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The tangled webs we weave
July 19, 2010 6:29 AM   Subscribe

Top Secret America: 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.

Interactive map.
Explore the network.
Search the data.
posted by ryoshu (113 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
Don't miss the Frontline trailer, which is the reason that I'm tired and I stink like a dead hobo.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:31 AM on July 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


"It's like a cold war model, superimposed on a post 9/11 reality".
posted by HLD at 6:39 AM on July 19, 2010


Do they know its Christmas?
posted by infini at 6:41 AM on July 19, 2010


A disaster waiting to re-happen. This sort of thing is the reason 9-11 happened and the reason it will happen again. As long as circle-jerking/fingerbanging is more important to the government than security, we're always going to be at risk.
posted by fuq at 6:46 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Those who would give up essential circle-jerking/fingerbanging to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither circle-jerking/fingerbanging nor safety"
posted by ND¢ at 6:53 AM on July 19, 2010 [21 favorites]


No one could have predicted this.
posted by monospace at 7:00 AM on July 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


"has become so large, so unwieldy" sort of like the interface.
posted by Jahaza at 7:00 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thank you, Admiral Pointdexter. Total Information Awareness, my ass.

It's not like they weren't warned about this fuckup.

It's got nothing to do with security and everything to do with bureaucratic empire building. More or less designed, built and staffed by the same people who brought you Iran-Contra, got al-Qaida established and funded the development of the Pakistani nuclear program.
posted by warbaby at 7:07 AM on July 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


I never understood this fully until I saw a sign in a Mexican airport that said more-or-less: "Americans, please don't take off your shoes in the security checkpoint."
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:16 AM on July 19, 2010 [23 favorites]


I'd just like to say that Dana Priest rocks. She hasn't done bad for somebody who went to a school where the mascot is Sammy the Slug.
posted by SteveInMaine at 7:20 AM on July 19, 2010


When some Tea Party person starts babbling on about smaller government and I see this sort of government expansion, I think: "You know, maybe we do have some common ground. I would very much like to see more limited government when it comes to this vast security apparatus. Building a goddam American Stasi is not the Constitutional role of the American government. Give me one of those Don't Tread on Me signs."

And then I come to my senses.

Sarah Palin is waging a battle inside the Tea Party movement to exempt defense spending from the group's small-government, anti-deficit fervor.
posted by three blind mice at 7:24 AM on July 19, 2010 [23 favorites]


Don't worry congress will fix it.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:29 AM on July 19, 2010


We can't stop putting Brawndo on the crops! Think of all the lost jobs!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:29 AM on July 19, 2010 [13 favorites]


Probably they should establish some sort of committee, and a fresh government department, to get to the bottom of this!
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:29 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am guessing that the number of people actually working for the secret service in America might actually outnumber the number of paranoid people who think they are being followed by the secret service.
posted by rongorongo at 7:31 AM on July 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Secret valmorphanization is afoot. I hope enough hammers have been issued.
posted by fire&wings at 7:31 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am guessing that the number of people actually working for the secret service in America might actually outnumber the number of paranoid people who think they are being followed by the secret service.

Not if the sets intersect.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:33 AM on July 19, 2010


What's fun is searching for your employer on a whim, and then finding it. But I guess that's to be expected when your company is headquartered in northern Virginia.
posted by emelenjr at 7:48 AM on July 19, 2010


We can't stop putting Brawndo on the crops! Think of all the lost jobs!

Yeah it's got electrolytes!!!

This has been going on for years.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:58 AM on July 19, 2010


Even The Washington Post puts out trailers for their investigative reporting.
posted by kozad at 7:59 AM on July 19, 2010


I think some of this needs to be taken with a grain of salt though. Not all these companies are super-secret, underground bunkers, high fences, and armed security type places. the two companies in my town are pretty normal companies that apparently, along with their normal business, also have government contracts. I drive by both companies on a regular basis and even know at least one person that works at one of them.
posted by fenrir at 8:04 AM on July 19, 2010


I was anticipating this article for a week or so. I expected it to be bad but I guess it's a good sign about myself that I didn't expect it to be this bad...

To cut a long story short, the intelligence gathering system is several times as big as it was right after 9/11 and yet all the information is apparently being pushed into a huge, undifferentiated barrel... all the details are withheld from taxpayers and as a result this whole thing is treated as a huge trough for all the war pigs to gorge on without even the appearance of adult supervision.

