Deep state: 'the plot to take down Donald Trump'
FIRST it was "fake news". Now comes the "deep state".
That's the term suspicious supporters of Donald Trump are using for an alleged intelligence-led coup against the new President, who has been besieged by politically damaging leaks since taking office.
Some of those leaks have led to embarrassing revelations - for example, one alleged Mr Trump prowls the halls of the White House in a bathrobe and spends hours watching TV - while others have been more scandalous.
Mr Trump's National Security Adviser, General Michael Flynn, was forced to resign after just three weeks in the job because leaks revealed he had lied about his discussions with Russia's ambassador to the United States.
There have also been incessant leaks from US intelligence officials about alleged ties between Russia and members of Mr Trump's campaign staff.
The relationship between Mr Trump and America's intelligence agencies, which was shaky from the start, has become increasingly strained as his frustration with the leaks has grown. The worse that feud gets, the more credible the "deep state" conspiracy theory seems to the President's supporters.
In short, they believe Obama loyalists in the intelligence community and the government bureaucracy are waging a covert campaign to undermine Mr Trump.
Google Trends data shows searches for the term "deep state" have spiked since the middle of February - a sure sign that it's gaining traction online - and it has been picked up by Mr Trump's political allies.
Yesterday, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told Fox News he thought it was "very likely that the deep state, the professional bureaucrats, the people who run the government on a day-to-day basis, did do things that were very opposed to Donald Trump".
Washington Post journalist Robert Costa revealed the term was being used by Trump allies as a way of describing the President's souring relationship with the CIA, FBI and NSA.
"Growing belief inside White House that elements of IC [Intelligence Community] aligned against them," he tweeted this week.
So what exactly is the "deep state", and does it even exist? Here's what you need to know.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
The term is used to described the network of judiciary, military, bureaucratic and secret services that are unelected but critical to running a country. It's been used to describe countries like Egypt, Pakistan or Turkey, where an actual "deep state" has been known to operate in the past.
Kings College London Professor Simon Walden said: "It's best understood as ultranationalist networks that consisted of the state's military and security apparatuses as well as members of civil society."
For example, the idea is alive and well in Turkey following bombings in Ankara in October 2015 where 128 people were killed at a peace rally. The government blamed it on the Islamic State but activists weren't so sure.
Turkey's People's Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Dermirtas said the government didn't investigate properly, leading to theories among activists about a "deep state" behind the scenes.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
It's now being used to describe the situation in Western democracies, including the US, largely due to the series of major clashes between the White House and the media, judiciary and intelligence services.
For Trump's administration and supporters, the recent sequence of events including the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the Justice Department blocking the first illegal travel ban, the emergence of the "golden showers" dossier and other damaging leaks are tantamount to evidence the US bureaucracy is pitted against the President.
Mr Gingrich recently told the New York Times recently the President was "shocked that the system is as hostile as it is".
"We're up against a permanent bureaucratic structure defending itself and quite willing to break the law to do so," he said.
President Trump's chief-of-staff and former Brietbart editor Steve Bannon is often cited as the man behind the idea the judiciary, civil servants and media are hostile to the White House.
He has previously referred to the media as the "opposition party" and recently told the Conservative Party Conference that he supported the "deconstruction of the administrative state" meaning taxes and regulations that Trump has promised to cut back.
"If you think they're going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken," he said about the media and bureaucratic forces. "Every day, it is going to be a fight."
His tone has been picked up by fellow Republican Trump supporters like Steve King, from Iowa who said "a deep state led by Barack Obama" is "something that we should prevent."
Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie told CNN last month say a "a lot of people here in Washington" think that "this is an effort by the Obama administration to undermine the Trump administration".
"I'm worried it's something deeper than that," he said. "I'm concerned that it's an effort on those who want a provocation with Russia or other countries to sort of push the president in the direction. So I don't think it's Trump vs. Obama, I think it's really the Deep State vs. the president, the duly elected president."
Former President Barack Obama has not commented since he left office, except to say unsubstantiated claims of a wiretap were "simply false". Picture: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The idea that trust could break down between the judiciary, intelligence, military and White House is an alarming one that could cause chaos in a country as huge and important to global security as the US.
However there is no evidence of a "deep state" operating and the notion in the US has been described as a "figment of Steve Bannon's imagination" by those who have worked in national security.
Unusually though, the notion was foreshadowed by Brookings Institute foreign policy expert Shadi Hamid when Trump was a candidate on the rise in May 2016.
"It would be difficult for Americans to think about their own government - or "regime" - in such terms," he said referring to the deep state seen in Egypt or Turkey," he wrote in The Atlantic.
"It is possible, however, to imagine a president so reckless as to activate state institutions against him or her, in a way that makes the notion of an American deep state more meaningful and relevant."
"One can also easily imagine left-of-centre (and right-of-centre) civil servants in the Departments of State and Defense working against the president from within to mitigate his effectiveness and even his authority.
"This would be good, insofar as Americans wouldn't want their president doing things that were crazy, illegal, or both. But it would still raise difficult questions about democratic legitimacy and how far an elected president can pursue his preferred policies, especially when it comes to issues that aren't clear-cut."