Capitalism and the Deep State: Part One

This article is part of a series; read the second part here

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The term “deep-state” has had various uses since the idea was originally conceived. Dating as far back as 1923 it emerged from what was an array of military officers, politicians, journalists, and academics seeking to cement Turkey’s newfound status as a Republic by following the ideas of its first President Kemal Atatürk. Today it is most commonly associated with the far-right movement and serves as a way of expressing their contempt for what is perceived to be a political apparatus purposefully manufactured in order that it remain concealed and shrouded in ambiguity. The deep-state, as described by the far-right, is one that functions independently of the will of the people and whose purpose it is to instigate and oversee political agendas that are, by design, malign, nefarious, and anti-Trump. Designations such as these are nothing new as some of the most well-known conceptions of what can still be referred to as the “deep-state” were also being discussed by academics and Presidents alike. In his 1961 farewell address to the nation, President Dwight Eisenhower sought to warn the American public of the “Military-Industrial complex” (MIC) that had emerged during the Cold War and which had been slowly cultivated under his Presidency. He elaborated further by stressing that, “this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience…The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist”. As with most issues co-opted by the far-right their obsession with the shadowy cabal running Washington is too narrow and, as we will see, lacks the type of analysis necessary to properly elucidate important political subjects like the deep-state, and what its purpose came to be as it evolved as a phenomenon peculiar to the American capitalist system. 

In 1947 the Security Act, passed by then President Harry Truman, ushered into existence the creation of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and with it an entire branch of government whose role would eventually be to engage in covert operations. These were to be performed away from the main political arena as public opinion would have found some of these actions to be unthinkable. The release of the Pentagon papers would later reveal how little the American public knew about government policy in Vietnam with that same ignorance on display as Wikileaks began to expose more Government secrets. Years later and after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Truman would lament in a 1963 Washington Post op-ed piece titled ”Limit CIA role to Intelligence” where he stated that, “I, therefore, would like to see the CIA be restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President…There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it”. What was Truman specifically referring to? He was describing what had become a permanent government of sorts that was now out of control. Part of Truman’s Cold War Strategy had been to prevent the spread of what was seen as godless communism – a force hellbent on world domination – and where any tactic that could be used to neutralise that threat was deemed to be necessary. Unleashing the power of the atomic bomb in 1945 would show the full might the US military wielded so that the Soviet Union (once perceived to be a military ally) understood the changes that were to come now that World War Two was coming to end. While aboard the U.S.S. Augusta, Truman announced that, “The experiment has been an overwhelming success”, as tens of thousands of Japanese civilians lay dead. 

President Harry Truman (right) with Walter Smith (left), head of the CIA between 1950 and 1953.

The tone for the Cold War had been set early by figures like Truman as he quickly sought to reverse President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s post-war commitments to the Soviet Union. During his 1947 speech to the American Congress he declared that “I believe it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples…I believe we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way”. Without mentioning the USSR specifically, it was still obvious who the speech was directed at. In a reply on 14 March by Pravda attention was brought to the fact that the speech amounted to little more than a cover for US ambitions to expand its reaches further into Europe and the rest of the world. The history of the later 20th century would ultimately judge those early premonitions to have been correct. To say that US insecurity had reached its zenith during the Cold War would be to put it mildly, as oppressed people all over the world began to assert their right to independence, most notably in the former colonial nations. Containing this revolutionary fervour while simultaneously trying to appear committed to the principles of freedom and democracy was something the US attempted to juggle where the risks involved were worth taking. The Office of Strategic Studies (OSS), a forerunner to the CIA, was one such organisation where figures like Allen Dulles (later CIA director) thought that whatever could be done should be done to protect American interests. Serving as prelude to the Cold War while based in Berne, Switzerland, Allen Dulles was conducting his own secret war where the real threat was not coming from Nazi Germany but rather the Soviet model which was quickly labelled as an antagonist to the class interests of people like Allen Dulles and those he dutifully represented.  

