'Top Secret America': Investigation Reveals Massive, Unmanageable, Outsourced US Intelligence System

An explosive investigative series published in the Washington Post today 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." Among the findings: An estimated 854,000 people hold top-secret security clearances. More than 1,200 government organizations and nearly 2,000 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in 10,000 locations. We speak with one of the co-authors of the series, Bill Arkin.

AMY GOODMAN: "Top Secret America." That’s the title of an explosive investigative series published in the Washington Post this morning that’s already creating a firestorm on Capitol Hill. It starts, quote, "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."

Some of the findings of the two-year investigation include more than 1,200 government organizations and nearly 2,000 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 one-and-a-half times as many as live in Washington, DC—hold top-secret security clearances. Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste.

The series by Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and Bill Arkin includes an online searchable database and locator map. PBS Frontline is producing an hour-long documentary on the investigation that will run in October. This is its trailer.

NARRATOR: You think you know America. But you don’t know Top Secret America. We’re all aware that there are three branches of government in the United States. But in response to 9/11, a fourth branch has emerged. It is protected from public scrutiny by extraordinary secrecy. Top Secret America.

WILLIAM ARKIN: This is a closed community. And since 9/11, it’s become even more so.

DANA PRIEST: The money spigot was just opened after 9/11, and nobody dared say, "I don’t think we should be spending that much."

NARRATOR: It has become so big, and the lines of responsibility are so blurred, that even our nation’s leaders don’t have a handle on it. Where is it? It’s being built from coast to coast, hidden within some of America’s most familiar cities and neighborhoods—in Colorado, in Nebraska, in Texas, in Florida, in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Top Secret America includes hundreds of federal departments and agencies operating out of 1,300 facilities around this country. They contract the services of nearly 2,000 companies. In all, more people than live in our nation’s capital have top-secret security clearance.

DANA PRIEST: It’s, again, the size, the lack of transparency and the cost. And if we don’t get it right, the consequences are gigantic.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Washington Post writer Dana Priest, the trailer from the upcoming PBS Frontline documentary on "Top Secret America" that features Priest and Bill Arkin.

The investigative series is already creating waves in the intelligence community. More than two weeks ago, the director of communications for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Art House, sent a memo to public affairs officers in the intelligence community warning about the series. He wrote, quote, "This series has been a long time in preparation and looks designed to cast the [intelligence community] and the [Department of Defense] in an unfavorable light. We need to anticipate and prepare so that the good work of our respective organizations is effectively reflected in communications with employees, secondary coverage in the media and in response to questions," he wrote.

Well, Bill Arkin is the co-author of the piece. He’s joining us now from the offices of the Washington Post in Washington, DC.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Bill. Why don’t you first lay out the scope of this series and why you started this two years ago?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, two years ago, Dana and I got together, and we were actually just talking to each other about various things that we were working on, and we realized very quickly that we were looking at something that was very similar and that we had both detected in our long years of work in the national security world that something had been created since 9/11 that wasn’t normal, that wasn’t on the books, that looked like it was a gigantic superstructure on top of regular government. And we started our investigation to try to figure out what it is that we were looking at, and here we are two years later revealing our conclusions.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what those conclusions are. What did you find, Bill?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, really, the most significant thing that we found, Amy, is not that the intelligence agency or the vast homeland security apparatus does work in this field and that is—and that they are engaged in counterterrorism. Really the most significant finding, to me, is the number of private companies in America who have been enlisted in the war on terrorism and who have now become an intrinsic part of government, really where the line is blurred between government and private sector. And the fact that there are almost 2,000 companies that do top-secret work in—for the intelligence community and the military is not only surprising to me as someone who actually put together the data, but it really asks some fundamental questions about the nature of government and the nature of accountability.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about these 2,000 companies.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, you know, it’s funny. We think of the military-industrial complex in a sort of old-fashioned way still. In fact, we don’t even have an appropriate word to describe what this enterprise is today, and we’ve struggled ourselves to try to figure that out. You know, the military-industrial complex of the Eisenhower era was one that produced massive amounts of capital goods for the military—bombers, missiles, nuclear weapons, etc. But today’s national security establishment really values information technology more than it values weapons. And really, one of the things that was most surprising to us, but maybe not so surprising given the nature of society, is that a half of the companies in this particular area are really IT companies, information technology companies, and support companies.

