THE PUBLIC EYE: The War on Democracy: The Deep State

By Bob Burnett
Friday March 07, 2014 - 01:32:00 PM

Over the course of the past decade, the doyens of the left, Peter Dale Scott and Noam Chomsky, began to use the term “deep state” to refer to the relatively small number of Washington and Wall Street player who actually control America. Now former GOP congressional senior staff member, Mike Lofgren, has elaborated the concept. 

In his 1961 farewell address, President Eisenhower famously warned: 

[The] conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience… In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex.
For the past 50 years, American leftist writers have warned about the increasing influence of the military-industrial complex on foreign policy (e.g. the overthrow of governments in Iran and Nicaragua, the wars in Vietnam and Iraq) and domestic affairs (e.g. political assassinations, subversion of legitimate protest). Typically the mainstream media disparaged these iconoclastic tracts only to be proven wrong by diligent investigative reporters. 

For years, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was a stalwart of the US deep state, regarded as a patriotic leader whose behavior was beyond reproach. Yet, Betty Medsger’s recent book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, explores the 1971 burglary of the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and its consequences for public opinion of Hoover and the FBI. Eight anti-war protestors discovered that agents had infiltrated the civil rights and anti-war movements with the intent to “enhance the paranoia” and uncovered two secret programs. The first was a “security index” that named “more than 26,000… Americans considered potentially dangerous as spies or saboteurs if war or national insurrection developed.” The second was COINTELPRO, a secret program that spied on civil-rights leaders, anti-war activists, and public critics of the F.B.I. 

For most liberals, none of this should be surprising. Since the sixties, writers such as Peter Dale Scott and Noam Chomsky systematically unveiled the nefarious actions of the deep state. Now, Mike Lofgren expands the term, 

[To] mean a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States. … an ideology that is neither specifically Democrat nor Republican. Domestically, [proponents] believe in the “Washington Consensus”: financialization, outsourcing, privatization, deregulation and the commodifying of labor. Internationally, they espouse 21st-century “American Exceptionalism”: the right and duty of the United States to meddle in every region of the world with coercive diplomacy and boots on the ground and to ignore painfully won norms of civilized behavior… 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.
Because of the recent revelations by Edward Snowden, the deep state has become a concern of the right as well as the left. In October, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, once President Reagan’s speechwriter, wrote: “I have come to wonder if we don’t have what amounts to a deep state within the outer state in the U.S.—a deep state consisting of our intelligence and security agencies, which are so vast and far-flung in their efforts that they themselves don’t fully know who’s in charge and what everyone else is doing.” 

The central question is what we can do to thwart the deep state. Fortunately, there are several key areas where the left can find allies on the right. Both liberal Democrats (Ron Wyden) and Tea-Party Republicans (Rand Paul) deplore the National Security Agency’s surveillance of the lives of average citizens. And both the far left and the far right believe that America’s military establishment has grown too big and our philosophy of American exceptionalism is out of date. Further, both liberals and conservatives deplore the power of Wall Street banks and call for reforms. 

And there are many opportunities for the left to move forward on its own, For example, the probable 2016 Democratic presidential candidate is Hillary Clinton. Unless pushed from the left, she’s unlikely to mention the deep state or to move boldly on issues such as surveillance, outsourcing of jobs, and the demilitarization of foreign policy. 

Mike Lofgren ends his deep-state essay on a hopeful note: 

[In the US] there is now a deep but as yet inchoate hunger for change. What America lacks is a figure with the serene self-confidence to tell us that the twin idols of national security and corporate power are outworn dogmas that have nothing more to offer us. Thus disenthralled, the people themselves will unravel the Deep State with surprising speed.
The left needs new charismatic leadership. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at