The Deep State. By DonkeyHotey

The Deep State. By DonkeyHotey

“Double government.” Walter Bagehot coined the term in his 1867 book, The English Constitution. He hypothesized that British government had split into two separate layers. On the outer surface were high-profile “extrinsic” institutions such as the House of Lords, which gave the appearance of being in charge. On the inside were less conspicuous organs of government, such as the House of Commons, that actually ran the show.

Expanding upon Bagehot’s ideas is Michael J. Glennon, a professor of international law at Tufts University. Glennon has written “National Security and Double Government“, a book which argues that a similar double government has emerged in U.S. politics.

Regarding national security, Glennon contends that “judicial review is negligible, congressional oversight dysfunctional, and presidential control nominal.”[i] Instead, he says, the actual decision-making is performed by “several hundred executive officials who manage the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies”[ii] that are “slowly tightening centralized power, growing and evolving organically beyond public view.” [iii] (Read WhoWhatWhy’s first take on Glennon here)

But are elected officials such as the President truly hostages to murky, unseen elements within government?

Congressional investigations, leaked classified documents, and statements by former intelligence officers paint a completely different picture. Far from being out of control, the public record indicates that security services are obedient arms of the executive. And, further up the chain of command, the executive itself is responsive to profound sources of private influence residing outside of government.

Contradiction: The Obedient CIA

In the 1970s it came to light that the CIA, contrary to its charter, had been heavily involved in a domestic operation known as MH/CHAOS.

A series of formal investigations, one led by Senator Frank Church and another by House Representative Otis Pike, followed and arrived at the same conclusion with regard to chain of command. The Pike Committee report stated that the CIA was “utterly responsive to the instructions of the President.” Likewise, the Church Committee found that “the President has had, through the National Security Council, effective means for exerting broad policy control over at least two major clandestine activities—covert action and sensitive technical collection” and that the CIA was “not ‘out of control.’”

Members of the executive branch have admitted as much. For instance, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told the Pike Committee that “every operation is personally approved by the President.”


In an important recent instance, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary report on the CIA’s torture program infers that the CIA intentionally misrepresented it to politicians. But high-ranking administration members themselves, notably former Vice President Dick Cheney explicitly rejected the idea that the president wasn’t told what was happening.

Former CIA officer Philip Agee offers insight into the institutional dynamics at play with regard to the myth of a rogue agency in his expose “Dirty Work”:

For all the recent horror stories, one finds little evidence that a majority in Congress want the responsibility for control, while the executive branch continues to insist—rightly—that the Agency’s covert action operations have, with very few exceptions, followed the orders of successive presidents and their National Security Councils.

Broader Structural Forces

The classic conspiratorial worldview is based on the assumption that our system of government would function properly if only we could round up all of the troublemakers. But to adopt this mindset is to ignore the pivotal role of money in politics. Far from being just the handiwork of several hundred power-hungry bureaucrats, there are more pervasive structural forces in play that define how our political system operates.

A trial attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission made just this point in a speech at his April, 2014, retirement party. He drew a connection between his superiors’ intent to secure high-paying post-government jobs and their inability or unwillingness to rein in banking executives after the 2008 financial collapse.

Given this dynamic, is it surprising that Barack Obama’s largest private sector campaign contributor during the 2008 Presidential election was Goldman Sachs? Indeed, the very same banking house provided Obama’s primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, close to half a million dollars, purportedly in exchange for nothing more than giving a couple of speeches.


Four years later, the 2012 election cycle was influenced by yet another private money player. The billionaire industrialist Koch Brothers, active supporters of numerous climate change-denial think tanks, raised more than $400 million to mobilize voters and fund a media campaign against federal spending and environmental regulation.

The battle for dominance was joined by billionaire Tom Steyer in the 2014 elections. He spent about $65 million to run a long series of ad placements focusing on the threat posed by climate change and supported like-minded Democratic candidates.

The above are examples of the Investment Theory of Party Competition, which views the political arena as overwhelmingly dominated by corporate factions that leverage their resources to influence policies. Supporting this theory, professors Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern argued in a journal article that:

Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

Driving Military Action Abroad

The thoughtful reader is saying, “none of this is very surprising—or new.” And yet, our media and other institutions continue to blame government or those in it for the degraded state of democracy, ignorant of how this history informs the present. They also fail to acknowledge that private capital doesn’t only shape generalized policy—it also works with government on highly specific, and sometimes lethal, projects of self-interest.

These began almost the moment the new CIA was up and running. British-dominated oil interests, infuriated by Iran’s nationalization of their assets, demanded and got a joint CIA-MI6 coup, of course rendered surreptitiously. The next year, it was the U.S.-based United Fruit, this time asking government to rescue its possessions in Guatemala with another putsch. In both cases, long-playing trauma, violence and instability resulted, affecting Americans and the world for decades to come.