I'll bet tomorrow we'll learn that most of that money has simply been put in the pockets of private enterprise - that being "people creepy enough to set up businesses to provide security services to government".

Near as I can tell, about 1% of America has either secret or top-secret clearance (though the article only mentions about 900,000 top-secret cleared individuals) - worth of a Kafka novel.

I've met some of these people and I have to say that none of those are I met are ever people I'd have in my home, even if they weren't sucking the blood of the body politic - because they're people who have hostile, anti-social beliefs that I can't summarize with a better word than evil.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:08 AM on July 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


"Not all these companies are super-secret, underground bunkers, high fences, and armed security type places."

That's not the point - the point is that they are all taking a huge amount of money from us and giving us less than nothing in return. Everything else is just window-dressing.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:09 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


What an incredible job of investigative reporting. I'm looking forward to the Frontline documentary in October.
posted by ericb at 8:10 AM on July 19, 2010


Next stop... the Cube.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:13 AM on July 19, 2010


That Osama bin Laden was an effin' GENIUS I tell ya...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:13 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


An interview with co-author of the series, Bill Arkin.
posted by ericb at 8:18 AM on July 19, 2010


all the information is apparently being pushed into a huge, undifferentiated barrel

You know what would solve this? The Intersect.
posted by Servo5678 at 8:22 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've met some of these people and I have to say that none of those are I met are ever people I'd have in my home, even if they weren't sucking the blood of the body politic - because they're people who have hostile, anti-social beliefs that I can't summarize with a better word than evil.

Wow. That's a pretty vile way to describe people who are just like you and me, but happen to work in fields and have careers that require them to have TS clearance in order to do the work they love.

Unless you're not talking about the 900K people with a TS clearance when you say this? Please tell me that's the case. (Disclosure: I have friends and relatives who happen to be in that 900K and they are not hostile or anti-social, nor do they suck the blood of the body politic.)
posted by devinemissk at 8:32 AM on July 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


The REAL Top Secret America.
posted by crunchland at 8:34 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's the article on one page.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:41 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Real U.S. Government
posted by homunculus at 8:42 AM on July 19, 2010


The best revenge is living well. I wish America was working more on that.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:50 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


But I guess that's to be expected when your company is headquartered in northern Virginia

Hey, isn't that where Network Solutions is located?
posted by philip-random at 8:51 AM on July 19, 2010


i've had a secret clearance for almost 2 decades now. many of my coworkers think that i have hostile, anti-social beliefs because i think sarah palin is an ass, bush & henchmen were liars & thieves, taxes aren't necessarily the work of the devil, and other opinions that rate pretty low on the popularity polls around here. then again, i wouldn't have most of my coworkers in my home, either.
posted by msconduct at 8:51 AM on July 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Getting a Job at the CIA
posted by philip-random at 8:54 AM on July 19, 2010


I deal with an aspect of this every day. Most, but not all, exports are controlled by the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). But some are also controlled the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). For any given item, the OFAC controls will usually default to being the same as BIS, but not always! And if the item has any military use, it could be also controlled by the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). So for any given export, you could be in violation of up to three different sets of regulations. It's a wonder that anything leaves the US.

Worse, much of this is still done by hand, particularly export license applications. There is essentially no inter-agency information sharing. This has allowed companies to "shop around" for any agency willing to grant them an export license and to claim ignorance of other regulations. The Administration is trying to unite all three control regimes under one agency, but given that each agency believes they should be The One, it's unlikely they'll succeed.

But it's not all gloom and doom. In June, BIS announced that it will no longer be necessary to send a separate hardcopy of certain export classification requests to the NSA. BIS will now take care of that electronically for you. Woo hoo.
posted by tommasz at 8:54 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


O dear, O dear, said Chicken Little
posted by infini at 8:56 AM on July 19, 2010


I want confusion in my Top Secret agencies, and fumbling, and dissonance. Correct me if I'm wrong but one of the most streamlined, most effectively networked police agencies ever was the Gestapo in Nazi Germany.
posted by philip-random at 8:58 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers." -- Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish
posted by blucevalo at 8:59 AM on July 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


