Michael Hayden really, really doesn’t like it when people talk about the Deep State.
Well, of course! is what you’re probably thinking. Hayden is a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a former director of the National Security Agency, and a former deputy director of national intelligence. If anybody embodies what President Trump, numerous right-wing Trump acolytes, and all too many progressives refer to as the Deep State, it would be Hayden. But in his just-released book, The Assault on Intelligence, Hayden patiently—and, at times, not so patiently—makes the case for why the Deep State, well, doesn’t exist.
It’s important to distinguish between the notion of a Deep State and what we all recognize as the military-industrial complex. Whereas the former implies a kind of cabal of like-minded conspirators, the latter—which does indeed exist—has enormous influence both within the executive branch and in Congress, and year after year it wields that influence to expand the already bloated military and intelligence budgets, including ever more expensive high-tech weapons systems. And while the military-industrial complex doesn’t always demand war as the solution to every global problem—the military brass and the CIA were largely opposed to the war against Iraq in 2003, for instance—it generally supports a more belligerent foreign policy than do other elements of the US government, such as the State Department.
The term “Deep State” has come to the forefront since 2016 in a very particular context: in the charge that the CIA, the NSA, and the FBI, in league with President Obama and Hillary Clinton, conspired to create a fictional event called Russiagate in order to bring down President Trump. In my view this is an unfounded conspiracy theory, not unlike many that have long been around: the conspiracy to cover up the existence of UFOs, the belief that the CIA killed JFK, the notion that the 1969 moon landing was faked, or the idea that President Bush engineered 9/11, for example.
“Resistance to the ways of the incoming [Trump] team was quickly identified as evidence of the ‘deep state,’ a phrase previously used to describe the murky military and security power centers that secretly work to thwart the democratic will in countries like Turkey,” writes Hayden. “Trump supporters like Breitbart News and Fox News’ Sean Hannity made frequent reference to it. Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, said, ‘Of course the deep state exists.… They create a lie, spread a lie, fail to check the lie, and then deny that they were behind the lie.’ ”