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Deep state

deep state, deep state meaning
A deep state from Turkish: derin devlet, also known as a state within a state, is a type of governance made up of networks of power operating independently of a state's political leadership in pursuit of their own agenda and goals In popular usage, the term carries an overwhelmingly negative context although this does not reflect scholarly understanding Potential sources for deep state organization include organs of state, such as the armed forces or public authorities intelligence agencies, police, secret police, administrative agencies, and government bureaucracy A deep state can also take the form of entrenched career civil servants acting in a non-conspiratorial discretionary manner to further their agency mission or the public good, sometimes in contravention of the current political administration The intent of a deep state can include continuity of the state itself, job security for its members, enhanced power and authority, and the pursuit of ideological or programmatic objectives It can operate in opposition to the agenda of elected officials, by obstructing, resisting, and subverting their policies, conditions and directives


  • 1 Etymology and historical usage
  • 2 Scholarly understanding
    • 21 Intellectual history of concept
    • 22 State-as-actor vs state-as-venue
      • 221 State-as-venue
      • 222 State-as-actor
  • 3 Popular understanding
    • 31 Differences from scholarly understanding
  • 4 Cases
    • 41 Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia
      • 411 Chechnya
    • 42 United Kingdom
    • 43 United States of America
    • 44 Venezuela
    • 45 Italy
    • 46 Other alleged cases
      • 461 Africa
      • 462 Central and South America
      • 463 Germany
      • 464 Turkey and the Ottoman Empire
    • 47 Other places
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References

Etymology and historical usage

The modern concept of a deep state is associated with Turkey, a presumed secret network of military officers and their civilian allies trying to preserve the secular order based on the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk from 1923[1] Similar ideas are older The Greek language κράτος ἐν κράτει, kratos en kratei was later adopted into Latin as imperium in imperio[2] or status in statu

The idea behind covert activities of the state date back to the 4th century B C In kautilya's Arthasastra, which contains a plethora of views on espionage elements carefully crafted in the statecraft activities

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries political debate surrounding the separation of church and state often revolved around the perception that if left unchecked the Church might turn into a kind of State within a State, an illegitimate encroachment of the State's natural civil power[3]

At the beginning of the 20th century, the deep state was also used to refer to government-owned corporations or private companies that act independently of regulatory or governmental control[4]

Scholarly understanding

See also: State polity

Within social science in general and political science specifically, scholars distinguish between positivism "what is" and normativism "what should be"[5] Because political science deals with topics which are inherently political and often controversial, this distinction between "what is" positive and "what should be" normative is critical because it allows diverse people with different preferred worlds to discuss the causes, workings, and effects of policies and social structures[5] Thus, while readers may disagree on the normative qualities of the "deep state" ie whether it is good or bad, it is still possible to study the positive qualities ie its origins and effects without requiring a normative judgement[5]

In the field of political science, the normative pop culture concept of the deep state is studied within the literature on the state Current literature on the state generally traces a lineage to Bringing the State Back In 1985[6] and remains an active body of scholarly research as of 2020[citation needed] Within this literature, the state is understood as both venue a set of rules under which others act and interact as well as actor with its own agenda An example of a non-conspiratorial version of the 'state as actor' from the empirical scholarly literature would be "doing truth to power" as a play on speaking truth to power, which is what journalists often aspire to do as studied by Todd La Porte[7] Under this dual understanding, the conspiratorial version of the deep state concept would be one version of the 'state as actor' while the non-conspiratorial version would be another version of the 'state as actor'

The fundamental takeaway from the scholarly literature on the dual nature of the state is that the 'state as actor' deep state is a functional characteristic of all states which has effects that may be normatively judged as "good" or "bad" in different times, places, and contexts From a positivist scientific perspective, the state-as-venue, colloquially known as the "deep state," simply "is" and should not be assumed to be "bad" by default

Intellectual history of concept

See also: New institutionalism

While the state has been one of the longest-studied topics in political science, sociology, and economics, the rise of new institutionalisms in the 1970s brought to the forefront the dual nature of the state as both venue a set of rules under which others act and interact as well as actor with its own agenda[8] This new institutionalism stands in contrast to the immediately prior behavioral revolution which focused on society-centered explanations for political outcomes where the state was primarily or solely seen as an arena where interest groups vied for political power[9]

State-as-actor vs state-as-venue

See also: State polity § State autonomy within institutionalism

The normative pop culture concept of the deep state is distinguished from the classical concept of the state within the scholarly literature on the state by the dual nature of the state as both an actor which pursues certain ends and a venue which structures interaction between actors[9] In this dyad, the "deep state" is called the state-as-actor while the classical concept of the state is called the state-as-venue


