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The deep state is a conspiracy theory which suggests that collusion and cronyism exist within the U.S. political system and constitute a hidden government within the legitimately elected government.[failed verification] Author Mike Lofgren believes that there is “a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process”, or consider the deep state to encompass corruption prevalent among career politicians and civil servants.
The term was originally coined to refer to a relatively invisible state apparatus in Turkey “composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services, military, security, judiciary, and organized crime” and similar alleged networks in other countries including Egypt, Ukraine, Spain, Colombia, Italy, Israel, and many others.
According to the journalist Robert Worth, “the expression deep state had originated in Turkey in the 1990s, where the military colluded with drug traffickers and hitmen to wage a dirty war against Kurdish insurgents”. The term “deep state” is likely a translation from the Turkish derin devlet (literally: “deep state” = “deep polity”).
In 2014, Bill Moyers, the former press secretary the Johnson Administration, hosted a discussion on his PBS television show with a long term congressional staff member examining the concept of a “deep state hiding in plain sight” that promotes military conflicts regardless of which party is in charge of the executive or legislative branches.
Likewise in The Concealment of the State, political science professor Jason Royce Lindsey argues that even without a conspiratorial agenda, the term deep state is useful for understanding aspects of the national security establishment in developed countries, with emphasis on the United States. Lindsey writes that the deep state draws power from the national security and intelligence communities, a realm where secrecy is a source of power.:35–36 historian Alfred W. McCoy states that the increase in the power of the U.S. intelligence community since the September 11 attacks “has built a fourth branch of the U.S. government” that is “in many ways autonomous from the executive, and increasingly so.”
In May 2017, former Democratic U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich stated in an interview on Fox News that a deep state within the bureaucracy is trying to destroy Trump’s presidency. He further elaborated “The political process of the United States of America [is] under attack by intelligence agencies and individuals in those agencies…You have politicization of agencies that is resulting in leaks from anonymous, unknown people and the intention is to take down a president…Now this is very dangerous to America. It’s a threat to our republic, it constitutes a clear and present danger to our way of life. So we have to be asking, what is the motive of these people? Who’s putting these leaks out? Why doesn’t somebody come forward and make a charge and put their name and reputation behind it, instead of attacking through the media and not substantiating their position?” In an interview several months earlier Kucinich said “What’s at the core of this is an effort by some in the intelligence community to upend any positive relationship between the U.S. and Russia…There are people trying to separate the U.S. and Russia so this military-industrial-intel axis can cash in.”
According to David Gergen, quoted in Time magazine, the term has been appropriated by Steve Bannon and Breitbart News and other supporters of the Trump Administration in order to delegitimize the critics of the current presidency. The ‘deep state’ theory has been dismissed by authors for The New York Times and New York Observer. University of Miami Professor Joseph Uscinski says, “The concept has always been very popular among conspiracy theorists, whether they call it a deep state or something else.”
Writing in a piece for the Moyers & Company website, John Light asserts that the term deep state “has been used for decades abroad to describe any network of entrenched government officials who function independently from elected politicians and work toward their own ends,” but during the era of Trump the term has been twisted to mean “a sub rosa part of the liberal establishment, that crowd resistant to the reality TV star’s insurgent candidacy all along.”
In February 2020, Trump cabinet member and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, when asked if a deep state working against President Trump exists, stated that it was “absolutely, 100% true”.
Michael Crowley, senior foreign affairs correspondent for Politico, wrote, “Beneath the politics of convenience is the reality that a large segment of the United States government really does operate without much transparency or public scrutiny, and has abused its awesome powers in myriad ways.”
President Donald Trump’s supporters use the term to refer to allegations that intelligence officers and executive branch officials guide policy through leaking or other internal means. According to a July 2017 report by the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, “the Trump administration was being hit by national security leaks ‘on a nearly daily basis’ and at a far higher rate than its predecessors encountered”.
Trump and Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, have both made allegations about a deep state which they believe is interfering with the president’s agenda. In 2018, describing the deep state as an “entrenched bureaucracy”, Trump accused the United States Department of Justice “of being part of the ‘deep state'” in a statement advocating the prosecution of Huma Abedin. Some Trump allies and right-wing media outlets have alleged that former president Barack Obama is coordinating a deep state resistance to Trump. While the belief in a deep state is popular among Trump supporters, critics maintain that it has no basis in reality, arguing that the sources of the leaks frustrating the Trump administration lack the organizational depth of deep states in other countries. Critics also warned that use of the term in the U.S. could undermine confidence in vital institutions and be used to justify suppressing dissent.
According to a poll of Americans in April 2017, about half (48%) thought there was a “deep state”, defined as “military, intelligence and government officials who try to secretly manipulate government”, while about a third (35%) of all participants thought it was a conspiracy theory and the remainder (17%) had no opinion. Of those who believe a “deep state” exists, more than half (58%) said it was a major problem, a net of 28% of those surveyed.
A March 2018 poll found most respondents (63%) were unfamiliar with the term “deep state”, but a majority believe that a deep state likely exists in the United States when described as “a group of unelected government and military officials who secretly manipulate or direct national policy”. Three-fourths (74%) of the respondents say that they believe this type of group probably (47%) or definitely (27%) exists in the federal government.
An October 2019 The Economist/YouGov poll found that, without giving a definition of “deep state” to respondents, 70% of Republicans, 38% of independents, and 13% of Democrats agreed that a “deep state” was “trying to overthrow Trump.”