The domination of this world of top-secret contractors over the traditional world of the military-industrial complex is huge. And we see very clearly that the megacorporations which have always been the powerhouses in the defense industry—Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics—they are moving more and more of their business from production to the provision of services—that is, providing staffing for the government. And so, what you see is that we are increasingly a national security establishment that’s producing paper rather than producing weapons. And the question is, with the production of all that paper, whether or not we have either an effective counterterrorism operation or whether or not we’re even safer.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what about the privatization of top-secret information or the people around the country who have access to top-secret information, especially when they’re working in a private corporation?

WILLIAM ARKIN: You know, one thing that we found in the evidence, Amy, is that people who are in business are in business. I’m not going to say that they’re not good Americans, any less than we are, but it seems to me that their fundamental mission is to make money for their businesses. And that is not the same as being a public servant. And as you can see from our articles, we have quotes from all of the principals involved, on the record—Secretary Gates; Leon Panetta, the CIA director; the Director of Defense Intelligence and the former Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Blair—essentially agreeing with us that this crazy, out-of-control system accreted after 9/11, and here, two years into the Obama administration, it is essentially in the same form that it was when the Bush administration left office. But there is something fundamentally wrong in America if you have people who are working in a for-profit environment caring for our national security and engaged in what we consider to be the inherent functions of government.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it is amazing that there are more people who have top-security clearance in this country than live in Washington, DC—more than 850,000 people.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, it is. It’s a good comparison. But I also think that what we find is that, more and more, Washington is not just the hub of government, but it is also the hub of this sort of intelligence information enterprise. You see gigantic companies like SAIC and Northrop Grumman moving their headquarters from California to the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and you know that with that comes not only thousands of workers and thousands of people whose job it is to secure contracts to do government work, but also the vast infrastructure that is required in order to secure the secrets and to do all of those things that are necessary in order to be in this hidden world. And so, more and more is being concentrated in Washington. And that’s undeniable. We show it very clearly in our series, and the data really backs it up. And I think it’s probably part of why there’s such an enormous groundswell throughout the United States that is so anti-Washington these days.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Arkin, what’s a Super User?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, what we discovered in the course of our investigation is that not only are there top secrets, but there are various compartments above the level of top secret which are utilized by each of the intelligence agencies and the military commands to compartment what they do. And intrinsically, that’s supposed to be to protect information, but in reality, what it does is it keeps programs from being revealed to other agencies. And in theory, above it all is supposed to be the Director of National Intelligence, an office created in 2004 to finally solve the problems of 9/11. But what we found was that even the Director of National Intelligence and even the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, the top intelligence official in the government, that they don’t have full visibility on each other’s programs, and they don’t have full visibility on everything even within their own agency.

And there’s this thing called Super Users, people who are designated specially who have the ability to reach into all of the programs of all of the government. They actually have special logins. They actually have special computers. And there’s only a few dozen of them, as far as we can determine, throughout the entire government, only a half-dozen or so in the Defense Department and only a half-dozen in the Director of National Intelligence. And we’ve spoken to some of those Super Users who themselves say, "I don’t have enough hours in the day to look at all the programs of the US government. I don’t have enough—I don’t have enough time to read all of the material that I am authorized to read." And so, you can really see in a very vivid way the dysfunction of government through this little anecdote.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Arkin, talk about the warning, the letter that was sent around to the intelligence community from Art House—and explain who he is—warning them of this series of pieces that you and Dana Priest are doing.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, let me just make it clear, Amy, we’ve been working on this for two years. We’ve been engaged in interviewing people from the government and inside this world for two years. We’ve conducted over a thousand interviews, talked to hundreds of people, many multiple times. They were well aware of what we were doing, and we formally briefed them about this earlier this year. So for them to come out at the eleventh hour and somehow say that they are alarmed by what we’re going to put out, to me, seems to be classic cover-your-ass. I can’t take it in any other way, because we ourselves have gone through a massive internal review process, both fact checking and also looking at anything that could be detrimental to the national security interest and to the national interest, and I’m completely confident that we’ve done a rigorous job. I’m completely confident, through the use of numerous outside counsels at the Washington Post, people who are insiders to the system, helping us to make sure that we were able to produce the most granular picture we possibly could of this gigantic organization, but yet at the same time not put anybody’s life at risk. And I have to say at this point, I feel like the Washington Post has a better understanding of this overall problem than the government does.

