Over the last several years, the term “Deep State” has been used frequently by both President Trump, during speeches and on social media, as well as by some Trump-supporting pundits. President Trump and the commentators who support him often use the term to describe a group of bureaucratic insiders who want the president out of office.
These individuals represent a loosely-connected web of unelected bureaucrats, often left over from previous administrations, who allegedly utilize their intel and reach in order to disrupt the agenda of the president and his allies.
But what exactly is the Deep State? Who exactly are the Deep State players? What damage can they do? And what can be done to stop them?
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to speak with Bryan Dean Wright, a former CIA officer who now serves as a contract instructor for the military. Wright, a self-described “lifelong Democrat,” was not only able to answer my questions about the Deep State, but provide incredible insight into this not-so-well-understood world of leakers and bad actors.
In part one of this interview, Wright discusses his own background in the CIA, the origins of what we would call the modern “Deep State,” the bad actors operating from the inside, the damage they have done, and much more.
DW: What was your former job at the CIA?
WRIGHT: I first served as an operations officer. These are the folks that, in short, go abroad to recruit spies and steal secrets. I did that for a number of years, then transitioned to the private sector and did some work in New York. I went back into the agency after a hiatus and served as what’s called a targeting officer. That role finds the people and organizations that can fill in the gaps of our understanding of particular adversaries, specifically their leadership and their plans and intentions. I developed targeting packages of how to get in front of those people and recruit them as clandestine sources.
DW: Why did you decide to leave the agency?
WRIGHT: The original reason back in the mid-2000s was because my brother needed to go into rehab for his alcohol addiction, and unfortunately my family didn’t have the money to send him. So, I had to go in the private sector and earn it. Once I was able to do that – after my brother achieved his sobriety – I got back into the agency.
And then in December of 2015, I left for the second and final time. The reason I left then was more out of sorrow and anger for what I saw happening. And it really gets to the issue of the “Deep State.” I met with a bunch of people that were tied-in to some of our covert action operations – I was reviewing and auditing them – and these senior executives weren’t taking it seriously or tried to hinder my efforts. A lot of people didn’t want to have accountability for their failures. Or, secondarily, they didn’t want to have to go back to the National Security Council or even the President or Vice President and say, “Actually, what we’ve been telling you was wrong, or it wasn’t quite true.” And so I became very frustrated and I just didn’t see myself being complicit with that degree of unprofessionalism at a minimum or flat out treachery at worst. So, I transitioned out.
DW: What is your primary job now?
WRIGHT: I serve as a contract instructor for the military – and some of those details I can’t dive into at present – but that’s part of what I do. And I spend a lot of time writing and going on different TV outlets, Fox in particular, to talk in part about national security-related issues.
I also write and talk a lot about politics. As a lifelong Democrat, I share with my readers and audiences what I see as this horrific drift by the party away from what I grew up with in the Pacific Northwest: a moderate, sensible Democratic Party. For instance, I remember men like Tom Foley, former Speaker of the House, who was from rural Eastern Washington. Or a guy like Cecil Andrus, a sensible, no-nonsense Democratic Governor of Idaho. These folks are the Democrats who I grew up with, and my family was a part of. But that is no longer the party that we see. Instead, we see the party of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Tom Perez, and it’s these absolute bonkers elements that I don’t identify with, are horrifying, and I think ultimately will bring the entirety of the Democratic Party down. And if that’s what has to happen, well, I hope the Republicans can keep a light on for me.
DW: So, what is the “Deep State?” We hear it all the time in conservative media, especially on outlets like Fox News. But what is the “Deep State” really?
WRIGHT: To understand the Deep State, you have to understand a man named Aldrich Ames. He was a CIA officer who, in the 1980s, decided to commit treason and work for the Soviet Union, and his treachery cost the lives of many of our Soviet agents. When Ames was asked why he did it, his response was this, “I know what’s best for foreign policy and national security … and I’m going to act on that.” That’s the definition and the ethos of the Deep State. It’s an unelected group of men and women with profound powers of the surveillance state who use those powers to advance their own interests, whether it be personal or partisan.