Working for the now infamous Wall Street law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell, Allen, along with his brother Foster Dulles (later Secretary of State under Eisenhower), built and maintained business relationships with many prominent figures within the Third Reich. For the two brothers, Hitler’s genocidal anti-Semitism was more unfortunate than repulsive and the matter at hand was one of utility and establishing connections with key figures who also viewed themselves as society’s true inheritors to the levers of power and control. One way of ensuring this was to later betray FDR’s promise to then Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, who had his own doubts about American intentions and their relationship to Nazi Germany. FDR had promised Stalin that the unconditional surrender of the Third Reich was America’s main objective. Originally promised at the Casablanca Conference in 1943, Hitler’s Army was to be brought to justice for what was quickly becoming an overwhelmingly Soviet tragedy. Allen Dulles dedicated himself to making sure that no such thing would take place and began to pursue his own mission in order to rescue some of his old clients. In what are now among the most infamous events that took place during the war years, Operation Sunrise, and later Operation Paperclip, saw Allen Dulles using his many connections to establish what became the “ratlines”. These were a series of well-orchestrated rescue missions which helped many prominent Nazi war-criminals escape the fate that would have awaited them had they been brought to justice at the Nuremburg trials.  

Allen Dulles was the first civilian director of the CIA, and oversaw some of the most infamous instances of the Cold War, such as the 1953 coup in Iran, or the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion against Cuba.

Allen Dulles was able to avoid what would likely have been charges of treason brought against him, as he disobeyed direct orders from the elected Commander-in-Chief. With FDR’s passing and with the follow up paranoid spectacle of focused attacks brought down by Senator Joseph McCarthy against the traitorous “reds” and “new-dealers” he managed to escape that fate. As he continued to dodge bullets for what could be considered war crimes, Allen Dulles managed to manoeuvre himself into the position that would come to define his career while performing his duty for the American state and its establishment. With a calculated amount of pressure also brought down on then President Eisenhower, Foster Dulles would help his brother acquire the post of CIA director, with Allen being sworn in during 1953. From that period onward the name Allen Dulles would become synonymous with US covert operations as the “Spy Master”, and quickly got to work in order to shape the post-war world to his own interests. The playbook that would come to define American regime change operations from then on would take place in Iran during 1953 and was to be code named Operation Ajax. Prior to this, Iran had been living under the oppressive rule of the Shah and the dictatorial monarchy he presided over. Having been cast out after a series of uprisings it was a man named Mohammad Mosaddegh who would rise to become Iranian Prime Minister, as the Shah and his wife later fled to seek sanctuary in Baghdad and then in Rome. Representing a much-needed pro-democratic change, Mosaddegh would make what was perceived to be his ultimate mistake when he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian oil Company which would later become British Petroleum, or BP. 

Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (right) with US President Harry Truman (left) in October 1951, less than two years later, in August 1953, Truman’s successor, President Eisenhower, would oversee a coup against Mossadegh.

With the Shah given shelter in Rome as he watched the last vestiges of power slowly slip through his fingers a plot was formed as some cold warriors began to talk about the trouble that was coming out of Iran and what they could do about it. The events that would later unfold appear as if they were pulled straight from an Ian Fleming spy novel ending with Mosaddegh being overthrown and completed with the aid of agent Kermit Roosevelt (grandson of Theodore Roosevelt). Operation Ajax was also made possible with the added support of the British secret service as Churchill aggressively sought to squash what was shaping up to be a huge loss for British investors. With the Shah back in power, Kermit Roosevelt would leave the CIA in 1958 and work in the oil business where he helped the Shah further cement his new rule over Iran. Back in Washington, Eisenhower sat listening in awe to the debriefing that was given to him by “Kim” Roosevelt, describing the details of the coup as that of a “dime novel” while they were being communicated to him. Even though Eisenhower would come to fear the shadow government he had helped nurture while it was in its infancy stages he did not seem concerned enough to make any attempts to stop what would become an all too common feature of US foreign policy. Mosaddegh, like many other political figures who would suffer the fate of American hegemony, was conveniently labelled as a part of the communist threat now emanating from the USSR. 