AMY GOODMAN: What is it they did not want you to print, Bill?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, they always don’t want you to do whatever it is that’s going to bring them—you know, that’s going to disrupt their day. You know, the government, we asked them repeatedly to give us specifics, to tell us what it is that they didn’t want us to show. And only one government agency was actually able to come back to us and specifically explain to us why they didn’t want us to reveal something, and they made a reasonable argument to the editors, and the editors decided that we wouldn’t.

This is such a rich area that we felt that really to diminish it by somehow not looking at these requests from the government seriously was a mistake. We’re giving you information on 1,931 corporations, on 1,271 government entities across forty-five different departments and agencies. I mean, this is an enormous amount of information. And Secretary Gates himself said to us in an interview that he can’t even get this type of information about his own office and who contracts all of the contractors within his own office. People recognize that this is a problem, and I think that the Washington Post should really be given an enormous amount of credit for putting the resources into this over a two-year period in order to present something that I hope will be the foundation of a new national debate about this whole question.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Arkin, what’s Liberty Crossing?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Liberty Crossing is the name, the nickname, for the new complex of buildings that has gone up in McLean, Virginia, that is home to the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA’s National Counterterrorism Center, other counterterrorism task forces, and the National Counterproliferation Center. We highlight the buildings around Washington that have been created since 9/11, because we thought that it was a very tangible representation of government. It’s often hard to really talk about government in terms of money, because the billions, after a while, begin to just glaze over. But we thought—you know, our approach was going to be, we know that everything that happens happens somewhere, and we’re going to find out where it happens. And lo and behold, as we began to map this alternative geography of America, one of the things we discovered was that these guys have been on a fabulous building spree since 9/11. There have been over thirty-three buildings in the Washington, DC area alone, encompassing 17 million square feet, which is four times the size of the Pentagon, and there are more underway. The NSA and others are building and planning to build even more office space. So the reality is that—I think in my research I found that there was only one civilian agency that’s had the privilege of building a new headquarters since 9/11 in Washington, and that’s the Department of Transportation. But this is a very tangible way of seeing this in your backyard, in reality, in a real physical location.

And one of the phenomena that is also associated with 9/11 is that these locations, like Liberty Crossing, are undisclosed locations, meaning you can’t look them up in a phone book. It has a cover address. It’s not publicly bragged about, in terms of where it is, although it’s obvious where it is to anyone who goes by. And that in itself is sort of an odd manufacture from 9/11, which is that these government agencies, on their own, with really no consideration of national security, can just decide what’s going to be disclosed, what’s going to be undisclosed. And as far as I can see, it’s random to the agency and its power, and it has nothing to actually do with the security of the buildings or the people who work inside them.

AMY GOODMAN: The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the new $1.8 billion headquarters, the fourth-largest federal building in the area, in Springfield, right near Dulles Airport?

WILLIAM ARKIN: No, in Springfield, Virginia, it’s down south near Fort Belvoir. This is a gigantic facility that’s going to—that’s going up right now. It’s going to house 8,500 workers of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. I mean, they are going to leave their older buildings that are scattered throughout Washington. But you know what? They’re going to be in well-appointed offices, and they’ll be in one facility in Washington, and they will obviously, I assume, be able to do their work better. But it’s just one of many. It’s just one of many agencies that probably most Americans have never heard of within the national security and intelligence establishment. And as we found, you know, there are thirty-nine new construction starts this year alone nationwide of buildings going up for various pieces of the intelligence, homeland security and military communities.