And that last bit I think is important. Why do they do it? In the distant past, guys like Aldrich Ames, they’d leak to our enemies because of ego and for money. But in the recent past, like what we’ve seen with Former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former Director of the CIA John Brennan, they’re leaking to The New York Times or CNN because, yes ego and money, but clearly a sense of partisan warfare. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t discount their ego and monetary motivations. I mean, look, they’ve taken paid media contributorships and I’m sure it makes them feel very important. But what we’re seeing is more than that. It’s partisan, and it’s personal. I think that’s different and that’s frightening. I would say that, in essence, is the “Deep State,” and that is what’s driving Deep State actors today.
DW: This may be a bit of a redundant question, but who are the Deep State? Who would you identify as major Deep State actors?
WRIGHT: In the recent past, Comey, Brennan, Clapper are the most obvious, big names. But based on the IG reports, we’re also seeing more mid-level bureaucrats, like the Lisa Pages and the Peter Strzoks and the Bruce Ohrs. These are Deep Staters: folks who are unelected and frankly unaccountable to anyone, using their power and knowledge to satisfy a personal agenda, irrespective of the law. That’s certainly what we’ve seen in the IG reports regarding Crossfire Hurricane, and it’s clear that these bureaucrats had no problem executing their own partisan or personal agendas believing their relative anonymity would hide them from accountability.
I think that those individuals are just the ones we know about. And I think, God willing, Attorney General Bill Barr and United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut John Durham are going to flush out other actors and bring them to account, and lead to further clarity on if indeed the Comeys and Brennans and Clappers of the intelligence community can be brought forward on charges. That’s certainly the hope if the facts allow.
DW: In what malign activities specifically have members of this Deep State participated?
WRIGHT: Let’s start with Comey. We know that he was leaking to The New York Times, and he wasn’t leaking because he had any reasonable belief that President Trump was up to no good. I mean, the IG has shown conclusively that he was leaking to advance his own personal interests. In fact, [it] labeled Comey as a dangerous example to the tens of thousands of current and former FBI employees. So, that opens up this horrific floodgate of the Aldrich Ames ethos that, if you think that you know best for national security or foreign policy, that you, FBI employee, can damage whomever you’d like. You, Mr. FBI or CIA employee, who has access to secret human or signals intelligence – emails, phone calls – you get to decide what material should be leaked to kneecap politicians you don’t like. Oh, and you will face no consequences for it! That, I think, is the horrific legacy that Comey leaves behind.
And again, let’s emphasize something here: Comey knew early on that Trump was not going to be found guilty of having engaged in impropriety with the Russian government. Comey had participated with others in the intelligence community to investigate these allegations. He and the others knew, in early 2017 if not before, that there was nothing there. Think of this: if the intelligence community had any information in 2016 or 2017 that Trump was a Russian spy, they wouldn’t have sat on it. They would have immediately gotten it to Mueller or folks on Capitol Hill, and they would have rightfully brought that forward to the American people and removed the president. But that didn’t happen.
So, certainly Comey has a very clear record, demonstrated record, of doing a number of things that weren’t just atypical, but that were wrong. And again, I think that’s what AG Barr and John Durham are trying to fully flush out.
I think that the other characters – John Brennan especially, but also Comey and Clapper – used the dossier and Christopher Steele as pawns in a political game. Both Steele and his dossier were known to be unreliable in the fall of 2016. Indeed, by mid January 2017, Brennan was specifically on record as saying he gave the dossier no particular credence, according to The Wall Street Journal. Well, that’s amazing. Because they included that dossier in a brief to not only then President-elect Trump, but to then President Obama and Joe Biden and, of course, the principals on Capitol Hill. Why would they have done that? There was no legal or intelligence value. They knew Steele and the dossier were verified garbage. But they briefed it anyway. To lots of people.