That info wheel is neat, but confusing. Am I really going deeper, or just jumping around? Or is it all a metaphor for the problem they're trying to show us?
posted by iamkimiam at 9:08 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


You're overthinking it. All they're trying to show us is that incisive, courageous dirt churning investigative journalism isn't dead at the WaPo though may he RIP, DeepThroat is...
posted by infini at 9:19 AM on July 19, 2010



i've had a secret clearance for almost 2 decades now. many of my coworkers think that i have hostile, anti-social beliefs because i think sarah palin is an ass, bush & henchmen were liars & thieves, taxes aren't necessarily the work of the devil, and other opinions that rate pretty low on the popularity polls around here. then again, i wouldn't have most of my coworkers in my home, either.

It's always confused me how people who draw obscene ammounts of money from tax collected funds think that taxes are evil. Libertarian librarians always make me laugh. It's almost like some subconcious thing they're doing where they realize that they're worthless, so they expand that to all tax supported services. Just because you spend the tax payer's money playing Farmville doesn't mean everyone does.
posted by codacorolla at 9:21 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


My dad was recently put on the TSA watch-list. We're not sure why, but it's probably because he flies frequently between two states, carries no luggage and purchases one-way tickets often.

The most interesting result of this is all the paperwork he's been shuffing back and forth with "homeland security" trying to get his name off the list.

For now he's been able to get two different pieces of paper in reply with nice Orwellian phrases like: "we can neither confirm nor deny any information that our agency may have regarding your request" and "any appropriate actions have been taken" and so on.

He's now on a "bypass" list, but still on the original list. The government indicates he should bring two different control numbers with him to the airport each time he wants to fly, and that he should change his last name from "LASTNAME JR" to "LASTNAMEJR" on all his reservations, so that the list won't match his name.

Each airline maintains copies of their own list, made from the TSA lists, and so even though he's technically on a TSA bypass list now, he's still on every airline list, and subject to the various rules they each put in place.

It's a byzantine nightmare he's been going through for a year and a half so far, with no end in sight.

And through all of this, he maintains that it would be improved by privatizing the entire thing.
posted by odinsdream at 9:31 AM on July 19, 2010 [11 favorites]


Does "Secret Clearance" mean something different in the US than in Canada? I've had secret clearance for a couple of jobs when I lived in Ottawa, and there was nothing sinister going on--I was a clerk dealing with sorta sensitive information, I worked for National Defense a couple of times and Statistics a couple of times. I'm pretty sure any time you're dealing with the public's private, sensitive info, even as low-level admin or clerical staff, you need secret clearance as a matter of due diligence on the part of the government.

Although, when I temped at National Defense and they let me play around with the "sandbox" version of their procurement software whenever I had a few free hours. It was actually kinda fun going through the catalog for multi-billion dollar military hardware and fake-buying it.
posted by Kirk Grim at 9:42 AM on July 19, 2010


"You ordered WHAT??"
posted by crunchland at 9:45 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Does "Secret Clearance" mean something different in the US than in Canada?


There are degrees, of course. Some rather boring and routine accounting and clerical jobs require levels of clearance because bits and pieces of information may be on the work they do.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:45 AM on July 19, 2010


"You ordered WHAT??"

Hey, the "used English submarines" sounded like too a good deal to pass up. Bargain!
posted by Kirk Grim at 9:54 AM on July 19, 2010


same difference, kirk grim. not that i'd know a state secret if it bit me on the bottom, but i do have access to social security numbers & other personal data. i've also worked tangentially on classified systems before.

codacorolla, i actually asked one of my coworkers one day how he thought we'd get paid if they suspended all taxes for 3 months or whatever his hairbrained proposal du jour was. that actually stopped him in his tracks for a minute, then he said something to the effect of, 'they print all the money anyway, they can just print enough to cover payroll, too!' he was right proud of himself that day, he was.
posted by msconduct at 9:58 AM on July 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I thought that this was just civilian employees of government contractors, but it appears that the number (845k) includes federal workers as well as contractors. The number of US Citizens is somewhere north of 300 million. Just a gut-shot, but I think 1 in 300 people doing data mining and analysis on our enemies is about appropriate.

I also found this (PDF) from the census bureau. 2.5 million Full Time Employees in the government. This number would include the President. The total payroll is about $186 billion annually. I don't think this includes Armed Forces.

