July 19, 2010

The Explosive Growth of a Secret, Unaccountable and Self-Perpetuating Bureaucracy

The Washington Post's Dana Priest won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for her reporting on "black sites" - secret prisons used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to torture and interrogate foreign prisoners - and, along with two colleagues, brought another Pulitzer to her paper in 2008 for an expose of the conditions under which American combat veterans were receiving treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  In short, she is one of the best investigative journalists working today.

This morning, Ms. Priest and fellow reporter William Arkin unveiled a project two years in the making: Top Secret America, a holisitic and deeply disturbing view into the explosive growth of not only a secrecy-driven culture in the wake of the September 11th attacks, but a vast bureaucracy with far-reaching powers and little accountability:
The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of September 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.
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.
Perhaps even more troubling than the implications for fiscal responsibility, privacy and civil liberties, however, is the fact that this vast, poorly-defined entanglement of overlapping agencies is very likely making the country less safe.  The overwhelming volume of information collected, along with the sheer number of projects and initiatives undertaken, means that only a few people have any sense of the big picture, when they are able to focus on details at all. 

Below is an introductory video for Ms. Priest and Mr. Arkin's project.  Please take some time to check out Top Secret America.

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1 comment:

twliterary said...

And see the deep reporting on this topic by Trevor Paglen: