Top Secret America

2010-07-21

in Bombs and rockets, Politics, Security

Over the last couple of years, The Washington Post has undertaken a major project to document the growth of the government security apparatus in the United States. It is entitled: ‘Top Secret America.’

Three long and interesting articles are now online:

One inescapable conclusion is that none of this – the massive secret compounds, the turf wars between agencies, and the changes in how government functions – could be undone quickly or easily.

It is just a new reality for the United States.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan July 22, 2010 at 12:28 am

“none of this … could be undone quickly or easily.”

So basically, if something is hard to do, but isn’t “stop climate change”, we just accept it – that’s your politics, right?

Milan July 22, 2010 at 10:04 am

First, you don’t build a bunch of giant new buildings, collectively several times larger than the Pentagon, and then get pressured into abandoning them by a bunch of civil libertarians.

Secondly, the public fear that justified the expansion is still essentially in place.

Thirdly, this sort of expansion develops a certain internal logic of its own. As the first linked article says:

“You can’t find a four-star general without a security detail,” said one three-star general now posted in Washington after years abroad. “Fear has caused everyone to have stuff. Then comes, ‘If he has one, then I have to have one.’ It’s become a status symbol.”

I am not saying dismantling all this would be inappropriate, but rather that there are no realistic prospects for achieving that in the near-to-medium term.

. July 23, 2010 at 10:46 am

The Geek Labyrinth
The most frightening thing about our unfathomably complex intelligence bureaucracy.
By Fred Kaplan
Posted Thursday, July 22, 2010, at 6:18 PM ET

Don’t believe the cynics, the lazybones, the tree-full-of-owls academics, or the apparatchik-apologists who dismiss it as simplistic, pointless, wrongheaded, or dangerous. The Washington Post’s three-part series this week on “Top Secret America” is as important as the paper’s PR campaign suggests. (Disclosure: The Washington Post Co. owns Slate.)

The culmination of a two-year probe by Dana Priest, one of the country’s best military reporters, and William M. Arkin, a national-security sleuth of unparalleled ingenuity, the series lays out—in (occasionally numbing) detail—the vast proliferation of supersecret enterprises, and the compartmentalized security clearances that go with them, since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The report’s numbers are fairly staggering: 854,000 people have clearances of Top Secret or higher; 1,271 government agencies and 1,931 private companies do superclassified work related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence in about 10,000 locations nationwide; 33 building complexes for Top Secret intelligence work have been built, or are under construction, since 2001.

But the numbers are the least of it, and the critics who focus on them—scoffing that big isn’t always bad and, after all, we might need all those companies and complexes in this dangerous world—miss the point.
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The point, or one of the main points anyway, is that this Top Secret world has expanded so quickly, with so little control, that nobody knows its costs and boundaries; nobody can keep up with all the information going in and coming out. That’s the irony: The expansion took place primarily to improve the intelligence networks, to make it easier for all the various intelligence agencies to integrate their efforts, and thus to “connect the dots,” so that patterns can be discerned in random data and terrorist plots can be detected and stopped in time.

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