Kennedy's Death, Revisited

November 21, 2013 Topic: HistoryPolitical TheorySociety Region: United States

Kennedy's Death, Revisited

A preventable death.

Moreover, Noonan dedicated an October 28 post in her Wall Street Journal blog to the deep state in the U.S. It is somewhat unexpected to hear this term applied to the United States. As a rule, the term “deep state” is applied to Turkey, Pakistan, and a number of similar states. Literally, the “deep state” can be described as a government within the government. The term is used to denote a ruling, invisible clique within the government that controls the decision-making process and is unaccountable to the populace. It is de facto uncontrolled power that does not answer to anyone: not to the formal ruling institutions and certainly not to the people. In one form or other, the deep state exists in all political systems.

It took its ugliest shape in Russia in the second half of the 1990s after the presidential elections in 1996. It was then, with the ill and not fully able to work President Yeltsin, that the deep state coalesced under the moniker “the family,” in which a few people of Yeltsin’s own family and a few oligarchs controlling the financial and informational flows in the country, unelected and unrepresentative of formal state institutions, made all decisions at their sole discretion as concerned cadre, domestic, and foreign policy. This phenomenon was even uglier than the traditional notion of a deep state because in the traditional case, the deep state is a formation by state institutions, first and foremost the security agencies, which begin to act in their own corporate interests without any oversight or accountability, and can violate human rights. In the case of Yeltsin’s family, decisions were also made without popular oversight or accountability, but they in no way represented any formal institutions.

In his first presidential term, Putin did away with this uninstitutional center of power that controlled all decision making. Some oligarchs were imprisoned, others ran away and left Russia, while he re-established constitutional presidential control over policy. True, some analysts in Russia and abroad believe that a new deep state was formed under Putin during his second term, in the face of the so-called siloviki on the conservative side and “civiliki” on the liberal side who tried to assert control over all political decision-making in Russia. And in Putin’s third term, some analysts began to talk almost of a shadow Politburo controlling all decisions. However, I believe it is as imaginary a notion that power centers, both siloviki and civiliki-liberals, can function independently of President Putin, as is the existence of some mythical Politburo.

Unlike the United States, in which it is becoming clear all of a sudden that some institutions such as the IRS, NSA, and FBI made decisions in violation of the Constitution without the knowledge of the President, there is no convincing evidence that any Russian institutions, whether the secret services or civilian ones, make decisions in circumvention of the power of President Putin. When there is a strong leader empowered by the Constitution, and when power is consolidated, there are far fewer opportunities for a deep state to form than in a democratic country with a weak leader when the secret agencies can escape civilian control with the excuse of ensuring citizens’ security.

Nowadays, a discussion of the deep state is particularly important in light of the revelations by Edward Snowden exposing the secret work of the NSA and other structures working in the dark and without accountability to society, controlling the lives of every individual, and violating the right to privacy with impunity. It is no accident that in one of the latest Face the Nation broadcasts, Bob Schieffer noted that the secret agencies destroy all evidence in the case of a crisis so that no one can blame them for failing to prevent crime or being incompetent. This is why the whole story with the Oswald appearance in Mexico a few weeks before the JFK assassination and his conversations showing intent had not been made available to the Warren Commission, and the agencies did everything in their power to cover up such information so as not to expose themselves as ineffectual for failing to act on available information.

It is notable that the discussion of the JFK assassination and the deep state run amok are taking place in the background of frayed Euro-American relations and the scandal with the U.S. spying on its EU allies, such as Germany’s Chancellor Merkel. Journalists and analysts are asking the question of whether Obama was in the know that the NSA was wiretapping the U.S.’s closest ally. If he did not know, that would mean that indeed, nowadays a huge part of the work of the secret agencies is escaping public oversight, which naturally threatens the democratic foundations of the country and American society. On the other hand, as Peggy Noonan wisely noted, even if Obama had not known and did not want to know what his agencies were doing, can it be believed that the NSA would stop its snooping on Angela Merkel if he orders it to? There is no convincing answer to this question. It turns out that modern democracy lacks effective mechanisms for control over the secret agencies. This is why this question is important. Have they stopped spying on Angela Merkel? But it is on the answer to this question that the solution to a more important question hinges; namely, “How deep is the deep state in the U.S.?” How much has the deep state affected the political structure of the country? Shenon’s book and analysts’ speculations of the Kennedy murder are interesting not because they bring about new conspiracy theories or explain what happened fifty years ago, but because center stage in public discussion is the activity of the secret agencies that are proving to be increasingly uncontrollable and unaccountable.

Andranik Migranyan is the director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in New York. He is also a professor at the Institute of International Relations in Moscow, a former member of the Public Chamber and a former member of the Russian Presidential Council.