Main article: State_polity § State_and_government

To distinguish the traditional, formal processes of the state from the state-as-actor, the state-as-venue view reflects the state serving as an arena in which actors act Under this concept, the state is seen as a passive organizational structure within which societal actors eg interest groups, classes compete for power, influence, and resources[9]


The state-as-actor concept subsumes the activities described by the pop culture concept of the deep state by focusing on all forms of state goal formation and pursuit which are independent of external societal actors eg interest groups, classes[10]

Positivist political science and sociology further break this concept down into state autonomy and state capacity State autonomy refers to a state's ability to pursue interests insulated from external social and economic influence[11] State capacity reflects the state's skills, knowledge, tools, equipment, and other resources needed to do their jobs competently Together, autonomy and capacity are necessary for states to implement all policy including that delegated by political leaders, court decisions, and agency or ministry programmatic[12] as well as the subversive or clandestine ends suggested by the popular usage of the "deep state" concept

Popular understanding

In the United States after the 2016 United States presidential election, the term "deep state" has become much more widely used as pejorative term with an overwhelmingly negative definition by both the new Donald Trump administration as well as the wider news media[13] In the United States news media and social media usage during the Donald Trump administration, the term deep state has come to be an all-purpose scapegoat for elements of the United States federal civil service which the administration opposes[14]

Differences from scholarly understanding

In the field of political science, the normative pop culture concept of the deep state is studied within the literature on the state Within this literature, the state is understood as both venue a set of rules under which others act and interact as well as actor with its own agenda[15] Under this dual understanding, the conspiratorial version of the deep state concept would be one version of the 'state as actor' while the non-conspiratorial version would be another version of the 'state as actor' The fundamental takeaway from the scholarly literature on the dual nature of the state is that the 'state as actor' deep state is a functional characteristic of all states which has effects that may be normatively judged as "good" or "bad" in different times, places, and contexts From a positivist scientific perspective, the state-as-venue, colloquially known as the "deep state," simply "is" and should not be assumed to be "bad" by default


Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia

The Soviet secret police have been frequently described by historians as a "state within a state" According to Yevgenia Albats, most KGB leaders, including Lavrenty Beria, Yuri Andropov, and Vladimir Kryuchkov, always competed for power with the Communist Party and manipulated communist leaders[16]

According to Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov in 1991, "It is not true that the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party is a supreme power The Political Bureau is only a shadow of the real supreme power that stands behind the chair of every Bureau member The real power thinks, acts and dictates for all of us The name of the power is NKVD—MVD—MGB The Stalin regime is based not on the Soviets, Party ideals, the power of the Political Bureau or Stalin's personality, but on the organization and the techniques of the Soviet political police where Stalin plays the role of the first policeman"[17] However, he also noted that "To say that NKVD is ‘a state within the state’ means to belittle the importance of the NKVD because this question allows two forces – a normal state and a supernormal NKVD – whereas the only force is Chekism"

According to Ion Mihai Pacepa in 2006, "In the Soviet Union, the KGB was a state within a state Now former KGB officers are running the state They have custody of the country's 6,000 nuclear weapons, entrusted to the KGB in the 1950s, and they now also manage the strategic oil industry renationalized by Putin The KGB successor, rechristened FSB, still has the right to electronically monitor the population, control political groups, search homes and businesses, infiltrate the federal government, create its own front enterprises, investigate cases, and run its own prison system The Soviet Union had one KGB officer for every 428 citizens Putin's Russia has one FSB-ist for every 297 citizens[18]


According to Julia Ioffe, the Russian Federal Subject of Chechnya, under leadership of Ramzan Kadyrov, has become a state within a state[19]

United Kingdom

The Civil Service has been called a "deep state" by senior politicians in the United Kingdom Tony Blair said of the Civil Service, "You cannot underestimate how much they believe it's their job to actually run the country and to resist the changes put forward by people they dismiss as 'here today, gone tomorrow' politicians They genuinely see themselves as the true guardians of the national interest, and think that their job is simply to wear you down and wait you out"[20] The efforts of the Civil Service to frustrate elected politicians is the subject of the popular satiric BBC TV comedy, Yes Minister

United States of America

Main article: Deep state in the United States

In the United States of America, the "deep state" is used to describe "a hybrid association of government elements and parts of top-level industry and finance that is effectively able to govern the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process"[21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33] Intelligence agencies such as the CIA have been accused by elements of the Donald Trump administration of attempting to thwart its policy goals[34] Writing for The New York Times, the analyst Issandr El Amani warned against the "growing discord between a president and his bureaucratic rank-and-file", while analysts of the column The Interpreter wrote:[34]

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Though the deep state is sometimes discussed as a shadowy conspiracy, it helps to think of it instead as a political conflict between a nation’s leader and its governing institutions

— Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, The Interpreter


Further information: Cartel of the Suns

The Cartel of the Suns, a group of high-ranking officials within the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela, has been described as "a series of often competing networks buried deep within the Chavista regime" Following the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, the Bolivarian government initially embezzled until there were no more funds to embezzle, which required them to turn to drug trafficking President Hugo Chávez made partnerships with the Colombian leftist militia Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia FARC and his successor Nicolás Maduro continued the process, promoting officials to high-ranking positions after they were accused of drug trafficking[35]


The most famous Italian case is Propaganda Due[36] Propaganda Due better known as P2 was a Masonic lodge belonging to the Grand Orient of Italy GOI It was founded in 1877 with the name of Masonic Propaganda,[37] in the period of its management by the entrepreneur Licio Gelli assumed deviated forms with respect to the statutes of the Freemasonry and subversive towards the Italian legal order The P2 was suspended by the GOI on 26 July 1976; subsequently, the parliamentary commission of inquiry into the P2 Masonic lodge under the presidency of Minister Tina Anselmi concluded the P2 case denouncing the lodge as a real "criminal organization"[38] and "subversive" It was dissolved with a special law, the n 17 of 25 January 1982

Other alleged cases


  • Morocco's Makhzen and security apparatus
  • Algeria's Department of Intelligence and Security
  • Cameroon's Cameroon Development Corporation
  • Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces

Central and South America

  • Brazil's Army between the 1940s and 1980s
  • Chilean's National Intelligence Directorate
  • Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party which dominated politics in Mexico for much of the 20th century
  • British Guiana's Booker-McConnell
  • Guatemala's United Fruit Company
  • Honduras's United Fruit Company
  • PDVSA in Venezuela


  • Weimar Republic's Reichswehr
  • Nazi Germany's Schutzstaffel
  • Nazi Germany's Wehrmacht
  • East Germany's SAG Wismut

Turkey and the Ottoman Empire

  • Ottoman Empire's Committee of Union and Progress
  • Ottoman Empire's Janissaries
  • Ottoman Empire's Karakol society
  • Ottoman Empire's Young Turks
  • Deep state in Turkey – Ergenekon, Counter-Guerrilla, Grey Wolves

Other places

  • Imperial Japan's Army and the Kwantung Army
  • Israel's Mossad
  • Iran's IRGC
  • Iran's SAVAK
  • Jordan's PLO
  • Kingdom of Serbia's Black Hand[39]
  • Lebanon's Hezbollah
  • Lebanon's PLO
  • Pakistan's Intelligence Community: ISI, FIA, NAB, and/or IB[40][41]
  • United Kingdom's City of London Corporation[42]
  • NATO's Operation Gladio
  • Thailand's Military-Monarchy Nexus [43]

See also

  • Cabal
  • Civilian control of the military
  • Counterintelligence state
  • The Establishment
  • Fifth column
  • Fourth branch of government
  • Illiberal democracy
  • List of conspiracy theories
  • Military coup
  • Military dictatorship
  • Monopoly on violence
  • Political machine
  • Power behind the throne
  • Proto-state
  • Puppet government
  • Shadow government conspiracy
  • Silovik
  • Smoke-filled room