In the aftermath of the trillion-dollar global war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s difficult not to see that Iraq has a large swathe of its landmass currently occupied by thousands of Islamic State jihadists, or that Afghanistan is essentially a narco state that’s producing 90 percent of the world’s heroin.

While there’s still debate among commentators as to whether U.S. invasions have foiled or incited future 9/11 plots, there is little argument that the global war on terror has been a godsend to arms dealers, the fossil fuel companies that gained access to what were nationalized oil fields, and to contractors—many with links to the Bush White House—that made more than $138 billion rebuilding what had been destroyed. [v]

The Triple Government?

Former CIA officer John Stockwell summarizes the nature of the relationship between the corporate elite and American intelligence services:

The CIA and the big corporations were, in my experience, in step with each other. Later I realized that they may argue about details of strategy—a small war here or there. However, both are vigorously committed to supporting the system.

While most institutions suffer from some form of dysfunction, it’s clear that both the Pentagon and the American intelligence community largely do what they’re told by POTUS. In the absence of overwhelming public sentiment, the President mainly attends to the needs of various corporate factions which have the ability to provide incentives to political leadership. These business interests transmit their mandates to the political class through a structural layer of intermediaries that surround the visible state, the “Deep State” first described by Peter Dale Scott.

In other words, the remarkable continuity of national security policy isn’t entirely a matter of double government; equally, it is a matter of state capture by deep sources of wealth and power outside of government.

Perhaps Bagehot would have called this American power structure a Triple Government.



[i] Michael J. Glennon, National Security and Double Government, Oxford University Press, 2014, Page 114.

[ii] Ibid Page 113.

[iii] Ibid Page 116.

[iv] For the definitive compendium, see William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Common Courage Press, 2004, ISBN: 9781567512526.

[v] Anna Fifield, “Contractors reap $138bn from Iraq war,” Financial Times, March 18, 2013,

Image Credit:

Deep State. Photo collage by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy adapted from photos in the public domain or other open license:  Aircraft Carrier – Defense Dept., Troops – Wikimedia, Thunderbirds – Air Force, Apache helicopter – Wikimedia, Brigade – Wikimedia, Circuit Board 1 – Wikimedia, Circuit Board 2 – Wikimedia and Situation Room – White House.


0 responses to “Is There a “Triple Government” at Work?”

  1. Gone4ever says:

    There is nothing in this article that is news to anyone that follows along and reads. My question is,”What is the point of this article”? It’s merely telling us what we all ready know. There is nothing offered in how do we stop it from happening.
    Once again, someone telling us what the problem is/are but offering no solutions.

  2. Michael, Sweden says:

    I fear that we project an intentional guiding force what is in reality often is decided by a culture, which no one is in charge of. We live in a modern society, doesn’t matter if it is capitalist och socialist, that has a quality of rationality, such as in the words of Max Weber (interpreted by Coser (1977, p. 230-233):

    “a more general phenomenon in modern society where scientists are expropriated from the means of research, administrators from the means of administration, and warriors from the means of violence. He further contended that in all relevant spheres of modern society men could no longer engage in socially significant action unless they joined a large-scale organization in which they were allocated specific tasks and to which they were admitted only upon condition they they sacrificed their personal desires and predilections to the impersonal goals and procedures that governed the whole.”

    So we are governed by a bureaucracy literally, not in the pejorative sense often ascribed to that concept, but in that we are ruled by large scale hierarchical organizations both private and public, this is a culture of modernity rather than belonging to some conspiracy, even though these sometimes DO exist.

    • omniadeo says:

      Thanks for that “sometimes do exist.” Indeed they do. I hope you will forgive me if the particulars of those “sometimes,” interest me more than your theory of a “culture oof modernity.”

      The separation of “intentional force” from what “in reality is often decided by a culture” is not a helpful distinction because they are not mutually exclusive or even practically contradictory. The way culture “decides” what happens is by motivingat specific individuals who “intentionally force” certain situations with money, votes, weapons, police power, assassinations, military invasions, strikes, demonstrations, and all kinds of specific acts of “intentional” force.

      No “culture” ever burnt the Reichstag, assassinated a President, flew planes into the Twin Towers or put bombs in Boston or Oklahoma City. Some persons did. Whoever it was, they did it using “intentional force,” in the name, no doubt, of some shared cultural value.

      What I hear here, (and what I tend to hear every time Chomsky is mentioned) is that cultural critique renders unnecessary all research into the actual facts of these events. (Facts which in incident after incident demonstrate “intentional force” and, yes, all too often–“conspiracy.”)


    • Michael, Sweden says:

      You are a methodological individualist, which I am as well, but even for a methodological individualist there are unintended effects of intended actions. Don’t treat everything social, which I guess you agree with, as an intended effect. You see I am quickly sketching something above, it would take far too long time to be precise.