In any case, is the government really too big? Is it appropriate for about 1% of our population to do the "governing" work for the other 99%?
posted by joecacti at 10:01 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The article is great, but the database seems kind of over-hyped. The map was just compiled from stuff already publicly available on the internet.
posted by lullaby at 10:15 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just a gut-shot, but I think 1 in 300 people doing data mining and analysis on our enemies is about appropriate.

The 1 in 300 people are data mining on more that just our enemies.
posted by ryoshu at 10:24 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


The big question (in my mind) is if there is some way for us "non-clears" to measure the success of all of this buildup (In 1999 we were aware of 30% of attacks, but now we are aware of 60%).
posted by rosswald at 10:44 AM on July 19, 2010


TwelveTwo: "I am guessing that the number of people actually working for the secret service in America might actually outnumber the number of paranoid people who think they are being followed by the secret service.

Not if the sets intersect.
"

"Just cuz you're paranoid don't mean you aren't out to get you" (The new novel, brought to you by Philip K Dick)
posted by symbioid at 10:46 AM on July 19, 2010


This is why we can't have nice things. It's worth remembering that the last administration (maybe the only one?) to actually reduce its size and cost was Clinton's, under Al Gore's direction; no executive will willingly cut a useless or redundant program for fear of getting blamed for anything that happens under their watch, and legislators want to create more programs so that they have something to brag about come election time. All the Tea Party born-again deficit hawk bullshit means nothing if this stuff is untouchable.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:50 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Former NSA executive Thomas A. Drake may pay high price for media leak
posted by homunculus at 10:51 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


He's now on a "bypass" list, but still on the original list. The government indicates he should bring two different control numbers with him to the airport each time he wants to fly, and that he should change his last name from "LASTNAME JR" to "LASTNAMEJR" on all his reservations, so that the list won't match his name.

Nice to know that a single space in a name renders billions of dollars worth of search technology impotent.

*facepalm*

This did made me think about transliterated Arabic names and how tough that would make things when watch-list people are from Arabic speaking countries. I happen to play Arabic music and am often on Google/Youtube/Amazon trying to find info on songs, and it's basically "type in each of the 80 ways you can reasonably transliterate this and hope for the best."

But JR? Sheesh.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:54 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Kirk Grim: ""You ordered WHAT??"

Hey, the "used English submarines" sounded like too a good deal to pass up. Bargain!
"

I hear they're full of seamen.
posted by symbioid at 10:55 AM on July 19, 2010


msconduct: "codacorolla, i actually asked one of my coworkers one day how he thought we'd get paid if they suspended all taxes for 3 months or whatever his hairbrained proposal du jour was. that actually stopped him in his tracks for a minute, then he said something to the effect of, 'they print all the money anyway, they can just print enough to cover payroll, too!' he was right proud of himself that day, he was."

Sure that works for now, but what happens when we get back on the gold standard!?
posted by symbioid at 10:57 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The expansion of the intelligence services sound very much like our generation's WPA, but this time with contractors and outsourcing.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:58 AM on July 19, 2010


The expansion of the intelligence services sound very much like our generation's WPA, but this time with contractors and outsourcing.

...And without tangible work-products that add to the nation's public wealth over the long-term.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:02 AM on July 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


The expansion of the intelligence services sound very much like our generation's WPA, but this time with contractors and outsourcing.

I graduated in 2004 with a degree in CS - most of my friends were either CS or EE. Most of us spent a considerable amount of time unemployed and looking for work, and it seems like about 60% or so could only find work by either directly working for the government, or by working for some kind of government contractor. Jobs that require clearance are the only jobs left that can't be outsourced.