AMY GOODMAN: The growth of the military budget, Bill Arkin, since 9/11?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, you know, it’s hard to say even what we spend on national security anymore, Amy. I guess we say we spend a half-a-trillion dollars now on national security. But with supplemental budgets and secret budgets and all that, I mean, it’s really impossible to be able to put a true figure on it. And more importantly, it’s really impossible to gauge where this money is actually going and how effective it is. We’ve talked to people on the Hill who have said to us that the budget documents get thinner and thinner as the budget gets bigger and bigger. There’s no way that Capitol Hill has the resources or the ability to oversee all of this activity. And all sorts of workarounds and devices have been created since 9/11 to essentially put as much as possible into secret programs or off-the-books programs so that they’re beyond scrutiny. Maybe there’ll be eight people in the Congress who have the authority to see the information, but, you know, that’s not oversight as it’s written in the Constitution. Those are people who are co-opted into the system. And I think that really this is an issue that we, as Americans, need to ponder, that we have created a government apparatus that really does not comply with our very precept of the balance of powers. And that’s something that I hope that our series will provoke Congress to take a hard look at, in terms of thinking about better ways in which it can exercise its oversight responsibilities over the executive branch.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, you’ve been doing this kind of work for years. What were you most shocked by in this latest investigation?

WILLIAM ARKIN: I remember having a conversation with Dana, my writing partner, in the summer of 2009. We had sort of started by looking at the government and then shifted our attention to looking at the contracting base. And I said, "Wow! There’s 200 companies that do top-secret work for the government." And now we’re at 2,000. I mean, it is the sheer magnitude of it, Amy, that is stunning. And to me, you know, it’s not that there might not be redundancies that are necessary or that there might not be overlap which is necessary and disparate departments doing disparate things.

And many of the conclusions that we draw, I think, are ones that your viewers and listeners would accept readily and are part of their normal discussions of government. But the truth is that no one really has a handle on it all. No one really does. We’ve talked to the people at the highest level. We’ve talked to the principals involved, and they have all readily admitted that, yes, this ad hoc crazy system was created after 9/11. We threw money at the problem. We did it the American way, Admiral Blair said to us. You know, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. I mean, ha ha, but the truth of the matter is that now we’re two years into the Obama administration, and the basic system really has not been reformed at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Lay out for us what we will see over the next two days—this is a three-part series—and also the database that you have collated. What is online at washingtonpost.com?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, this is a very rich digital journalism project. I would almost go as far to say that this is a digital product with a small print component to it. As much as the Washington Post has allocated five pages to the newspaper today to our first in this series, the online presentation includes a link analysis application, which will allow you to look at government agencies and look at functions and see how many contractors work for them at the top-secret level and at how many locations and to look at some of the featured companies that we discuss in the article series and look at who they work for and some of their locations. There’s also a mapping application that allows you to delve into the presence of Top Secret America in your own community. And then there is a profile of each of those 3,000-plus entities, where you can look in more detail at their revenue, the size of the companies, and what it is that they do in this field.

So we’ve provided, as is the nature of the internet, the actual backup material to do it. But it wasn’t a second thought to the stories. It wasn’t like we wrote stories and then said, "Let’s put a web presentation together." From the very inception of this project, we have worked in unison with the website, and we’ve had a team of over thirty people working with us, and that’s an enormous amount of resources these days in the mainstream media, to be able to have really what we consider to be the future of investigative journalism displayed in these various multimedia ways with documentary footage, with photo galleries, with a database that’s searchable. We have a Facebook page. And there is a URL, topsecretamerica.com, where you can see our blog that’ll launch today and that we’ll be starting to write on on Thursday, as well as online discussions and other comments and commentary from our readers.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Bill, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Bill Arkin, a reporter for the Washington Post, co-authored this investigative series that has just been released today in the Washington Post called "Top Secret America." We’ll link to it at democracynow.org.

Democracy Now!

ACLU: Secret Intel Apparatus Poses Grave Civil Liberties Threat

July 19, 2010
4:28 PM

Claire O'Brien, (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org
Rachel Myers, (212) 549-2689 or 2666; media@aclu.org

Bloated Secret Intelligence Apparatus Poses Grave Civil Liberties Concerns, Says ACLU

Group Responds to Washington Post Story With Call for Greater Oversight

NEW YORK - July 19 - According to the Washington Post today, the U.S. intelligence system, in the years since 9/11, has become so massive and lacking in oversight that it is impossible to know how effective it is. The America Civil Liberties Union has long warned about the civil liberties implications of expanding secret government intelligence programs without oversight.  

In 2007, Congress created an independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board with some significant powers for overseeing anti-terrorism efforts, but the Obama administration has failed thus far to appoint anybody to that board.  