As a former intelligence officer, I can tell you that this isn’t normal operating procedure. At all. You don’t brief an unvetted document like the dossier to the president-elect and tell him that he’s a corrupt Russian traitor. And you certainly wouldn’t do it if you had already done a degree of investigation and found that there was no veracity to any of the claims. I mean, hell, you don’t even have to be an intelligence officer to understand that.
But what Steele and his dossier lacked in legal or intelligence value, both more than made up for it in political value. And Brennan, Comey, and Clapper knew it. They knew how damaging it would be to Trump if America were to believe the dossier’s allegations. They just needed to give the news media a hook to run with the claims, which were widely known in Washington but went unreported because they were unverified. So their solution, it turns out, was to make themselves the media’s necessary hook. By their simple act of briefing the dossier to so many, it gave credence to the claims and that in fact the dossier existed. Naturally, the Resistance Media – which went all in against President Trump – was happy to distribute their propaganda.
Let me emphasize: the dossier had been refuted by the intelligence community after considerable investigation. There was no legal or intelligence value to briefing the dossier. In fact, the CIA at the time was calling it “internet rumor.” But Brennan, Comey, and Clapper clearly didn’t care. Why? Because they had an end goal: if they could get the media to report on this dossier, then that would be effectively the end of the Trump presidency, or certainly put the president on his heels for a couple of years. They would utterly kneecap him. At least that was their hope.
So, I think that that is the gravest example of Deep State treachery.
DW: To what extent does the media participate in enabling these Deep State actors to do what they want and feel they need to do, and how should that be approached?
WRIGHT: The most obvious and demonstrable connection between these Deep State actors and the media is that guys like Comey, Brennan, and Clapper now, to varying degrees, have paid contributorships with media outlets. Think of it: we know that they were leaking classified information to these outlets when they were government employees, and now they have jobs with them. I mean, my god, what does that tell other intelligence community professionals? What are the consequence for breaking the law? Because, as of today, my former colleagues can apparently leak based on their own personal or partisan agenda to the media, and then, in turn, can get a great, cushy job from that same media outlet when they quit or retire. That’s a horrifying example with profound consequences to our Republic because you’re incentivizing intelligence professionals to leak or kneecap people they don’t like. If that takes root, what in the hell will prevent us from becoming Pakistan or Egypt? These countries, by the way, are run by the intelligence or military communities, sprinkled with a veneer of democracy.
Is that what we are to become? Because that really is the end result of allowing a politicized intelligence community to go unchecked. And that’s why Barr and Durham’s work is so important. These people have to be held to account.
Now at the same time, it’s not just the media who are gaining from this. They’re also being manipulated by the Brennans, the Comeys, and the Clappers. In March of 2018, for example, The Daily Beast reported that Brennan and Clapper were doing a roadshow around the country to various elite groups and big money people, and they stopped by Hollywood. Brennan told them that Trump would not finish out the year (2018) as President of the United States; he would be removed because of his treacherous relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Russians.
Clapper was also there, and they were doing this to both create and then fan the flames of hysteria. Remember that their audience was made up of the Hollywood elites, the very individuals who control or contribute mightily to the public sphere, create narratives, create truth. So, it is not an accident that Brennan and Clapper would be there in Hollywood in March of 2018 spreading these lies. Again, they knew that the Trump/Russia narrative wasn’t true but, as with the dossier, they needed the media to continue to manipulate the American people to achieve their political end. And who better to have in their back pocket than those Hollywood executives who have our eyeballs and our ears, whether it be on movie screens or television screens. Brennan and Clapper needed them because they needed hysteria. And that’s precisely what they’ve been committed to. Virulently and unapologetically so.
DW: There are criticisms, mostly from the Left, that the “Deep State” is blamed for every bad thing that surrounds the Trump presidency and the administration. It’s almost like a joke to many people on the Left. “Oh, the Deep State! It must be the Deep State!” Is the idea of the Deep State in any way overblown? And if so, to what degree?
