John Whitehead's Commentary
The Deep State: The Unelected Shadow Government Is Here to Stay
America’s next president will inherit more than a bitterly divided nation teetering on the brink of financial catastrophe when he or she assumes office. He will also inherit a shadow government, one that is fully operational and staffed by unelected officials who are, in essence, running the country.
To be precise, however, the future president will actually inherit not one but two shadow governments.
The first shadow government, referred to as COG or continuity of government, is made up of unelected individuals who have been appointed to run the government in the event of a “catastrophe.”
The second shadow government, referred to as the Deep State, is comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes right now.
The first shadow government, COG, is a phantom menace waiting for the right circumstances—a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, an economic meltdown—to bring it out of the shadows, where it operates even now. When and if COG takes over, the police state will transition to martial law.
Yet as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it is the second shadow government, the Deep State, which poses the greater threat to our freedoms. This permanent, corporatized, militarized, entrenched bureaucracy is unaffected by elections, unaltered by populist movements, and beyond the reach of the law.
This is the hidden face of the police state.
These two shadow governments, which make a mockery of representative government and the “reassurance ritual” of voting, have been a long time in the making. Yet they have been so shrouded in secrecy, well hidden from the eyes and ears of the American people, that they exist and function in contravention to the principles of democratic government.
As the following makes clear, these shadow governments, which operate beyond the reach of the Constitution and with no real accountability to the citizenry, are the reason why “we the people” have no control over our government.
The COG shadow government plan was devised during the Cold War as a means of ensuring that a nuclear strike didn’t paralyze the federal government.
COG initially called for three teams consisting of a cabinet member, an executive chief of staff and military and intelligence officials to practice evacuating and directing a counter nuclear strike against the Soviet Union from a variety of high-tech, mobile command vehicles. If the president and vice president were both killed, one of these teams would take control, with the ranking cabinet official serving as president.
This all changed after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when it became clear that there would be no warning against a terrorist attack. Instead of waiting until an attack occurred to mobilize part-time bureaucrats and activate evacuation schemes, George W. Bush opted to change COG and establish a full-time, permanent shadow government, stationed outside the capital, run by permanently appointed (not elected) executive officials.
COG has since taken on a power—and a budget—of its own.
Incredibly, under the Obama administration, the plans for the shadow government have expanded and grown far more elaborate and costly than many realize. It is what investigative journalist William M. Arkin refers to as “the latest manifestation of an obsession with government survival.”
In much the same way that the nation was taken hostage after 9/11 by color-coded terror alerts and “See Something, Say Something” campaigns that transformed us into a fearful, watchful nation of suspects, the government’s efforts to prepare us for a so-called national disaster have, in turn, left us a constant state of near-emergency and acclimated us to the sight of militarized police, military drills on American soil, privatized prisons, the specter of internment camps, and the erosion of constitutional rights, especially as they pertain to so-called “extremists,” domestic or otherwise.
Study the COG plans carefully, however, and you’ll find that the concern isn’t so much about protecting our government as it is about protecting the nation’s governmental elite.
As Arkin reports: “Countless billions have been spent on this endeavor over the years, a secret orgy of preparedness going on behind the scenes, one that ensures Washington can defend itself, take care of its own, and survive no matter what.”
To this end, the government has invested heavily in the “architecture of fear”: massive underground bunkers—the size of small cities—which are sprinkled throughout the country for the government elite to escape to “in case of an imminent nuclear strike so that they can set up a kind of Administration-in-exile, directing every order of business from retaliation to recovery.”
These bunkers, strategically located around the nation’s capital and in key states, represent a who’s who on the shadow government’s payroll, with every department and agency represented, from the Department of Education and the Trademark Office to the Small Business Administration and the National Archives.
No sector has been overlooked: military, surveillance, counterintelligence, scientific, political, judicial, corporate contractors, as well as computer programmers, engineers, fire fighters, craftsmen, security guards, branch chiefs, financial managers, supply officers, secretaries and stenographers, all of whom have been entrusted with special ID cards allowing them clearance into the doomsday survival sites. They’ve even included individuals tasked with patent and trademark processing. They even have contingency plans to save priceless works of art.
The Federal Relocation Arc near Washington DC will reportedly serve as the emergency bunker for “every Cabinet department (and every government organization deemed essential).” Site R, a 700,000-foot facility inside Raven Rock Mountain near Camp David, will serve as a backup Pentagon. Peters Mountain near Charlottesville, Va., is the likely site for the nation’s domestic spies to hide out. Congress will retire to a subterranean facility near the posh Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, which served as an internment facility for Japanese, Italian and German diplomats during World War II. And a 600,000-square-foot complex inside Virginia’s Mount Weather is expected to be the primary relocation site for the White House, the Supreme Court and much of the executive branch.