The following can be attributed to Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:  

"At a time when the government should be focusing on creating policies that protect our civil liberties and make us safer, it is alarming that it is instead expanding a secretive system that does neither. We should be focusing our limited resources on national security policies that are proven effective, not throwing money at agencies and policies that provide little more than a band-aid solution.  

"It is vital that Congress and the administration act to greatly increase the transparency and oversight of what the Post calls ‘Top Secret America.' Congress and the administration must recognize the importance of solving these problems, rather than presiding over the creation of a permanent, Kafkaesque intelligence establishment that continues to waste money and erode our rights."  

The following can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU:  

"The intelligence system that is supposed to protect the nation's security now presents a grave threat to our liberties and our democracy. A sprawling and largely unaccountable complex of government agencies and private corporations now controls a huge amount of information about ordinary Americans, monitors their telephone calls and emails and administers a slew of secret watchlists. The unchecked growth of this intelligence system is endangering the very fabric of American democracy.      


The ACLU conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The Real US Government

by Glenn Greenwald

The Washington Post's Dana Priest demonstrates once again why she's easily one of the best investigative journalists in the nation -- if not the best -- with the publication of Part I of her series, co-written with William Arkin, detailing the sprawling, unaccountable, inexorably growing secret U.S. Government:  what the article calls "Top Secret America."  To the extent the series receives much substantive attention (and I doubt it will), the focus will likely be on the bureaucratic problems it documents:  the massive redundancies, overlap, waste, and inefficiencies which plague this "hidden world, growing beyond control" -- as though everything would better if Top Secret America just functioned a bit more effectively.   But the far more significant fact so compellingly illustrated by this first installment is the one I described last week when writing about the Obama administration's escalating war on whistle blowers:

Most of what the U.S. Government does of any significance -- literally -- occurs behind a vast wall of secrecy, completely unknown to the citizenry. . . . Secrecy is the religion of the political class, and the prime enabler of its corruption. That's why whistle blowers are among the most hated heretics. They're one of the very few classes of people able to shed a small amount of light on what actually takes place.

Virtually every fact Priest and Arkin disclose underscores this point.   Here is their first sentence:  "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."  This all "amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight."  We chirp endlessly about the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Democrats and Republicans, but this is the Real U.S. Government:  functioning in total darkness, beyond elections and parties, so secret, vast and powerful that it evades the control or knowledge of any one person or even any organization.

Anyone who thinks that's hyperbole should just read some of what Priest and Arkin chronicle.  Consider this:  "Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications."  To call that an out-of-control, privacy-destroying Surveillance State is to understate the case.  Equally understated is the observation that we have become a militarized nation living under an omnipotent, self-perpetuating, bankrupting National Security State.  Here's but one flavoring anecdote:

Command centers, internal television networks, video walls, armored SUVs and personal security guards have also become the bling of national security.

"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."

What's most noteworthy about all of this is that the objective endlessly invoked for why we must acquiesce to all of this -- National Security -- is not only unfulfilled by "Top Secret America," but actively subverted by it.  During the FISA debate of 2008 -- when Democrats and Republicans joined together to legalize the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping program and vastly expand the NSA's authority to spy on the communications of Americans without judicial oversight -- it was constantly claimed that the Government must have greater domestic surveillance powers in order to Keep Us Safe.  Thus, anyone who opposed the new spying law was accused of excessively valuing privacy and civil liberties at the expense of what, we are always told, matters most:  Staying Safe.

But as I wrote many times back then -- often by interviewing and otherwise citing House Intelligence Committee member Rush Holt, who has been making this point repeatedly -- the more secret surveillance powers we vest in the Government, the more we allow the unchecked Surveillance State to grow, the more unsafe we become.  That's because the public-private axis that is the Surveillance State already collects so much information about us, our activities and our communications -- so indiscriminately and on such a vast scale -- that it cannot possibly detect any actual national security threats.  NSA whistle blower Adrienne Kinne, when exposing NSA eavesdropping abuses, warned of what ABC News described as "the waste of time spent listening to innocent Americans, instead of looking for the terrorist needle in the haystack."  As Kinne put it:

By casting the net so wide and continuing to collect on Americans and aid organizations, it's almost like they're making the haystack bigger and it's harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful to somebody.  You're actually hurting our ability to effectively protect our national security.

