence services and the military, who had repeatedly used violence to interfere with and realign Turkey’s democratic political process. Sometimes the definition is restricted to elements within the government (or ‚a state-within-the-state‘), but more often in Turkey the term is expanded, for historical reasons, to include ‚members of the Turkish underworld‘.“ (8)

Scott uses the term „deep state“ in this broader sense to take into account both the level “of secret government inside Washington and those outsiders powerful enough, in either the underworld or overworld, to give it direction.“ Scott also equates the concept of the „deep state“ with what he already called the „deep political system“ in the late 1990s: “one which habitually resorts to decision-making and enforcement procedures outside as well as inside those publically santioned by law and society.“ (9)

Similar to Scott, Mike Lofgren also acknowledges “an ambiguous symbiosis between two aspects of the American deep state“: “1. the Beltway agencies of the shadow government, like the CIA and NSA, which have been instituted by the public state and now overshadow it, and 2. the much older power of Wall Street, referring to the powerful banks and law firms located there.“ (10)

Scott suggests in this regard: “Top-level Treasury officials, CIA officers, and Wall treet bankers and lawyers think much alike because of the ‚revolving door‘ by which they pass easily from private to public service and back.“ (11)

Or in Lofgren’s expression: “It is not too much to say that Wall Street may be the ultimate owner of the Deep State and its strategies, if for no other reason than that it has the money to reward government operatives with a second career that is lucrative beyond the dreams of avarice – certainly beyond the dreams of a salaried government employee.“ (12)

Wall Street is historically indeed a dominating force within the deep state complex. However, according to Scott, it not just includes “banks and law firms but also the oil majors whose cartel arrangements were successfully defended against the U.S. government by the Wall Street law firm Sullivan and Cromwell, home to the Dulles brothers.“ (13) Scott calls this larger complex the „Wall Street overworld,” and states:  “By recognizing this power reach of Wall Street“, it is clear to see that the “notion of a ’state within a state‘ is too restricted: those with that inner power (such as the higher echelons of the CIA) exercise it not by their seclusion, but by their interactions with an outside overworld. And Lofgren’s metaphor of the deep state as an iceberg, though useful, risks suggesting a too solid or structural relationship to the overworld. Unlike the state, the deep state is not a structure but a system, as difficult to define, but also as real and powerful, as a weather system.“ (14)

At LarsSchall.com you can find some exclusive interviews with Peter Dale Scott to further inform yourself on the “American Deep State“:

America, Would You Please Wake Up!;

Why JFK’s Death Still Matters;

Let’s Talk About the American Deep State.


(1) Philip Giraldi: “America’s ‘Establishment’ Has Embraced ‘Deep States’”, published by The New York Times on November 6, 2015 under: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/11/06/do-secret-cabals-rule-more-than-the-imagination-in-turkey-and-egypt/americas-establishment-has-embraced-deep-states. In December 2013, referring to the military coup in Egypt, which took place in mid-2013, the following definition could be found in the NY Times: “DEEP STATE n. A hard-to-perceive level of government or super-control that exists regardless of elections and that may thwart popular movements or radical change. Some have said that Egypt is being manipulated by its deep state.” Vgl. Grant Barrett: “A Wordnado of Words in 2013”, published by The New York Times on December 21, 2013 under: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/22/opinion/sunday/a-wordnado-of-words-in-2013.html?emc=eta1&_r=0.

(2) Jürgen Roth: „Der Tiefe Staat – Die Unterwanderung der Demokratie durch Geheimdienste, politische Komplizen und den rechten Mob“, Wilhelm Heyne, Munich, 2016, page 17.

(3) Ibid., page 18. For the intertwining of the „deep state“ with organized crime, see for example Ryan Gingeras: “Heroin, Organized Crime, and the Making of Modern Turkey“, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014.

(4) Cited in Jürgen Roth: „Der Tiefe Staat“, lit.cit., page 18.

(5) Mike Lofgren: “A Shadow Government Controls America”, published by Reader Supported News on February 22, 2014 under: http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/22216-a-shadow-government-controls. In another article, Lofgren said that US pro-forma elections had veiled the true state of the nation; which would be that democracy had been broken by „an oligarchy“. Compare Mike Lofgren: “An oligarchy has broken our democracy”, published by The Guardian on January 17, 2016 under: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/17/oligarchy-broken-our-democracy-must-be-dislodged-election-2016. Michael J. Glennon, a political scientist at Tufts University, concludes in his research that much of the U.S. government does not work in practice in a way that citizens take a directing influence on their government by electing new lawmakers. Instead, he speaks of the existence of a “Double Government”, based on the U.S. defense and national security apparatus, which has many avenues to effectively governing itself – “with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind.“ Glennon uses the term “Double Government” this way: “There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it…” Compare Jordan Michael Smith: “Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change”, veröffentlicht von Boston Globe am 19. Oktober 2014 unter: http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/10/18/vote-all-you-want-the-secret-government-won-change/jVSkXrENQlu8vNcBfMn9sL/story.html?p1. When I approached him regarding the term „ Double Government “ that Michael Glennon uses in his book National Security and Double Government (Oxford University Press, 2014), Peter Dale Scott replied:  “I talk nowadays of both a very old establishment deep state (the system), and also a mostly post-War structural (or ’Beltway’) deep state, the institutions like CIA and NSA that have grown up to project US influence abroad. Glennon’s Double Government examines the state and the structural deep state. I examine a whole spectrum of institutions (e.g. Booz Allen Hamilton) and practices that knit the various levels of the deep state together.”  