The sober assessment previously articulated by Pravda was now taking form as following on from Iran the US continued to support military style coups and in quick succession. Guatemala, Laos, Egypt, Vietnam, these were all countries which were placed in the Soviet camp. The Cold War had made geo-political relations convenient for the United States as any nation which obstructed the interests of American multinational corporations was simply smeared as being a Soviet puppet. Delegitimising the struggle for independence became easy, as later exposed fallacious propositions such as the “domino” and “band wagon” theories rushed in to replace and blanket the complexities that were present in each of those states. The 1960’s saw the US continue to escalate tensions by helping instigate a rapidly growing nuclear threat and all for the sake of winning the war against the reds. Though Allen Dulles would be removed from his position after the 1961 Bay of Pigs disaster he was committed to making sure that others who envisaged the world the way he did would be set up within several of the Government’s most prominent agencies. Classified as “focal points” they were to serve as hubs of information which would provide important details back to the CIA. Described succinctly by Allen Dulles: “I want a focal point…But the system will not be aware of what initiated the request – they’ll think it came from the Secretary of Defence. They won’t realise it came from the Director of Central Intelligence”. Notorious spooks like J. Edgar Hoover would admit that, “when it comes to the CIA there’s nothing I can do”. Building a sophisticated network of coups and covert operations was to be Allen Dulles’s legacy. 

And so, thanks to the Dulles years the United States has been successfully shaped into the national security state we know today. Even during the Carter administration which is perceived as one that attempted to pursue humanitarian interests the actions of the security state were still at work. Under his presidency the Shah continued to rule in Iran as information of atrocious human rights abuses continued to emerge. Until he was finally overthrown in 1979 during the Iranian revolution the US had helped the Shah set up his own secret police known as the Savak, who engaged in mass torture campaigns, blackmail, political assassinations, censorship, and mass surveillance. In a 1979 New York Times piece titled “Tortures Teachers” a CIA official is described as using “training” that included “instruction in torture, and the techniques were copied from the Nazis”. Another notable feature of the Carter administration was the fulfilment of the wishes of the Trilateral Commission and Carter’s connection to it. The Trilateral Commission was set up in 1973 as the brainchild of David Rockefeller and its purpose was to make sure the top positions in the US Government were to be held by its members. That membership was to be composed of figures from the banking industry, corporations, law-firms, academics, and senior politicians. Noam Chomsky described it as, “the first major effort at global planning since the War-Peace Studies program of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) during World War II”. Figures who would emerge from under the Commission’s tutelage would be now familiar names like Samuel P. Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilisations. Huntington was able to speculate on the problems coming from “the excess of democracy” in some of the works he co-authored under the Trilateral Commission.

Huntington and others like him were following in the footsteps of what were the ideas of figures like Allen Dulles. Democracy was something that had to be managed by society’s best men and as Chomsky further highlights, “The Trilateral recommendations for the capitalist democracies are an application at home of the theories of “order” developed for subject societies of the Third World”. Having academics that will cooperate and provide their intellectual weight in support of US foreign and domestic interests has become a key strategy as the national security mindset has slowly infiltrated academia. In 1946 Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a policy paper which stated, “It is our duty to support broad research programs in educational institutions, in industry and in whatever field might be of importance to the Army”. During World War 2 many academics served in the OSS as intelligence officers who would aid in the information war that was being waged and later on as US interests gradually shifted towards Asia. Many of the nation’s most prominent academic institutions such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale were happy to support the new fight against the reds by training and cultivating the next generation of analysts who then went on to find careers as the CIA was being formed, or in other departments where they were needed. Academics like Norman Holmes Peterson, who returned to Yale after the war, launched the American Studies Program for the purpose of spreading what was known as “positive propaganda” in an attempt to help project American values and direct the students he felt could be useful towards the CIA. Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers was a former student of Harvard and was recruited by Rand Corporation which is what gave him access to those documents.

For those scholars who sought to provide a dissenting voice and who stressed for a more cooperative relationship to be established with either China and Russia or any other nation that now posed a “threat” they were quickly silenced during the McCarthy years as “wrong thinkers”. In 1963 Allen Dulles, a former student of Princeton University, would himself write with regard to the CIA that, “it is also true that in numbers of degrees Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Princeton lead the list”. Selecting from the best Universities allowed the CIA to take advantage of – and help support – not just up and coming political scholars who would become its new Russia and China “watchers”, but also those who were drawn to the arts and cultural scene. The Congress for Cultural Freedom, founded in 1950, was one such body which was funded by the CIA and famous publications like The Paris Review were also heavily infiltrated by the agency. James “Jesus” Angleton, CIA counterintelligence chief and Yale undergraduate, used his influence to help proliferate the names of some of his favourite artists associated with the modernist school of poetry such as T.S. Elliot through magazines like Encounter. All throughout the Cold War years the CIA and other government intelligence agencies were engaged in an intellectual battle against communism as new schools of thought that were useful to the American cultural crusade were taken over explicitly or were quietly nurtured using appropriate influences. The information war also extended to the news media where the intelligence agencies sought to use ideas such as freedom and democracy as tools to slowly erode the credibility of states the US wished to overthrow or as a way to control the narratives surrounding important events that were a threat to the capitalist system. 