The Government did not fail to detect the 9/11 attacks because it was unable to collect information relating to the plot.  It did collect exactly that, but because it surveilled so much information, it was incapable of recognizing what it possessed ("connecting the dots").  Despite that, we have since then continuously expanded the Government's surveillance powers.  Virtually every time the political class reveals some Scary New Event, it demands and obtains greater spying authorities (and, of course, more and more money).  And each time that happens, its ability to detect actually relevant threats diminishes.  As Priest and Arkin write:

The NSA sorts a fraction of those [1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of daily collected communications] into 70 separate databases. The same problem bedevils every other intelligence agency, none of which have enough analysts and translators for all this work.

The article details how ample information regarding alleged Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hassan and attempted Christmas Day bomber Umar Abdulmutallab was collected but simply went unrecognized.  As a result, our vaunted Surveillance State failed to stop the former attack and it was only an alert airplane passenger who thwarted the latter.  So it isn't that we keep sacrificing our privacy to an always-growing National Security State in exchange for greater security.  The opposite is true:  we keep sacrificing our privacy to the always-growing National Security State in exchange for less security.

* * * * *

This world is so vast, secretive and well-funded that it's very difficult to imagine how it could ever be brought under control.  That's particularly true given its inextricable intertwining with the private sector:  the billions upon billions of dollars funneled from the Government to its private-sector "partners," which is the subject of the not-yet-published second installment of the Priest/Arkin article.  As I wrote when examining the revolving public/private shuttling of former DNI and Booz Allen executive Michael McConnell:

In every way that matters, the separation between government and corporations is nonexistent, especially (though not only) when it comes to the National Security and Surveillance State. Indeed, so extreme is this overlap that even McConnell, when he was nominated to be Bush's DNI, told The New York Times that his ten years of working "outside the government," for Booz Allen, would not impede his ability to run the nation's intelligence functions. That's because his Booz Allen work was indistinguishable from working for the Government, and therefore -- as he put it -- being at Booz Allen "has allowed me to stay focused on national security and intelligence communities as a strategist and as a consultant. Therefore, in many respects, I never left."

As the NSA scandal revealed, private telecom giants and other corporations now occupy the central role in carrying out the government's domestic surveillance and intelligence activities -- almost always in the dark, beyond the reach of oversight or the law.

Long before the Priest/Arkin article, Tim Shorrock has been documenting this sprawling, secretive, merged public/private world that combines unchecked surveillance and national security powers with enormous corporate profits.  So long as the word Terrorism continues to be able to strike fear in the hearts of enough citizens and media stars -- as Communism did before it -- the political class, no matter who is elected, will be petrified to oppose any of this, even if they wanted to, and why would they want to?  They wouldn't and they don't.  And it thus grows and becomes more powerful, all justified by endless appeals to The Terrorists.  

That's why it is difficult to imagine -- short of some severe citizen unrest -- how any of this will be brought under control.  One of the few scenarios one can envision for such unrest involves growing wealth disparities and increasingly conspicuous elite corruption.  In The New York Times today, investment banker and former Clinton Treasury official Roger Altman announced that the alleged "tension between President Obama and the business community" can be solved only if the political class is willing to "fix Social Security" -- i.e., to slash Americans' retirement security.  Sooner or later (probably sooner), one way or another (probably this way), that's going to happen.  It's inevitable.  As George Carlin put it several years ago, in an amazingly succinct summary of so many things:  

And now, they're coming for your Social Security money - they want your fucking retirement money - they want it back - so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street.  And you know something?  They'll get it.  They'll get it all from you sooner or later.  Because they own this fucking place.  It's a Big Club: and you're not in it.

That's really the only relevant question:  how much longer will Americans sit by passively and watch as a tiny elite become more bloated, more powerful, greedier, more corrupt and more unaccountable -- as the little economic security, privacy and freedom most citizens possess vanish further still?  How long can this be sustained, where more and more money is poured into Endless War, a military that almost spends more than the rest of the world combined, where close to 50% of all U.S. tax revenue goes to military and intelligence spending, where the rich-poor gap grows seemingly without end, and the very people who virtually destroyed the world economy wallow in greater rewards than ever, all while the public infrastructure (both figuratively and literally) crumbles and the ruling class is openly collaborating on a bipartisan, public-private basis even to cut Social Security benefits?