I've long considered the "defense" budget to be a giant make work program for the middle-class. It's not going to get cut any time soon, since no congressperson wants to be responsible for putting their constituents out of work.
posted by heathkit at 11:11 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


philip-random: I want confusion in my Top Secret agencies, and fumbling, and dissonance. Correct me if I'm wrong but one of the most streamlined, most effectively networked police agencies ever was the Gestapo in Nazi Germany.
I was never a good student of history; everything I know about the Gestapo comes from WikiPedia. But consider:
The basic Gestapo law passed by the government in 1936 gave the Gestapo carte blanche to operate without judicial oversight. The Gestapo was specifically exempted from responsibility to administrative courts, where citizens normally could sue the state to conform to laws

....the Gestapo was for the most part made up of bureaucrats and clerical workers who depended upon denunciations by ordinary Germans for their information. Indeed, the Gestapo was overwhelmed with denunciations and spent most of its time sorting out the credible from the less credible denunciations. Far from being an all-powerful agency that knew everything about what was happening in German society, the local offices were understaffed and overworked, struggling with the paper load caused by so many denunciations.
We here in 21st century America have the veil of secrecy hiding waste, ineptitude and corruption, we've assigned authority while explicitly preventing accountability, and we have a framework for "acting at random on an ocean of bullshit intelligence" pretty much in place. It all sounds uncomfortably parallel to the Gestapo, if you ask me. An agency like the Gestapo doesn't need to be effective to sear its name into memory, after all; it may even be more feared and more memorable if it's corrupt, ruthless, violent, and impossible to predict, all of which are much easier to achieve than competence.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:26 AM on July 19, 2010


I hear they're full of seamen.

Well, the subs were quite old when we got them, so I'm not sure whether they're full of seamen or not, but they still act like they wanna be Teenage and I'm told they're still in good enough shape to carry the odd Warhead for us if necessary. It's odd that we'd buy used since Irving traditionally has a Stranglehold on Canadian shipbuilding endeavours, which would presumably represent Canadian jobs and infrastructure. Although with this unstable minority government, you never know what All Tomorrow's Girls will have planned for our future sub-related activities.
posted by Kirk Grim at 11:26 AM on July 19, 2010


This is about Top Secret clearance, not Secret. Seems like a few people here missed that.

Great article, thanks for the post.
posted by mr.marx at 11:27 AM on July 19, 2010


There is very little that is lost by having open government, other than waste and excess.
posted by maxwelton at 11:42 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


It almost seems like having byzantine and worthless lower layers to this would be a feature and not a bug, depending on what your actual goal is.

Is your goal the continued existence of your job? Good thing then, because you're so special and valuable that only you can control this tangled mess of wires.

Is your goal to obfuscate what you're doing not only from enemies, but from your citizenry. Hide in plain site. Make them go through thousands of layers of beurocracy before they find anything valuable or useful.

Is your goal to always have an enemy to fight? A useless organization guarantees that, as you'll be pissing off future generations of people to ensure that constant supply of fresh blood.


This sort of labyrinth seems like the perfect thing for the corrupt, evil, and incompetent at the top.
posted by codacorolla at 11:56 AM on July 19, 2010


I'm not suggesting it's some grand conspiracy, I'm just saying there's not much motivation by those with the power to change it to actually do so. Stuff sits at the status quo that already works for them. Same as it ever was.
posted by codacorolla at 11:57 AM on July 19, 2010


Let's face it, folks, Top-Secret America is designed with just one thing in mind: finding Rimbaldi artifacts.
posted by redbeard at 12:00 PM on July 19, 2010


heathkit : I've long considered the "defense" budget to be a giant make work program for the middle-class. It's not going to get cut any time soon, since no congressperson wants to be responsible for putting their constituents out of work.

I'd be mostly fine with this system as long as we put stuff like "infrastructure maintenance" and "oil dependence reduction" under the category of "defense spending"

They would go a long way towards making us safer and be a better use of both money, and the middle class.
posted by quin at 12:06 PM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is about Top Secret clearance, not Secret. Seems like a few people here missed that.

I'm not actually sure whether the distinction matters much whether it's secret or top-secret. Some of the article is about levels of clearance above "Top Secret", even, where who's in-the-know seems to be an arbitrarily determined number of people. I would say the article is more about "secret creep" or something similar, where how many ultra-double-top-secret-with-cheese things you get to make becomes a kind of status symbol, and poor coordination and the lack of sharing in the military/intelligence community creates a lot of redundancy etc. Top Secret classified materials, at least where I live, are still reviewable by the appropriate government auditors etc. and our Auditor General has been quite critical of our intelligence and spy agencies for similar reasons as those on display in this article. Does the US have a similar office?
posted by Kirk Grim at 12:45 PM on July 19, 2010


Trevor Paglen (earlier) literally wrote the book on this subject.
posted by twsf at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2010


I hear they're full of seamen.