The establishment of Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia were done in order that they serve as mediums of strategic propaganda for the US government as messages of “hope” and “solidarity” were sent out into the airwaves as more examples of the type of “positive propaganda” that was being used to attack the USSR. This also included a process called “blow back”, where fake news stories were planted abroad by the CIA and were then picked up by foreign journalists who then sought to cover them in the major news outlets. Scholars like Edward S. Herman, who has studied political propaganda, noted that, “A final filter” in the news media is “the ideology of anti-communism. Communism…the spectre haunting property owners, as it threatens the very root of their class position and the root of their superior status”. The label “communist” can be used to undermine or destroy the campaigns of even the most moderate of left-wing candidates so as to ensure that topics such as healthcare, education, war, and any other issue which may threaten the ruling class and the security state is shut down and stripped of any real content that may be brought up during a political debate. This maniacal adherence to the cause of anti-communism also includes the mainstream political “left” parties who tirelessly espouse their progressive credentials until the label “communist” or “socialist” is evoked. The cables released by Wikileaks showed how a concerted campaign was launched by Hillary Clinton within the Democratic Party to destroy Bernie Sanders’ chance to run for President. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are themselves loyal supporters of the capitalist system and the narrative pushed by the national security state. This cosy relationship between the intelligence agencies, political parties and the news media is one that has a long history within the United States. 

Although Radio Free Europe ceased to receive CIA funding in the early 1970s, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia continue to be mouthpieces for US interests.

Outlined in detail by Carl Bernstein is the relationship between the news media and the CIA. In an essay in 1977 titled The CIA and The Media  he describes how “more than 400 American journalists…have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency”. Unsurprisingly, “the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials, have been with the New York Times, CBS and Time Inc”. The name Allen Dulles is again listed as he had a hand in crafting this relationship. Some of the basic tasks carried out by foreign correspondents would be to hand over all notes taken while abroad to agents, answer endless questions about what they saw and to sit through CIA debriefings. Journalists were not agents per se but would be asked to do “favours’ ‘ for the agency in exchange for exclusive access to areas in foreign countries where most foreign correspondents would not normally be allowed to travel. At one stage, “The CIA even ran a formal training program in the 1950s to teach its agents to be journalists…and were then placed in major news organizations with help from management”. The cooperation between the major news outlets and the CIA is one which has to be situated within the context of the war against communism. As Edward S. Herman has correctly pointed out, the threat coming from the “communist system” was one which actually threatened the owners of the news outlets themselves. The media giants are not independent entities committed to seeking out the truth, they are run like any corporation for profit as the amount of money required to establish and maintain a news organisation could only come from wealth of that kind. 

As the political scholar Michael Parenti describes in his essay on The Politics of the News Media: “The boards of…broadcast news organizations are literally populated with top officials and representatives from Ford, General Motors, General Electric…they are not just friendly to corporate America; they are an integral part of corporate America”. The link between corporations, government bodies, the military, civil society, and the intelligence agencies is what we can refer to as the “deep-state”. It is not one aspect of American society but is rather an entire network that American civil-society is instead a part of. The foreign interests of American corporations are the force that requires an entity such as the deep-state. The reason why the news media, State Department or government officials and journalists in major publications all either endorse or promote US wars abroad is because and as we have seen these figures come from the same power structure that runs America. When looking for examples which perfectly captures this merger of state power and corporate interests the Project for The New American Century (PNAC) document stands out. Co-authored by a host of figures who all served under the Bush administration these men or “the crazies”, as ex-CIA intelligence officer Ray McGovern refers to them, included figures such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. The PNAC explicitly states that America must be ready to take advantage of “some catastrophic and catalysing event – like a new Pearl Harbor”. The PNAC was written in 1997 but a forerunner written in 1992 titled “Defense Planning Guidance” (DPG) was so extreme that it was leaked to the New York Times from within the Pentagon, with Dick Cheney then being forced to rewrite it. 