More... Read the entire article at Salon.com

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.

Corp. Media Discover Private Spies. In Other News-No WMD in Iraq

by Jeremy Scahill

Stop the presses and call the government spokespeople back from Martha's Vineyard.   The corporate media have discovered that the United States is radically outsourcing national security and sensitive intelligence operations. Cable news channels breathlessly report on the "groundbreaking," "exclusive" Washington Post series, Top Secret America, a two-year investigation by Dana Priest and William Arkin. No doubt there is some important stuff in this series. Both Arkin and Priest have done outstanding work for many years on sensitive, life-or-death subjects. And that is one of the main reasons why this series has, thus far, been incredibly disappointing. Its greatest accomplishment is forcing a discussion onto corporate TV years after it would have had an actual impact.

The misplaced hype surrounding the Post series speaks volumes to the ahistorical nature of US media culture. Next week, if the New York Times published a story on how there were no WMDs in Iraq, there would no doubt be cable news shows that would act like it was an earth-moving revelation delivered by Moses on the stone tablet of exclusive, groundbreaking journalism.

The Post does a fine job of exploring the scope of the privatization and providing some new or updated statistics. It also produces a few zingers from senior officials like Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "This is a terrible confession," Gates said in Tuesday's installment. "I can't get a number on how many contractors work for the Office of the Secretary of Defense." It was also hilarious to read CIA director Leon Panetta-who just gave Blackwater a brand new $100 million global CIA contract-act like he is anything other than a contractor addict. "For too long, we've depended on contractors to do the operational work that ought to be done" by CIA employees, Panetta told the Post. But replacing them "doesn't happen overnight. When you've been dependent on contractors for so long, you have to build that expertise over time." Panetta told the Post he was concerned about contracting with corporations, whose responsibility "is to their shareholders, and that does present an inherent conflict." I wonder if the Blackwater guys working for Panetta can contain their laughter reading those statements. I imagine them taping a post-it note that says "Kick me" on Panetta's back and then chuckling about it with the Lockheed contractors.

The Post is "doing their best to obfuscate what contractors really do for US intelligence. They're eight years behind and still haven't caught up.... there's virtually nothing in their series about the broader picture-like what it means to have private for-profit companies operating at the highest levels of our national security."

What is perhaps most telling about the Post series is how little detail is provided on the most sensitive operations performed by contractors: assassinations, torture, rendition and operational planning.

In reality, there is little in the Post series that, in one way or another, has not already been documented by independent journalist Tim Shorrock, author of the (actually) groundbreaking book, Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing. With the exception of some details and a lot of color, much of what I have read in the Post's series thus far I had already read in Shorrock's book and his previous reporting for Salon, Mother Jones and The Nation. Shorrock was the reporter who first revealed the extent of the radical privatization of intel operations. In 2007, Shorrock obtained and published a document from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence showing that 70 percent of the US intelligence budget was spent on private contractors. Shorrock was way out in front of this story and, frankly, corporate media ignored it. When I was working on my book on Blackwater, which first came out in 2007, Shorrock provided me with some crucial insights into the world of privatized intelligence. Shorrock remains a valued colleague and source and the Post is just wrong to not credit him for the work he has done on this story. Everyone should read Shorrock's latest story which includes an exclusive photo tour through the private intelligence community.

The Post and its reporters, Shorrock told me, "are doing their best to obfuscate what contractors really do for US intelligence. They're eight years behind and still haven't caught up. Basically their stories are throwing big numbers at readers-such as the fact that of 854,000 people with top security clearances, 265,000 are contractors. But that's work that can be done by interns; there's virtually nothing in their series about the broader picture-like what it means to have private for-profit companies operating at the highest levels of our national security."