Isn't everything on eBay full of semen?
posted by XMLicious at 1:36 PM on July 19, 2010


The Real U.S. Government

Greenwald briefly touches on how expanding the amount of information gathered doesn't actually help analysts detect and respond to threats, and it's worth pointing out that this isn't just a structural issue, it's also a psychological one. Extra useless information skews our ability to evaluate the actually relevant data, even when we know immediately that the information isn't useful. (I actually leared about that study in the context of the NHL draft, but I think it's equally relevant here.)
posted by Copronymus at 1:37 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


My son has a top secret clearance, I think. Lots of folks do. No big whoopee ding dong.

All HE is is a first lieutenant in the AF.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:39 PM on July 19, 2010


A few years back, I had a temporary job at a top secret facility. No, seriously, they called a temp agency and the temp agency sent me in. I had to go through a background check which essentially meant (at that time) that my name simply be added to a list. Then I had access to the top secret vault - I'm not sure what else to call it. It was a bunch of filing cabinets behind a comically huge vault door.

I can't tell you a thing about what the vault was all about because the purchase orders I took from that Vault so that I could write up invoices were similar (and in some cases, the exact same documents) I was getting from the not Top Secret file cabinet.

This has led me to believe, perhaps incorrectly, that most government secrets are invoices, purchase orders and payment received documents.

Its not just a shadow government - its kind of a shadow economy.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:46 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I actually think that the salient bits about this series are (and are going to be) the immense outsourcing of defense, intelligence, r&d, and expertise to the private sector. I actually find it far more frightening that private enterprise has perfected a way to monetize secrecy and panopticism than that my government does it.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 2:35 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


CIA Director Leon Panetta, who was also interviewed by The Post last week, said he's begun mapping out a five-year plan for his agency because the levels of spending since 9/11 are not sustainable.

I SMELL SOCIALISM
posted by TrialByMedia at 2:57 PM on July 19, 2010


God bless you Dana Priest! And Glenn Greenwald too!
posted by newdaddy at 5:40 PM on July 19, 2010


A glorified TPS report factory, where the reward for failure is more funding. Nobody apparently considered that if we stopped wasting billions on our foreign policy we could stop wasting billions on dealing with the blowback.
posted by simms2k at 6:16 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Then I had access to the top secret vault - I'm not sure what else to call it. It was a bunch of filing cabinets behind a comically huge vault door.

Probably it was a SCIF, a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility.
posted by scalefree at 8:57 PM on July 19, 2010


I've met between one or two dozen people with top secret clearance.

All of them had similar characteristics: endless faith in US military weaponry; a belief that the US can use that weaponry against anyone they like, at any time, with no justification is needed; a profound contempt for liberalism, social programs, "the poor", and any art that isn't "popular"; racism, whether overt or veiled; and a total lack of any self-critical element.

I got along pretty well with all of them - but that was because I simply didn't allow myself to voice any of my opinions. If I'd been one-tenth as free with my mouth as any of these people, I'm sure there would have been dramatic consequences.

With a million or so such people in the US, there are bound to be some of them who aren't monsters; I have yet to meet one. Considering that these people are in fact implementing the state of eternal warfare that we find ourselves in, something that's robbed trillions of dollars from our children and killed millions of innocents, I'm not really expecting to find too many decent humans in this group.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:31 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Secrecy is a breeding ground for corruption. That much is obvious.

But the insane thing is what are all these clearance levels for I mean, with regards to terrorism, are they seriously worried that someone is going to hop on a jet from Baluchistan, shave their beard, and get themselves top secret security clearance, so we need even more layers? It's insane. These people can't figure out how to wire up an underwear bomb. They're morons. They have no ability to launch deep cover clandestine operations inside the U.S. security apparatus. There's no conceivable reason why they would need all these layers of security in order to fight terrorism (as opposed to state actors)
posted by delmoi at 10:54 PM on July 19, 2010


delmoi: "But the insane thing is what are all these clearance levels for"

The biggest real threat to secret information is insiders - people with clearance who are disgruntled, bribed, or threatened. Therefore if you have a clearance that allows you to see some information you are not allowed to see it unless you are formally invited to ("need to know").