Drafted by Paul Wolfowitz, who later served as Undersecretary of Defense, the document gives an insight into the thinking that senior figures within the Pentagon had as the spectre of Soviet communism had been defeated. The document states that America must “prevent the re-emergence of a new rival” in regions which include “East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia” and ultimately this will be done by maintaining “the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role”. As intelligence was now crafted to suit policy rather than vice versa politicians could now call upon the intelligence community to provide the information they needed to convince congress and the public that war within the Middle-East was a necessity as the threat to American security was again a major issue. The call for wars and continued expansion is one which was so transparent that it has forced the national security state to rethink its strategy and this is also discussed in the DPG document. Framed as “increasing respect for international law” and to “encourage the spread of democratic forms of government and open economic systems.” With such a lack of trust now present for Western governments the rise of independent bodies has been used as a cover for what is still the main strategy being pursued by the US. These bodies include NGOs, research councils and groups like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED, like most modern developmental agencies, is linked to the CIA.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is an NGO that was created and funded by the US Congress. Throughout its existence it was involved in supporting counter-revolutionary militias in Nicaragua, as well as funding anti-Chavez groups prior to the failed 2002 coup in Venezuela.

Founded in the 1980s under the Reagan administration the purpose of the NED in the words of Allen Weinstein who drafted some of its original legislation was to “do today” what was “done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA”. The NED has been responsible for arming militant groups in much the same way the CIA has done in places like Haiti, Bulgaria, and Albania. This also includes providing funding to right-wing candidates who are pro-capital and anti-labour. The NED is funded by the federal government and so can still be classified as a governmental organisation (GO) rather than an NGO. This trend of using “NGOs” isn’t just an American phenomenon as an article written in Foreign Policy by Mark Leonard, director of the Foreign Policy Centre (a think tank established by New Labour) stated that, “If a message will engender distrust simply because it is coming from a foreign government, then the government should hide that fact as much as possible…Three of the most effective are NGOs, diasporas and political parties”. So, the messages that we receive from these supposedly independent bodies are in fact directly linked to the type of deep-politics that pushes imperialist style policies and regime change operations. A State Department memo released in 2017 and sent to Rex Tillerson, then Secretary of State under Trump, stated that “allies should be treated differently…we should consider human rights as an important issue with China, Russia…because pressing those regimes on human rights is one way to impose costs, apply counter-pressure and regain the initiative from them strategically”. The NED is now one out of many bodies which are all linked to the national security state and are the vehicles that will be used to produce more of these “humanitarian interventions”.  

If we return to the present day how can we describe what occurred under the Trump administration and its relation to the deep-state? Trump is himself both a victim and a product of deep-state politics, but not in the way his supporters may conceive of. Anti-Trump mania has gotten in the way of the sober analysis necessary in order to document how a figure like Donald Trump became US President and this is due in no small part to how a large portion of the media chose to cover his term in office. These endless attacks are what has fuelled the deep-state conspiracies his supporters now avidly cling to. This along with many other issues will be explored further in part two.  

Further Reading 

  1. The Devil’s Chessboard – David Talbot 
  2. JFK and the Unspeakable – James W. Douglas 
  3. All the Shah’s Men – Stephen Kinzer
  4. Blackshirts and Reds – Michael Parenti  
  5. The Plot to Attack Iran – Dan Kovalik 
  6. Web of Deceit – Mark Curtis 
  7. Manufacturing Consent – Edward S. Herman & Noam Chomsky 
  8. The Politics of Genocide – Edward S. Herman & David Peterson 
  9. America’s Asia – Edward Friedman & Mark Selden 
  10. Rogue State – William Blum
  11. Finks – Joel Whitney 
  12. Secrets – Daniel Ellsberg
  13. CIA target the USSR – Nikolai Yakovlev
  14. Perils of Dominance – Gareth Porter 
  15. Stalin’s Wars – Geoffrey Roberts
  16. The Korean War – Bruce Cummings 
  17. The Soft Cage – Christian Parenti 

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