    • edwardrynearson says:

      The international guiding force are the international banks who control the dollar and thus everything.

  3. Michael, Sweden says:

    The Investment theory of party competition is created by professor Thomas Ferguson, it demonstrates empirically that policy is decided by the people paying for the political campaigns not the voters.

    In a talk by Noam Chomsky, he said that Ferguson was at MIT, pol. sci. dep, they didn’t want him to publish the theory in question, they said they would deny him tenure if he did. But he did publish anyway.

    This theory is dangerous because it tells the truth, it could well have been the case that some other professor with similar results would have chosen tenure before the truth. We were lucky this time. The repression was luckily not complete in this case.

  4. omniadeo says:

    I also found this article disappointing. Is this the careful, thoughtful journalism we are told we can expect here? I read much deeper, more accurate analyses on some of the wilder “conspiracy” sites.

    Disturbing gross assumptions:

    Gross assumption #1: We can accept as dispositive statements by the executive and the CIA that the the President is not hostage to “murky, unseen elements within government” because “leaked classified documents, and…former intelligence officers paint a completely different picture…the public record indicates that security services are obedient arms of the executive.”

    Gross assumption #2: We can assume that intelligence agencies function as simple top down hierarchies in which a well intentioned DCI or DCIA (not a likely scenario to begin with) could know exactly what his operatives were up to with the billions of black budget dollars, soft perk compensation and just plain cash criminal booty at their disposal.

    Gross assumption #3: Money in politics can be neatly dissociated as a vector of influence from money in the “murky, unseen elements within government” rejected by the author in favor of his notion of the obedient intelligence and security apparati.

    Is this not the site of the author of Family of Secrets? A key assassination researcher who has documented an important piece in the history of links between elements in the CIA (including its one-time DCI) and various intelligence and security apparatus in the assassination of the President? Is this not the site of a writer who also understands “deep Watergate” as machinations by similar elements to remove a rogue Nixon, which resulted in a well documented presidential threat to DCI Helms that if Helms didn’t cover up Watergate it would “blow the whole Bay of Pigs thing.”

    Is this not the website that publishes the writings of the great and subtle Peter Dale Scott, whose entire political opus concentrates on exactly those networks of money and influence working in both electoral politics and the “murky, unseen elements within government” outside executive control?

    Am I to assume, for the author, the fact that Kennedy fired Dulles and hired McCone would be evidence for gross assumption #1, that the intelligence agencies are obedient to the executive? If so, when we add gross assumption #2 we know that agency involvement ended at that point, because we know that everyone at the agency would be subservient to the new DCI. So, the fact that Dulles played a key role in quashing the links between a right wing paramilitary organization and an astonishingly young, probably sexually abused LHO, and all his later links to the CIA, the FBI and military intelligence; the fact that the agency continues to this day to obstruct investigation and once infiltrated a congressional investigation with a suspected operative in the plot–all these facts become uneccessary. The fact that a young CIA deep-cover, in Dallas at the time, eventually became President (after the inventor of the single bullet theory in the same coverup became President) is also uninteresting.

    I am astonished.

  5. Tom Kimmel says:

    This seems a silly perspective. The question is less “Does private capital and the interest s it serves have undue influence over titular govrnment?” but more “Do citizens, as such, have any left?”

  6. paulrevere01 says:

    The author exhibits cognitive dissonance to a stunning degree…

    “it’s clear that both the Pentagon and the American intelligence
    community largely do what they’re told by POTUS. In the absence of overwhelming public sentiment, the President mainly attends to the needs of various corporate factions”…

    lo effin’ l, by any reasonable measure of reason, that says POTUS does the bidding of NOT THE PEOPLE WHO ELECTED HIM/HER, but of those who paid to buy the votes to put him there…

    and then there’s this duzy…”continuity of national security policy isn’t entirely a matter of double government; equally, it is a matter of state capture by deep sources of wealth and power outside of government”…

    Talk about discriminating angels on the head of a pin…from a thousand yards down range…

    Either I’m now a full tilt member of the Hall of Mirrors, or or…horror of horrors, the author is…”

  7. SomeoneWatching says:

    What a confusing article.

  8. ICFubar says:

    I don’t buy very much of what is being sold here. The status quo for the rich and powerful is to be maintained and then expanded. The purpose of government is to rule. Who it rules in favor of and who against will explain how it’s institutions like rule enforcement and surveillance will operate. If the status quo is threatened or is likely to be threatened that threatening agency will be attacked by any means, lawful or not, as required.

  9. vic_vega says:

    Kissinger told the Pike committee… I stopped reading right there. He is a globalist and elitist and controlled by the Rockefellers. Just read into the Aldo Moro murder and you’ll see that Kissinger’s loyalty is to the old royalty from Europe and America’s oligarchs.

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