The rules are not set up to protect the info from Russians or Afghans but instead from the people with clearances who work at the location. This makes it incredibly difficult for someone to find out some info (or whether such exists) that they think they need that is not within their designated perview.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:52 PM on July 19, 2010


I wonder if there are games designers involved and secret clearances are the different levels? ;p
posted by infini at 12:31 AM on July 20, 2010


I've met between one or two dozen people with top secret clearance.

With a million or so such people in the US, there are bound to be some of them who aren't monsters; I have yet to meet one.

Maybe all the TS people you've met (all maybe 24 out of nearly a million of them) were part of the same organization or did the same kind of work or were otherwise selected for their views. But I can assure you that the mere holding of a TS clearance does not make one a monster -- nor are most TS clearance-holders "in fact implementing the state of eternal warfare that we find ourselves in." That pool is much smaller than the pool of people who hold a TS clearance. TS (and all other clearance levels, for what it's worth) are for just what MonkeySaltedNuts says -- to keep people from sharing information outside of their perview. A lot of TS holders are nothing more than drones but because of their specialized knowledge or skills, they need TS clearance so they can do their work. TS clearance doesn't give anyone any extra power; it just gives them access to information that most other people don't have.

Look, this article is about the SIZE of the thing, not its existence or what it does -- or how "monstrous" or "evil" or "immoral" the people involved are. And I'm frankly a little surprised that anyone is suprised by the size of thing -- it's the federal government, for heaven's sake. It INVENTED bloat.
posted by devinemissk at 5:53 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Oh, and I should also note that just because a given person has a TS clearance doesn't mean that person can see all TS classified material. I know an individual with a TS clearance who works on things that his direct supervisor doesn't have access to. Which is why saying that people with TS clearance are responsible for "eternal warfare" is silly.)
posted by devinemissk at 6:07 AM on July 20, 2010


the second article makes the point that contracting out increases the cost of a program by about 25%. Spending more money on less product is the essence of corruption in government.

Same for duplication. Waste turns so easily into graft.

But the big problem with bloat is the key missions don't get done. It's a recipe for failure and, given the absence of oversight, the response to the next disaster will be to throw even more money at it.

Repeat as needed.

the most successful intelligence programs have typically been very small, often less than a dozen people. The British Office of Scientific Intelligence in WWII is a very good example. It was essentially one guy: R. V. Jones.
posted by warbaby at 6:46 AM on July 20, 2010


Was it disclosed how they came about this information? Better title now reads: "Open Book America", or "FEMA Still Underachieving".
posted by pandrew3 at 8:22 AM on July 20, 2010


Part 2: National Security Inc.
posted by homunculus at 8:27 AM on July 20, 2010


the second article makes the point that contracting out increases the cost of a program by about 25%.

That might be the case when looking at cash right now, but I can personally testify that it's nearly impossible to fire a government employee. Once you get a government job, you can slack pretty hard and stay put.
Contractors at least are required to meet Service Level Agreements, and the government managers can easily ask that someone be removed if they think they are slacking.
I also believe that program costs may actually go up, but I bet programs finish on time more often when contracted out.
BTW, I'm not talking about secret programs here, my experience is on the civilian side...
posted by joecacti at 8:42 AM on July 20, 2010


I think Obama should be punished for this intelligence indulgence and we should bring the republicans back to set things straight. Stuff like this doesn't happen on their watch.
posted by Vindaloo at 8:45 AM on July 20, 2010


The biggest real threat to secret information is insiders - people with clearance who are disgruntled, bribed, or threatened. Therefore if you have a clearance that allows you to see some information you are not allowed to see it unless you are formally invited to ("need to know").
Sure, but what exactly is the risk if these 'disgruntled' people find this information? Are they going to become terrorists? They could sell it to the russians, or they could leak it. But why would the russians care about anti-terror stuff?

THe obvious concern here is leaks. They want to maintain secrecy so they can keep things secret from their fellow americans, who might be unhappy with what they're doing.
I think Obama should be punished for this intelligence indulgence and we should bring the republicans back to set things straight. Stuff like this doesn't happen on their watch.
The joke is that, of course, there's no actual way to vote to reduce this stuff both sides are just as corrupt, apparently.
posted by delmoi at 10:18 AM on July 20, 2010


this is fantastic stuff, i read the article last night. Is There Anything Like This Which Discusses The Situation Of Stuff Like This In The UK?
posted by marienbad at 11:36 AM on July 20, 2010


"Look, this article is about the SIZE of the thing, not its existence or what it does "
posted by devinemissk at 1:53 PM

So you are cool then with the privileged elite setting up systems of spying and control over american citizens?

