Big Brother, growing by leaps and bounds, with no end in sight

I wanted to write about the quick, little vacation down south that I just returned from, but I seem to have gotten myself engrossed in this article in the Washington Post about the Homeland Security monster that we’ve gone and created. And now I don’t feel like doing much of anything, other than closing my curtains and leaving the internet… Here’s how the article begins:

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to 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 and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

The investigation’s other findings include:

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built 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.

* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.

These are not academic issues; lack of focus, not lack of resources, was at the heart of the Fort Hood shooting that left 13 dead, as well as the Christmas Day bomb attempt thwarted not by the thousands of analysts employed to find lone terrorists but by an alert airline passenger who saw smoke coming from his seatmate…

And, now that this intelligence monstrosity has been built, it’s just a matter of time before its focus moves from potential terrorists to the rest of us. It’s happening already. These newly created entities, unwilling to just dissolve on their own accord, will begin to find new ways to stay relevant. Just you wait and see… If you aren’t already a member of the ACLU, you can sign up here.

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8 Comments

  1. Voodoo Doll
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    You mean the purpose of the ACLU is not to build the file folders of its members for the CIA? Or is that just unintentional? All those initials get me confused anyway.

  2. Posted July 20, 2010 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    I have yet to read the full article, but it is not particularly alarming that 854,000 people have top secret security clearances. There are 1.5 million people serving in the armed forces and then of course there are defense contractors working with them. And that’s not counting other agencies. So one intelligence-related report for every 17 people, and a report could be a short memo. There’s undoubtedly a ton of stuff that is improperly classified.

  3. Posted July 20, 2010 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    I don’t disagree with the article but I think many of the statistics are meaningless. Am I supposed to be alarmed by 17 million square feet of space dedicated to classified office work (and, on a related note, does that include the pantry?). I’d rather be much more alarmed by 1 Dick Cheney type person.

  4. jack
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    Could you do a print version of this blog? Just leave it beneath the Madonna statue for me on Cross Street. I don’t want any record of my having been here.

  5. Knox
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    You’re right, Mitja, that the square footage numbers are meaningless, but I agree with Mark that once these things are created, they’ll find a way to not only continue their existence but grow. And I do feel as though there are privacy implications for those of us who are non-terrorists.

  6. ytown
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    “These newly created entities, unwilling to just dissolve on their own accord, will begin to find new ways to stay relevant. ” Just like this site! look out

  7. Meta
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    If you go to the site, there’s a map that shows, across the country, where these secret intelligence facilities are. There are a few in Michigan. One government facility and three private facilities are in Ann Arbor. One private facility doing intelligence work is in Ypsilanti.

    Does anyone know what business it might be?

    http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/map/

  8. Posted July 28, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    It is a giant mess, no doubt.

    The facility in Ypsi is a General Dynamics outpost, folks working on computer forensics (GD-AIS runs one of the biggest such shops in the country – e.g. you ship them a hundred hard drives, they tell you how and when you were hacked, what the scope of damage was, and sometimes a hint at who committed it). Some of their execs keynoted the Michigan Security Network conference last year, which is trying to draw more of the homeland security spend to Michigan (the billions spent annually in Fairfax County alone have completely transformed Northern Virginia in the last decade).

    Knox and Mitja are both right. The same top contractors (“beltway bandits”) have owned the fed gov market for years, just shifting their focus as the winds changed. I grew up in the heart of it all in Maryland, so it’s hard for me to see that lumbering bureaucracy and pigpile of contractors as particularly sinister – just inordinately wasteful.

    But expedient policy and powerful technology do have a way of sticking around, independent of the contractors and politicians in place – not that the average citizen will ever understand this, or care.

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