The Deep State Hasn't Gone Away

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The Deep State Hasn't Gone Away

The notion of the so-called "Deep State," has in some circles been reduced to a conspiracy theory, writes Koehler. But what the phrase is really meant to descibe is a "natural phenomenon" of "elite interests" and "groupthink," not a shadowy world of cloaked lever-pullers. And that, he argues, surely does exist. (Photo: AP)

“In a statement to WikiLeaks, the source details policy questions that they say urgently need to be debated in public . . .”

Let me interrupt this quote from the world’s declassifier in chief, regarding its latest release of impertinent, humiliating and shocking data about the American security state, simply to absorb this statement of the obvious: There is an urgent need for public debate — ongoing public debate — not simply about this or that new revelation gifted to the world by an anonymous whistleblower, but about the very fact that “national security” is a game played in secret, against a mysterious, shape-shifting array of “adversaries.”

Does this game have anything at all to do with either the nation’s security or the safety and stability of the whole planet? Whose interests does it serve? How does secrecy mesh with accountability?

"The whole point of a democracy is to empower the public interest, which means that the public must be aware of the Deep State and hold it continually accountable."

The WikiLeaks statement, from a press release last week, goes on: “. . . including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency. The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”

The essence of this latest leak is that the CIA has a “malware arsenal” that allows it, as the Washington Post reports, “to steal data from iPhones, seize control of Microsoft-powered computers or even make Internet-connected Samsung television sets secretly function as microphones.”

And this creates “a breach that is likely to cause immediate damage to the CIA’s efforts to gather intelligence overseas and place new strain on the U.S. government’s relationship with Silicon Valley giants including Apple and Google.”

The problem with the stories I’ve read thus far on this latest leak is the same problem I see in most mainstream reporting about U.S. military and security operations: a virtually total lack of context, combined with vague and evasive terminology and a quietly lurking, unquestioned sense of moral superiority in relation to the rest of the world. The institutions of American dominance mostly get a free pass from the media to do what they do, and their annual budgets never provoke the question “Where will the money come from?”

This is what former Republican congressional aide Mike Lofgren has called the Deep State, a term describing a private-public governing consensus — on war, on money — that is beyond the reach of democracy and not subject to public debate . . . unless a whistleblower somewhere, in collusion with WikiLeaks or a journalist, releases data that makes a debate unavoidable.

Fascinatingly, this concept, or a trivialized version thereof, is all over the media right now, thanks to Donald Trump and his acolytes, such as Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King, who just generated a surge of controversy over his idiotic tweet, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

But America’s troubles aren’t limited to dark-skinned foreigners and their offspring. King also recently discussed another bogeyman Trump is in the process of confronting: “We are talking about the emergence of a Deep State led by Barack Obama, and that is something we should prevent,” he said. “The person who understands this best is Steve Bannon, and I would think that he’s advocating to make some moves to fix it.”

And suddenly the Deep State is reduced to a conspiracy theory: a far-right joke in a tinfoil hat, to be dismissed with utter contempt.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

For instance: “The problem in Washington is not a Deep State; the problem is a shallow man — an untruthful, vain, vindictive, alarmingly erratic President,” New Yorker editor David Remnick tells us, proclaiming in no uncertain terms: “There is no Deep State.”

And there you have it. Remnick’s certainty allows Liberal America to devote all its attention to opposing Trump. Oh, if only he were right! If only we lived in such a country, which has made only this one mistake, of quasi-electing a lying, tweeting billionaire to its highest office, but otherwise has waged its wars and conducted its surveillance and made its money and forged its global dominance with integrity.

Lofgren himself, in a recent interview with Nafeez Ahmed, described the Deep State with far more complexity: not as the clearly defined, imaginary entity that both Remnick and King reduced it to, but rather as an organic, fluctuating convergence of powerful interests, including Trump’s.

“It’s a series of coalitions of people and it’s not a conspiracy. . . . It’s a series of interlocking interest groups who coalesce the same way people with power, money and influence always gravitate to one another. Adam Smith said 225 years ago or more that there’s never a meeting among businessmen, a private meeting that takes place, but that sooner or later they get involved in some conspiracy against the public interest.”

The ever-forming Deep State, in other words, is a natural phenomenon, held in place not by some secret dictator’s orders but by common interests, which generate groupthink. Those who benefit from it, even minimally, rarely question it, no matter what course of action it pursues.

“The Deep State,” Ahmed wrote, “is the overarching structure that overrides democratic process to determine policies, meaning that the two-party system offers little meaningful change of course from administration to administration.”

The whole point of a democracy is to empower the public interest, which means that the public must be aware of the Deep State and hold it continually accountable. While Lofgren is adamant that there’s more to it than the military-industrial consensus and the pursuit of endless war, this to me is by far its most troubling aspect. Let’s not give it any peace.

Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

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