Asia markets get a taste of the Trump effect. Photo: AFP
Asia markets get a taste of the Trump effect. Photo: AFP

On February 1, 2016, Ishan Tharoor, writing in The Washington Post, examined the alleged role of the ‘deep state’ (state within the state) in the 2016 election of Donald Trump as US President. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) may be said to be the core of the ‘deep state’ in the US, which is today a large body of 17 intelligence agencies collectively known as USIS or the US Intelligence Community (The Economist, 2016).

Briefly, ‘deep state’ is a secret intelligence organization composed of military, police and other personnel of the government, which influences public policy.

Unprecedentedly, the 2016 US presidential election witnessed the clash of the ‘deep states ‘of the US and Russia.

The CIA accused the US-based Russian cyber agencies of having hacked and leaked the documents of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), which exposed the vulnerabilities of the Democratic candidate for President, Hillary Clinton and affected her electoral prospects. The Republican Party candidate for President Donald Trump alleged the CIA was responsible for the leakage since it was politically supportive of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton.

Further, it came to light that a section of the Republican Party opposed to Donald Trump, had hired a Washington-based retired British MI 6 officer to probe Donald Trump’s links in Russia (traditionally hostile to the US). The CIA’s involvement, if any, in this move, is not clear. When it became known that Donald Trump would be the Republican candidate for President, the Democratic Party reportedly began funding the British MI 6 official’s inquiry. His report too came into the public domain. When accused of the leakage, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks clarified that his source was a ‘nonstate’ party.

The MI 6 officer’s report included some unsubstantiated ‘lurid’ allegations about Trump’s activities while in Moscow in 2013. Trump accused the CIA of this leakage of this leakage in order to benefit Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy.

Notably, the whistle blower, Edward Snowden had revealed in 2013 that virtually the entire US population is under surveillance by the intelligence community in the US.

Why did the Opposition Republican Party find it necessary to engage a retired British MI 6 intelligence officer located in Washington to pry into the affairs of one of its own billionaire politicians, Donald J Trump and his activities in Russia?

Secondly, why did the Russians find it necessary to undertake deep penetration cyber espionage to disarm Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is reportedly examining the matter.

After his election as President of the US, Donald Trump appears in no mood to forget or forgive the alleged CIA activities against him. The credibility of the CIA is in question.

President Trump, during his campaign, had accused the CIA and the media in circulating ‘fake news’news against him.

Donald Trump had further said he had no use for erroneous intelligence reports. Perhaps he had in mind US intelligence failure to discover ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq, its failure to prevent the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and also the massive leakage by Edward Snowden of documents of the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013, which showed that US citizens were under constant surveillance by the intelligence community.

Internet technology and Facebook and Googles have increasingly affected the credibility of CIA. President Trump regularly tweets his policy opinions. He has appreciated Julian Assange for publishing the leaked DNC documents and emails.

The culture of leaking by individuals and agencies such as Edward Snowden (who stole 1.5 million files from the NSA), the WikiLeaks of Julian Assange and the dramatic leak in 2016 of the estimated 11-5 m files from Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm damaging the credibility of the CIA are instances in point.

After the post-9/11 reforms of interrogation and surveillance activities, the US Intelligence Community USIC) today includes 17 government agencies (The Economist, 2016) overseen by the Director of National Intelligence who sets intelligence priorities and briefs the President daily.

The ‘intelligence-industrial complex’ today is a huge network of agencies and private contractors. Over 1200 state organizations and nearly 2000 private companies, according to an estimate by Washington Post in 2010, work on diverse aspects of counter-terrorism, intelligence, homeland security and others.

The controversial role of the CIA in the US and in other countries, has been documented in official and non-official reports (Zinn, 2015).

Tim Weiner former Director of the CIA has admitted that the need for secrecy on the part of intelligence agencies conflicts with the openness of American democracy (Weiner, 2007). Mass leaks and unpredictable whistle blowers pose a challenge to the secretive ‘deep state’.

Weiner has added the CIA’s mission was to know the world; but when it failed to do so, it set about changing the world. ‘Its failures have left us a ‘Legacy of Ashes’(the title of his 2007 book).

Further, the Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilkot (reviewed by Philip Sands in the London Review of Books, 28 July 2016) and the book titled ‘Interrogation of Saddam Hussein’ by John Nixon reviewed by James Risen in New York Times, December 18, 2016) too provide a gloomy picture of the ‘deep state’ in the US.

The performance of the ‘deep states’ in the governments of India and Pakistan, inherited from the colonial regime, has been equally disappointing given that they were retained unchanged after independence in 1947. Attempted reforms in India during 1977-79, have been unsuccessful.

B. N. Mullik Director of the Indian Intelligence Bureau (IB) was of colonial vintage and he remained head of the agency for the longest period from 1950 to 1964 under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1947-64), He had close links with the CIA and followed the policies dictated by it on Tibet and China. He developed a regressive policy response to Pakistan a Muslim country that emerged from the Partition of undivided India in 1947.

Mullik produced a three volume report titled “My Years with Nehru’ in 1971-72, in which he proudly claimed responsibility for all the regressive policies pursued by Nehru on China, Tibet Kashmir and China and also his internal policies with regard to Kerala and the Northeast. The insurgencies in Kashmir and the Northeast were the result of these policies, which had their origins in the colonial regime. Mullik’s autobiographical three volumes were described as the most indiscreet memoirs written by a former intelligence chief (see some details in Subramanian, 2007).

The post-Mullik policy regime in India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) has largely followed his guidelines without change. Intelligence failures relating to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks and other similar failures have been extensively analyzed in official reports (see for example, Menon, 2016). Other terrorist attacks have occurred in 2016 at Pathankot, Uri and Jagrota in the Jammu and Kashmir sector with no meaningful response toward peace-building with Pakistan from where the attacks have originated.

The situation in Pakistan, which has been under military rule for much of the post-independence period, the record has been regressive. In 2016 for example, the chief of the Pakistani ‘deep state’ the ISI Assad Durrani, appeared in a conversation with Mehdi Hasan of the Al Jazeera TV network and brazenly admitted that the ISI was aware that the international terrorist Osama bin Laden was in secret protective custody near the military garrison town of Abbottabad till he was discovered and killed by American Special Forces on May 2, 2011.


The Economist, 2016, ‘Shaken and Stirred’, November 12. London

Menon, Shivshankar, 2016 ‘Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, Allen Lane, Penguin Books, New Delhi

Mullik, BN, 1971-72, ‘My Years with Nehru’ in three volumes, Allied Publishers, New Delhi

Subramanian, KS, 2007, Political Violence and the Police in India, Sage Publications, New Delhi

Weiner, Tim, 2007, ‘Legacy of Ashes: History of the CIA’

Zinn, Howard, 2015, ‘People’s History of the United States, Harper Perennial.

Kadayam Subramanian

Kadayam Subramanian is former director of the Research and Policy Division of the Indian Home Ministry and former director general of police in northeastern India. He is the author, among others, of Political Violence and the Police in India and State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India.

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