"...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:"

and

"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?"

From Here (linked earlier in this thread)
posted by marienbad at 11:44 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


So you are cool then with the privileged elite setting up systems of spying and control over american citizens?

Did I say that? No, I didn't. What said was that I objected to the demonization of the nearly 1 million people who have jobs that require them to have Top Secret clearance -- for no other reason than that they have top secret clearance.

These are PEOPLE with JOBS just like you and me. Demonize the politics, demonize the people who are ACTUALLY in power. But stop demonizing the people who work in these jobs simply for having them. It's akin to people spitting on Vietnam vets -- which I hope we can all agree was never OK, no matter how objectionable the US's involvement in Vietnam was.
posted by devinemissk at 12:02 PM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


More Greenwald: The secret private-sector government
posted by homunculus at 1:01 PM on July 20, 2010


no i asked you that as you said (dismissively) that all this article was about was the size of the thing. I quoted from here, someone elses opinion i agreed with. As for spitting on vietnam vets, well, those guys at mai lai et al are clearly fine, upstanding americans. further, vietnam was your war not mine: i am english, the vietnam vet situation is of americas making.

They don't have jobs like you and me, they have jobs which further the cause of spying and control of people, jobs which allow (let me requote) "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? "
posted by marienbad at 4:05 PM on July 20, 2010


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

Forever. People not only don't object to this, they feel it keeps them safe from the bogeyman. There will be no 'wake-up' moment where people all of a sudden see what their institutions have become and who they really serve. The kind of education required to get people to understand how these trends are a threat would take tremendous effort and a population willing to undertake tremendous efforts.
posted by Kirk Grim at 4:14 PM on July 20, 2010


Corporate Media Discover Private Spies. In Other News, No WMD in Iraq
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...

[W]hat about the contractors who have tortured prisoners, flown rendition flights and participated in lethal "direct actions" ie assassination operations?

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:08 PM on July 20, 2010


Part 3: The secrets next door
posted by homunculus at 1:37 AM on July 21, 2010


So the Fortress America scenario seems to be emerging, now what?
posted by infini at 4:54 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sure, but what exactly is the risk if these 'disgruntled' people find this information?

Ask Sibel Edmonds.
posted by scalefree at 9:09 AM on July 21, 2010


Intel Chief: Don’t Get ‘Shrill’ About Spooks-for-Hire
posted by homunculus at 11:05 AM on July 21, 2010


How Congress Fueled the Rise of Private Spies
posted by homunculus at 11:08 AM on July 21, 2010


Why has the Post series created so little reaction?
posted by homunculus at 9:09 AM on July 23, 2010


The Geek Labyrinth: The most frightening thing about our unfathomably complex intelligence bureaucracy.
posted by homunculus at 9:54 PM on July 23, 2010


Meanwhile, across the pond: European police to spy on Britons: Now ministers hand over Big Brother powers to foreign officers
posted by homunculus at 8:33 PM on July 26, 2010


Exclusive: Google, CIA Invest in ‘Future’ of Web Monitoring
posted by homunculus at 9:15 PM on July 28, 2010


ah yes, good ol' googlebot from mountain view, CA - you try to look like an autobot but your browsing behaviour implies a human... bots don't click through and look at larger versions of jpgs or read linked articles in the about page
posted by infini at 5:41 AM on July 29, 2010


White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity
posted by homunculus at 8:57 AM on July 29, 2010


NYT: Pervasive surveillance is a serious threat -- in China
posted by homunculus at 8:53 AM on August 3, 2010


you have posted some amazing links, homunculus. good work.

The "Why has the Post series created so little reaction?" link is excellent, and, as can be seen by the lack of reaction to your updates, he is right. I have been following this a bit, as it turns up in my recent activity and i come back and read a bit more. it is monumentally depressing to read, but i do feel it is important enough to read about. so thanks for the updates. I will probably print some of this out as it is a nightmare reading on my monitor.
posted by marienbad at 1:14 PM on August 5, 2010


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