  1. ^ Filkins, Dexter 12 March 2012 "The Deep State" PDF The New Yorker Retrieved 31 December 2018mw-parser-output citecitationmw-parser-output citation qmw-parser-output id-lock-free a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-free amw-parser-output id-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output id-lock-registration a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-registration amw-parser-output id-lock-subscription a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-subscription amw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registrationmw-parser-output cs1-subscription span,mw-parser-output cs1-registration spanmw-parser-output cs1-ws-icon amw-parser-output codecs1-codemw-parser-output cs1-hidden-errormw-parser-output cs1-visible-errormw-parser-output cs1-maintmw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registration,mw-parser-output cs1-formatmw-parser-output cs1-kern-left,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-leftmw-parser-output cs1-kern-right,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-rightmw-parser-output citation mw-selflink
  2. ^ from Baruch Spinoza: Tractatus politicus, Caput II, § 6
  3. ^ Cf William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, IV, c4 ss iii2, p 54, where the charge of being imperium in imperio was notably levied against the Church
  4. ^ Daniel De Leon: "Imperium in imperio" in: Daily People, June 4, 1903
  5. ^ a b c Johnson, Janet Buttolph, 1950- 2005 Political science research methods Reynolds, H T Henry T 5th ed Washington, DC: CQ Press pp 28–29 ISBN 1-56802-874-1 OCLC 55948042CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list link
  6. ^ "Bringing state back - Comparative politics" Cambridge University Press
  7. ^ "- Google Scholar" scholargooglecom
  8. ^ Skocpol, Theda 1985-09-13, "Bringing the State Back In: Strategies of Analysis in Current Research", in Evans, Peter B; Rueschemeyer, Dietrich; Skocpol, Theda eds, Bringing the State Back in 1 ed, Cambridge University Press, pp 3–38, doi:101017/cbo9780511628283002, ISBN 978-0-521-30786-4, retrieved 2020-02-11
  9. ^ a b c Skocpol 1985, p 4
  10. ^ Skocpol 1985, p 9-11
  11. ^ Sklair, Leslie 2004 "Globalizing class theory" In Sinclair, Timothy ed Global governance: critical concepts in political science Taylor & Francis pp 139–140 ISBN 978-0-415-27665-8 Archived from the original on 19 May 2016
  12. ^ Skocpol 1985, p 11-14
  13. ^ Michaels, Jon D March 2018 "The American Deep State" Notre Dame Law Review 93 4: 1653–1670 – via HeinOnline
  14. ^ Michaels 2018, p 1653-1654
  15. ^ Skocpol 1985
  16. ^ Yevgenia Albats and Catherine A Fitzpatrick The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia--Past, Present, and Future 1994 ISBN 0-374-52738-5
  17. ^ The Chechen Times №17, 30082003 Translated from "Technology of Power", 1991, chapter 34 Russian text
  18. ^ Jamie Glazov 23 June 2006 When an Evil Empire Returns — The Cold War: It's back, interview with Ion Mihai Pacepa, R James Woolsey, Jr, Yuri Yarim-Agaev, and Lt Gen Thomas McInerney, FreeRepubliccom Retrieved 2 October 2019
  19. ^ Julia Ioffe 24 July 2015 "Putin Is Down With Polygamy" Foreign Policy Retrieved 28 January 2016
  20. ^ Khan, Shehab 6 February 2018 "David Cameron's former director of strategy says Tony Blair warned him about a 'deep state' conspiracy" The Independent Retrieved 26 April 2018
  21. ^ Priest, Dana; Arkin, William M 2011 Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State Little, Brown and Company ISBN 978-0316182218 Lay summary – The Quiet Coup: No, Not Egypt Here July 9, 2013
  22. ^ Ambinder, Marc; Grady, DB 2013 Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry Wiley ISBN 978-1118146682
  23. ^ Scott, Peter Dale March 10, 2014 "The State, the Deep State, and the Wall Street Overworld" The Asia-Pacific Journal 12 10, No 5
  24. ^ Michael J Glennon 2014 "National Security and Double Government" PDF Harvard National Security Journal 5 Archived from the original PDF on 2017-03-01 Retrieved 2016-01-12
  25. ^ Lofgren, Mike 2016 The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government Viking ISBN 978-0525428343 Lay summary – Controlled by shadow government: Mike Lofgren reveals how top US officials are at the mercy of the “deep state” January 6, 2016
  26. ^ Jordan Michael Smith October 19, 2014 "Vote all you want The secret government won't change" The Boston Globe
  27. ^ Anand Giridharadas September 15, 2015 "Examining Who Runs the United States" New York Times
  28. ^ Bob Burnett March 7, 2014 "The War on Democracy: The Deep State" Huffington Post
  29. ^ Geoff Dyer December 10, 2014 "CIA report is a strike back against America's deep state" The Financial Times
  30. ^ Peggy Noonan October 28, 2013 "The Deep State" The Wall Street Journal
  31. ^ Lofgren, Mike 2014-02-21 "Essay: Anatomy of the Deep State" BillMoyerscom Retrieved 2018-11-15
  32. ^ Jessop, Bob 2015 The State: Past, Present, Future John Wiley & Sons p 224
  33. ^ "State Within a State" The New York Times 1963-10-06 p 194 Archived from the original on 1963-10-11 Retrieved 2019-10-23 Is the Central Intelligence Agency a state within a state
  34. ^ a b Taub, Amanda; Fisher, Max February 16, 2017 "As Leaks Multiply, Fears of a 'Deep State' in America" The New York Times Retrieved 2018-11-15
  35. ^ Venezuela: A Mafia State Medellin, Colombia: InSight Crime 2018 pp 3–84
  36. ^ "BBC ON THIS DAY - 26 - 1981: Italy in crisis as cabinet resigns" 1981-05-26 Retrieved 9 April 2017
  37. ^ Dino P Arrigo, Fratelli d'Italia Cronache, storie, riti e personaggi per capire la Massoneria, Soveria Mannelli, Rubbettino, 1994, p 45
  38. ^ Willan, Puppetmasters, p 50
  39. ^ "Ex CIA director sees Serbs as masters of "deep state"" B92 13 February 2018 Retrieved 20 April 2019
  40. ^ Who Controls Pakistan's Powerful ISI, Radio Free Europe, August 14, 2008
  41. ^ "Pakistan's shadowy secret service, the ISI" BBC News 3 May 2011
  42. ^ "The City: A state within a state" BBC News 2011-11-04 Retrieved 9 April 2017 – via wwwbbccouk
  43. ^

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