WRIGHT: You know, in 2017, when Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, was being interviewed by Rachel Maddow, she was telling him about Trump’s taking on the CIA or the intelligence community, and his response, then and now, was so illustrative and so jaw dropping.
If you recall, he said, “If you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday to get back at you.” So, Chuck Schumer recognizes that the Deep State is real, and that they will exact revenge at a time and a place and on people of their choosing.
Let’s pause for a second and really think about the modern Left’s response to the fact that the Deep State is real, and that these intelligence officials will decide our nation’s political winners and losers. Really consider Chuck Schumer’s flippant acceptance of it all. I can’t imagine a more horrifying thing for any person of any party to say ever – because think of the consequence of that. The modern American Left is basically saying, “You know, we love those Deep State guys. They’re real, and we love it because Orange Man Bad. And they’ll take this guy out for us. Because we just don’t like him.”
I mean, they’re incentivizing a bunch of people to continue to break the law because it fits their temporary, short-term partisan goals. Never mind the fact that they’re setting a brush fire to the Republic. I mean, it’s amazing to me knowing how many folks on the Left who have been so virulently opposed to the CIA and FBI, given some of the sins, unquestionable sins – starting in the 40s and ramping up through the Cold War in the 50s, through the 70s and 80s – to now see that our own “progressive” leadership is somehow winking and nudging with our good friends like John Brennan and the rest because they’re taking on Orange Man. So, this suggestion by the people on the Left, my fellow Democrats, who would say, “Well, that’s just silly. It’s a conspiracy…” Well, they need to take it up with Chuck Schumer because he thinks the Deep State is real, too. And he fears them.
DW: Is this type of behavior something that has gone on for a long time?
WRIGHT: The short answer is yes. There is a history of individuals who get this profound power when working for the FBI or the CIA or NSA and abuse it. I can tell you, I worked with individuals who used their abilities to tap phone calls and emails to look after ex-boyfriends or ex-spouses. And those individuals were eventually found out and rightfully fired. In other words, human frailty – or the part of the human condition that is indeed so frail as to be given profound powers and then use them for ill – that has always existed, and that will always exist. That’s why it’s so important to conduct oversight of law enforcement and intelligence, and indeed military communities.
The difference, though, from that unfortunate low level abuse of power is that the treachery of modern Deep State actors – Comey, Brennan, and Clapper – is that they wanted to overrule the American voters. They wanted to upend the free and fair election of Donald Trump. They wanted to choose a different leader to run the nation. Their purpose in leaking to the media was to take out a duly-elected president because they either didn’t like the guy or they wanted Hillary Clinton to win. Many of them, I suspect, liked Clinton because they knew that they were going to have positions of authority or influence in her administration.
That degree of audacity I think is new, and I think that it is incredibly dangerous. And the lack of focus on that treachery is one of the profound lost opportunities of our political class, particularly on the Left, of the past few years. They could have said, “The actions of Comey, Clapper, and Brennan were horrifically wrong and they should face justice. And, meanwhile, we oppose the president on X, Y, and Z policies.” That would have been the right thing to do. As an opposition party, you can do both of those things, but that’s not what the Left has done. That’s certainly not what Pelosi and Schumer and our friends Rep. Adam Schiff and Rep. Jerry Nadler are doing right now with the impeachment.
All of this has been 100% focused on bringing down the president from day one, instead of having a much more balanced, nuanced approach to his presidency. And I think, and frankly I hope, that that’s why the Democratic Party loses in 2020. I don’t know of any other way to get rid of the rot that is in Washington, and within the leadership of the Democratic Party. Because if a progressive wins – Sen. Elizabeth Warren or, God forbid, Sen. Bernie Sanders – or even if Joe Biden wins, the lesson for the Democratic leadership, the lesson for the media, will not be that their treachery was bad, but that it worked.
In part two of this interview, which will be released on Sunday, Wright talks about what the Deep State would look like if a Democrat wins in 2020, what can be done to root out these malign actors, what the media can do, the dangers of normalizing socialism, and more.