Built into the side of a mountain, Mount Weather, near Bluemont, Va., is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This self-contained facility contains, among other things, a hospital, crematorium, dining and recreation areas, sleeping quarters, reservoirs of drinking and cooling water, an emergency power plant, a radio/television studio and a full-time police and fire department.
There is also an Office of the Presidency at Mount Weather, which regularly receives top-secret national security information from all the federal departments and agencies. This facility was largely unknown to everyone, including Congress, until it came to light in the mid-1970s. Military personnel connected to the bunker have refused to reveal any information about it, even before congressional committees. In fact, Congress has no oversight, budgetary or otherwise, on Mount Weather, and the specifics of the facility remain top-secret.
These facilities reinforce a troubling government mindset that treats the American people as relatively insignificant and expendable. Because you know who’s not on the list of key-individuals-to-be-saved-in-the-eventuality-of-a-disaster? You and me and every other American citizen who is viewed as a mere economic unit to be tallied, bought and sold by those in power.
Not to worry, however. The government hasn’t completely forgotten about us.
In the event of a “national emergency”—loosely defined as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions”—the executive branch and its unelected appointees will be given unchecked executive, legislative and judicial power.
In such an event, the Constitution will effectively be suspended, thereby ushering in martial law.
However, writing for Radar magazine, Christopher Ketcham suggests that the government won’t have completely forgotten about the rest of us. In fact, Ketcham believes that the government also has plans to imprison hundreds of thousands of “potentially suspect” Americans in detention camps.
Ketcham describes a program created by the Department of Homeland Security that relies on a database of Americans who might be considered potential threats in the event of a national emergency. Referred to by the code name Main Core, this database reportedly contains the names of millions of Americans who, “often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.”
Sounds unnervingly like the objectives of the government’s new Domestic Terrorism Czar and the Strong Cities network, which will be working to identify and target potential extremists, doesn’t it?
Under Ketcham's scenario, if a terrorist attack occurs, the president will declare a national emergency, activating COG procedures and throwing the country into martial law with the shadow government at the helm. The administration will then round up the “dangerous” Americans listed in Main Core and place them in one of the many internment camps or private prisons built for just such an eventuality.
For all intents and purposes, the nation is one national “emergency” away from having a full-fledged, unelected, authoritarian state emerge from the shadows. All it will take is the right event—another terrorist attack, perhaps, or a natural disaster—for such a regime to emerge from the shadows.
As unnerving as that prospect may be, however, it is the second shadow government, what former congressional staffer Mike Lofgren refers to as “the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power,” that poses the greater threat right now.
Consider this: how is it that partisan gridlock has seemingly jammed up the gears (and funding sources) in Washington, yet the government has been unhindered in its ability to wage endless wars abroad, in the process turning America into a battlefield and its citizens into enemy combatants?
The credit for such relentless, entrenched, profit-driven governance, according to Lofgren, goes to “another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose.”
This “state within a state” hides “mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day,” says Lofgren, and yet the “Deep State does not consist of the entire government.”
Rather, Lofgren continues:
It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street.
All these agencies are coordinated by the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council. Certain key areas of the judiciary belong to the Deep State, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose actions are mysterious even to most members of Congress. Also included are a handful of vital federal trial courts, such as the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of Manhattan, where sensitive proceedings in national security cases are conducted.
The final government component (and possibly last in precedence among the formal branches of government established by the Constitution) is a kind of rump Congress consisting of the congressional leadership and some (but not all) of the members of the defense and intelligence committees. The rest of Congress, normally so fractious and partisan, is mostly only intermittently aware of the Deep State and when required usually submits to a few well-chosen words from the State’s emissaries.
In an expose titled “Top Secret America,” The Washington Post revealed the private side of this shadow government, made up of 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances, “a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government.”
Reporting on the Post’s findings, Lofgren points out:
These contractors now set the political and social tone of Washington, just as they are increasingly setting the direction of the country, but they are doing it quietly, their doings unrecorded in the Congressional Record or the Federal Register, and are rarely subject to congressional hearings…
The Deep State not only holds the nation’s capital in thrall, but it also controls Wall Street (“which supplies the cash that keeps the political machine quiescent and operating as a diversionary marionette theater”) and Silicon Valley.
As Lofgren concludes:
[T]he Deep State is so heavily entrenched, so well protected by surveillance, firepower, money and its ability to co-opt resistance that it is almost impervious to change… If there is anything the Deep State requires it is silent, uninterrupted cash flow and the confidence that things will go on as they have in the past. It is even willing to tolerate a degree of gridlock: Partisan mud wrestling over cultural issues may be a useful distraction from its agenda.
Remember this the next time you find yourselves mesmerized by the antics of the 2016 presidential candidates or drawn into a politicized debate over the machinations of Congress, the president or the judiciary: it’s all intended to distract you from the fact that you have no authority and no rights in the face of the shadow governments.