Speaking of wasteful government spending…

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Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William M. Arkin wrote a series of articles last year reporting on secret intelligence agencies, whose very existence is a secret and which are growing out of control.  It was great journalism.

Aside from the implications for basic Constitutional liberties of unaccountable secret surveillance agencies, aside from the implications for democracy of secret agencies accountable to nobody, maintaining this secret world costs a great deal of money.

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.

The Washington Post … discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.   After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine. …

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

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

* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001.  Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.

* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials – called Super Users – have the ability to even know about all the department’s activities.  But as two of the Super Users indicated in interviews, there is simply no way they can keep up with the nation’s most sensitive work.

“I’m not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything” was how one Super User put it.  The other recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn’t take notes.  Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled ”Stop!” in frustration.

“I wasn’t remembering any of it,” he said.

Underscoring the seriousness of these issues are the conclusions of retired Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who was asked last year [2009] to review the method for tracking the Defense Department’s most sensitive programs.  Vines, who once commanded 145,000 troops in Iraq and is familiar with complex problems, was stunned by what he discovered.

“I’m not aware of any agency with the authority, responsibility or a process in place to coordinate all these interagency and commercial activities,” he said in an interview.  “The complexity of this system defies description.”

The result, he added, is that it’s impossible to tell whether the country is safer because of all this spending and all these activities.  “Because it lacks a synchronizing process, it inevitably results in message dissonance, reduced effectiveness and waste,” Vines said.  “We consequently can’t effectively assess whether it is making us more safe.”

via washingtonpost.com.

The facts revealed by the Washington Post series were shocking, but quickly forgotten.

Now, supposedly, “everything is on the table” in regard to reducing government spending.  It would be good if Barack Obama, John Boehner, Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell put the secret military-intelligence budget on the table.

Click on A hidden world, growing beyond control for the Washington Post articles.

Click on Thoughts about Top Secret America for my earlier comments and more links on this subject.

Click on Candorville for more Darrin Bell cartoons.

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