(6) Peter Dale Scott: “Deep Politics and the Death of JFK”, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1998, page 7.

(7) Peter Dale Scott: “The American Deep State – Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Attack on U.S. Democracy”, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, 2015, page 12. The “deep state” was defined by Abdul-Azim Ahmed in the British newsletter On Religion as “the embedded anti-democratic power structures within a government“ – which is “something very few democracies can claim to be free from.”  Compare Abdul-Azim Ahmed: “What is the Deep State?”, published by On Religion on July 4, 2013 under: http://www.onreligion.co.uk/what-is-the-deep-state/.

(8) Compare Gareth Jenkins: “Susurluk and the Legacy of Turkey’s Dirty War”, published by Terrorism Monitor on May 1, 2008, quoted in Peter Dale Scott: “9/11, Deep State Violence and the Hope of Internet Politics“, published by Global Research on June 11, 2008 under: http://www.globalresearch.ca/9-11-deep-state-violence-and-the-hope-of-internet-politics. With regards to the Susurluk incident, Peter Dale Scott writes in his book, American War Machine: “In 1996 the crash of a speeding Mercedes on a Turkish highway near Susurluk opened a window into the darker side of Turkish politics, and eventually the darker face of globalization as well. Any one of the victims would have made the local news, but the biggest news was that they were traveling together. Found in the wreckage were the bodies of a member of Parliament, a former deputy police chief, a beauty queen, and her lover, a politically connected heroin trafficker and murderer named Abdullah Çatli. The intrigue was heightened by the contents of the car: a cache of narcotics, thousands of U.S. dollars, pistols with silencers, machine guns, and six different sets of official identity documents for Çatli, including a special ’Green Passport’ (for public officials) signed by the Turkish minister of the interior. The more the press researched this so-called Susurluk incident, the more complex it became. The name in Çatli’s passport, Mehmet Özbay, was an alias that, according to Lucy Komisar, was also in the passport of the Turkish shooter of Pope John Paul II, Mehmet Ali Agca. ’But what raised eyebrows was the seemingly incongruous presence of . . . Abdullah Catli riding with the top police and government officials. Police had supposedly been hunting Catli, a convicted international drug smuggler since 1978, for his part in the killing of scores of left-wing activists. At that time, Catli had been head of the ’Gray Wolves,’ the youth arm of the neo-fascist MHP (National Action Party).’

Both Çatli and Agca were indeed death squad members of a right-wing paramilitary organization, the Grey Wolves. Douglas Valentine, in The Strength of the Pack, reports the suspicions of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers that the Grey Wolves were a unit in the Counter-Guerrilla Center in Istanbul, advised by CIA officers Henry P. Schardt and Duane (’Dewey’) Clarridge. Daniele Ganser’s less controversial claim is that the Grey Wolves overlapped with the Gladio program of ’stay-behind’ covert counterguerrilla forces supported by the U.S. Military Mission and the CIA: ‘After the discovery of NATO’s secret stay-behind armies across Western Europe in 1990 it was revealed in Turkey that CIA liaison officer [Colonel] Türks had recruited heavily among the Grey Wolves to staff the secret stay-behind army which in Turkey operated under the name Counter-Guerrilla.’

More than a decade earlier, Turkish General Turhan had said of Counter-Guerrilla, which had tortured him, ’This is the secret unit of the NATO countries.’ And for two decades Counter-Guerrilla had performed such functions as mob violence, torture, and assassinations for the Turkish army, operating, as General Turhan was told by his torturers, ’outside the constitution and the laws.’ Like other groups in liaison with the CIA, the methods taught and commanded by Counter-Guerrilla included ’assassinations, bombings, armed robbery, torture, . . . disinformation, violence, and extortion.’

In the extended discussions of the Susurluk incident, the concept emerged in Turkey of a deep state (gizli devlet or derin devlet) underlying the public state, consisting of a parastatal alliance between the official police and the criminal death squads they were supposed to round up. But there were clearly international as well as national aspects to the grey alliance represented by the Turkish deep state. In 1982 Çatli had entered the United States at Miami together with Stefano delle Chiaie, an Italian neofascist and killer with whom he had much in common. Delle Chiaie had his own connections to post-Gladio terrorist activities in Italy, to the World Anti-Communist League (WACL), and more specifically to death squads working for Chile’s Operation Condor in Argentina and Bolivia.“ Compare Peter Dale Scott: “American War Machine – Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan”, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, 2010, pp. 19-20.

(9) Peter Dale Scott: „The American Deep State“, lit.cit., page 13, and: “Deep Politics and the Death of JFK”, lit. cit., pp. xi-xii.

(10) Peter Dale Scott: „The American Deep State“, lit.cit., page 13.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Mike Lofgren: “A Shadow Government Controls America”, lit. cit.

(13) Peter Dale Scott: “The American Deep State”, lit. cit., page 14.

(14) Ibid.

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