The Washington Post unveiled
the first installment of a two-year investigation on its front page Monday, detailing the "top secret" intelligence world that ballooned after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Reporters Dana Priest, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and William Arkin write that they found "an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight." After nine years of "unprecedented spending," the intelligence community has become a sector of government so massive that oversight is next to impossible and that it is of questionable benefit to the United States' security.
A summary of the Post's findings, which were culled from government documents, job descriptions, social networking sites, and "hundreds" of interviews with military, intelligence, and corporate workers:
-- 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counter-terrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the country.
-- An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
-- In the Washington area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work have been built or are under construction since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings -- about 17 million square feet of space.
-- Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
"After 9/11, when we decided to attack violent extremism, we did as we so often do in this country," said former national intelligence director Adm. Dennis Blair. "The attitude was, if it's worth doing, it's probably worth overdoing." Retired Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines said the complexity of the intelligence community "defies description," and that without any synchronizing structure in place, the government can have no idea whether or not it is accomplishing its mission.
The first story in the Post series describes the government's role in "mushrooming" the intelligence industry after 2001. Hundreds of new government agencies were created. President George W. Bush's administration threw more money at intelligence agencies than they were capable of responsibly spending, the story says, so staff sizes doubled, new buildings were constructed, and eventually even more agencies, like the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, were created to try to make sense of the sprawl.
But the attempts at coordination failed, and led only to more expansion. When Congress passed a law creating the ODNI, it did not give the office legal or budgetary authority over the agencies it was supposed to control. The ODNI began with a staff of 11 working in bunkers a block from the White House, but now occupies a staggering new complex the size of five Walmart stores in McLean, Va. -- a modest headquarters compared to some of the other intelligence complexes.
Senior intelligence officials, several of whom the Post story follows to work, complain that the intelligence behemoth produces an overload of useless information that prevents them from identifying real threats. Or, more likely, they would miss the threats in the barrage of briefings that go unread every day.