Much of the series reads like a description of the mundane work of analysts and IT people with the types of stats Shorrock mentioned thrown in. Of course, it is meant to feel insider-ish to read the description of the General Dynamics contractor tracking a white pick-up truck in Afghanistan suspected of being  "part of a network making roadside bombs" and with a few clicks of the mouse revealing the history of the vehicle, the address and identity of the driver and a list of visitors to his house. But what about the ultra-sensitive work contractors do for the NSA or the highly secretive National Reconnaissance Office? "It's very significant that, in their database, [the Post] eliminated information about what key contractors do for the agencies such as NSA," says Shorrock. "There's tons of data about these companies in their database, but not what they actually do." (People wanting more information on contractors doing this work, such as Booz-Allen, SAIC, Northrop Grumman and others should check out the contractor database Shorrock developed with CorpWatch last year.)

Also, what about the contractors who have tortured prisoners, flown rendition flights and participated in lethal "direct actions" ie assassination operations?

According to the July 20 article in the Post's series: "Private contractors working for the CIA have recruited spies in Iraq, paid bribes for information in Afghanistan and protected CIA directors visiting world capitals. Contractors have helped snatch a suspected extremist off the streets of Italy, interrogated detainees once held at secret prisons abroad and watched over defectors holed up in the Washington suburbs. At Langley headquarters, they analyze terrorist networks. At the agency's training facility in Virginia, they are helping mold a new generation of American spies.... Contractors kill enemy fighters. They spy on foreign governments and eavesdrop on terrorist networks. They help craft war plans. They gather information on local factions in war zones."

Wow, an engaged reader might think after reading that, this will be fascinating. Now we are getting somewhere. But instead of revealing new details on these types of operations and naming names and employers and specific incidents, none of that is to be found. The discussion of torture and extrajudicial killings committed by private contractors is relegated to a whitewashing by the Post. "Contractor misdeeds in Iraq and Afghanistan have hurt U.S. credibility in those countries as well as in the Middle East," Priest and Arkin write. "Abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, some of it done by contractors, helped ignite a call for vengeance against the United States that continues today. Security guards working for Blackwater added fuel to the five-year violent chaos in Iraq and became the symbol of an America run amok." [Emphases added.]

I'm sorry, Blackwater "added fuel" to "chaos?" "America run amok?" These are very strange descriptions of the take-away message from the massacre of seventeen innocent Iraqi civilians, the alleged murder of a bodyguard to the Iraqi vice president and night-hunting Iraqis as "payback" for 9/11. Not to mention the allegations of young prostitutes performing oral sex for a dollar, guns smuggled on private planes in dog food bags, hiding weapons from ATF agents and on and on. But more important, where in the Post series is the examination of the CIA assassination program that relied on Blackwater and other private contractors? Where is the investigation of Erik Prince's hit teams that operated in Germany and elsewhere? What about the ongoing work of contractors in the drone bombing program? What about Blackwater contractors calling in air-strikes in Afghanistan or operating covertly in Pakistan?

Also, since when is torturing prisoners a "misdeed?" According to the Post, torture at Abu Ghraib "helped to ignite a call for vengeance against the United States." This type of vapid description of the consequences of heinous crimes committed by America and its proxies has become like daily bread in corporate media outlets. The Post's focus on the calls for vengeance rather than the incredible uphill quest for justice in the US courts by the victims of this torture is telling. As is the total omission of the other torture facilities employed by the United States-some of which were revealed first by Dana Priest and the Washington Post.

Marcy Wheeler--another unfamous journalist who rarely gets credit from the corporate all-stars when she scoops them-described this aspect of the Post story on her EmptyWheel blog: "Abuse of prisoners happened. But apparently, only at Abu Ghraib, not at Bagram, not at Gitmo, not at firebases where detainees died. And the names of those contractors? Their role in the abuse? The WaPo stops short of telling you, for example, that a CACI interrogator was the one instructing the grunts at Abu Ghraib to abuse detainees. The WaPo also doesn't tell you the CACI contractors never paid any price for doing so. The WaPo doesn't mention that DOD believed they had no way of holding  contractors accountable for such things (though the case of David Passaro, in which a detainee died, of course proved that contractors could be prosecuted)."

Perhaps the Post plans to publish a story called "Top Top Super Duper Triple-Decker Secret America" where the paper actually delves deep into the outsourcing of assassinations, torture, rendition, interrogation and "find fix and finish" operations. That would truly be ground-breaking. Until then, buy Tim Shorrock's book and read Marcy Wheeler.

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

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