Below the Fold: Deep States and the American Coup

Michael Blim

In Turkey, they call it “the deep state.” Inside their state, Turks believe, is another state composed of key people spread throughout its military and civil administrations that conspire to move Turkish society in directions they prefer, regardless of what the nation or its politicians want. If the deep state considers that Kurds once more pose a threat to Turkish sovereignty, a Kurdish independence sympathizer is killed and his bookstore blown up, as happened in November, 2005. Though persons attached to the state police intelligence division are discovered involved and likely responsible for the attack, the indictment is quashed and prosecutor is sacked. On May 18, a judge against state employment or university enrollment for Muslim women wearing headscarves is shot down in his courtroom. His murderer, though portrayed as a right wing Islamist crazy, is also shown to have had cell phone contacts at the time of the assassination with a low level military official. The military orders a “spontaneous” demonstration of tens of thousands that reaffirms the secular nature of the Turkish state before the Ankara grave of Kemal Attaturk. Provocations, it seems, make for great marches, and for well-aimed warning shots across the bow of the current Islamist government that very much wants women to be able to wear headscarves.

The deep state, then, is not exactly a complete second state. It does not collect taxes, control borders, educate children, and so on. It is a network of well connected persons whose organization acts as a parasite on the official state. The deep state borrows its host’s powers from time to time to redirect both the official state and nation toward courses of action the deep state favors. Precisely because it is not the surface state of post offices and public works, its workings are only partially visible. This murkiness provides it with plausible deniability both as an organization and with respect to its actions. Sometimes a deep state gets lucky when one of its own takes over the official state by election or by coup. Other times, the deep state so batters or usurps state power that it succeeds in what Andrew Bacevich calls a “creeping” coup.

With September 11, the American deep state took over, and the coup galloped rather than creeped. Bacevich writes about the post-September 11 Congressional resolution: “The notorious Tonkin Gulf Resolution of 1964 was a straitjacket compared to this spacious grant of authority.” (London Review of Books, June 8, 2006, 3) The American deep state, that is the organizational network created inside the state among cold warriors located in successive Republican White Houses and the Defense Department since Nixon’s reign, and whose most visible present figures are Cheney and Rumsfeld, received its mandate. State violence in all its forms was their weapon, and they could now use it with impunity. The virtually unlimited war-making powers of an American president were their cover, much as European tyrants long ago used the doctrine of the divine right of kings. Congress and the Judiciary supinely gave up what little of the Magna Charta remained the American constitution.

Still, there were things that a deep state, even in charge and legitimate, chose to hide. Wholesale wiretapping, torture of combatants and suspects, secret torture camps, domestic spying are (thus far) among them. Like war crimes, our deep states apparently realize that it is best to keep one’s plausible deniability in some sensitive areas.

What of other deep state shadow worlds? Is Pakistan’s deep state responsible for the Mumbai bombings, just as it has been so assiduous in creating paramilitary groups in Kashmir and friendly neighbors out of the Taliban in Afghanistan? Is its president, General Musharraf, the successful head of the deep state, or its oft-embarrassed creature? (It begs credulity to think of Musharraf in this context as a victim.) While American deep staters fume, they seem unsure of the state(s) to which Musharraf is a part, or they know and are either powerless or pleased.

In Italy, a deep state thrived throughout the postwar period, abetting the Mafia, suborning bomb-throwing neofascists, and punishing native Communists. For a long while, it seemed institutionally unable to cope successfully with the leftist terrorism. Many people then and now have wondered whether the deep state was using left terrorism as a weapon against the communists themselves (by the eighties, they were its primary victims), and as part of a campaign to turn the country further to the right. American involvement helped the development of the deep state along. The US CIA during the Cold War had organized and bankrolled its own version of a Masonic lodge called Gladio through which key politicians, generals, state bureaucrats and business people stood ready to step in to stop a left-wing takeover and to cover up American breaches of Italian sovereignty. Another self-described Masonic lodge, the P-2, bankrolled by influence-peddlers and most likely the Mafia, struggled to erect a deep state of a more domestic, entrepreneurial sort, though the membership list often overlapped that of Gladio. The P-2 list, however, added a key Vatican banker and illustrious Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian premier, monopolist media magnate, and one-time Mafia money launderer. P-2 was exposed and discredited, and the Gladio story surfaced after the Berlin Wall fall as just another tale of how the cold war had created deep states in many sensitive political outposts of the American empire. Along with the fall of the Italian postwar political elite in the beginning of the nineties, the Italian deep state seemed done for, though ordinary Italians found it hard to shuck the impression that nothing in their country’s political life is what it seems.

But America’s worldwide war against terrorism had need of one once more and began in Italy under Berlusconi to create one, this time based largely (as is known so far) in the intelligence services. The deputy head of the Italian CIA was arrested several weeks ago for helping the US CIA kidnap and deport a certain Abu Omar from a Milan street to an Egyptian jail for torture and possible private execution. Italian magistrates are now trying to figure out how far the conspiracy goes, but no one would be surprised if Berlusconi, America’s self-proclaimed best European friend, were finally shown to be cognizant of the plot.

Omar’s kidnap by the CIA was one of scores conducted throughout Europe. The European Parliament has traced over 1000 secret, unauthorized flights flown by the CIA in European Union territory over the past five years. The purpose of the flights was to kidnap EU citizens or residents like Omar and to deliver them to secret locations worldwide for “rendition,” torture under an Orwellian tag.

So our deep state meets their deep state(s). The tracks between us and them, as in the Cold War, are becoming deep furrows once more. The American war on terror, and the legitimization of our deep state’s coup, have quickened the pace of illegal, undemocratic acts by it among many and fostered the growth or revitalization of deep states around the world.

And finally we return to the Turks, for whom we might thank for the highly ingenious concept of the deep state. In thanks, we might warn them that they had better watch out. For some time, relations between the US deep state and the Turkish deep state were quite cordial. The Turks were the right kind of Muslims (secular), and their military was determined to keep Islamists from weakening Attaturk-inspired secular state. Its military and ours have had strong links since World War II, and our government, overtly but often deep state-wise covertly has supported several Turkish military coups. The Turks gave Americans air bases for no-fly Kurdish zones after the first Iraq War. Turkish generals had developed strong ties with the Israeli military, and had stood against Turkish Islamic movements seeking a more religiously friendly domestic politics.

But the Turkish state refused to open up or permit a northern front against Iraq in the 2003 war, a source of lasting pique among American deep staters. A recent blog reported that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld expressed concern that Turkey was moving toward Islamic fundamentalism. Policy institutes close to the Defense department, it was said, were sounding an alarm that current Islamist premier Recep Erdogan was using the EU admission process to both weaken the deep state-involved military and to make Turkey more Islamic at home and abroad.

One wonders what might happen if Turkish internal tensions increase. Now that America is a unitary state and the deep state is in charge, Turkish politicians probably shouldn’t expect the usual American split-the-difference advice, consisting of the ambassador that supports the government, and the Pentagon general that supports the coup. America now speaks with one voice, and the Turks among others should beware.