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Search Top Secret America’s Database of Private Spooks

• Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman via WIRED

Figuring out exactly who’s cashing in on the post-9/11 boom in secret programs just got a whole lot easier.

U.S. spy agencies, the State Department, and the White House had a collective panic attack on Friday over an upcoming Washington Post expose on the intelligence-industrial complex. Reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin let it drop this morning.

It includes a searchable database cataloging what an estimated 854,000 employees and legions of contractors are apparently up to. Users can now to see just how much money these government agencies are spending and where those top secret contractors are located. Check out this nine-page list of agencies and contractors involved in air and satellite observations, for instance. No wonder it scares the crap out of Official Washington: it’s bound to provoke all sorts of questions — both from taxpayers wondering where their money goes, and from U.S. adversaries looking to penetrate America’s spy complex.

But this piece is about much more than dollars. It’s about what used to be called the Garrison State — the impact on society of a Praetorian class of war-focused elites. Priest and Arkin call it “Top Secret America” and it’s so big, and grown so fast, that it’s replicated the problem of disconnection within the intelligence agencies that facilitated America’s vulnerability to a terrorist attack. With too many analysts and too many capabilities documenting too much, with too few filters in place to sort out the useful stuff or discover hidden connections, the information overload is its own information blackout. “We consequently can’t effectively assess whether it is making us more safe,” a retired Army three-star general who recently assessed the system tells the reporters.


The Post — whose editorial page has been notably receptive to the growth of the security state over the years — explains in an editorial comment that it ran its constellation of websites by security officials to ensure that it wasn’t jeopardizing national security. In one instance, the editors deleted certain unspecified specific “data points” the project initially disclosed. And they further explain that most of what the project documents, like the locations of contractor and agency facilities, is already public information, distributed on company and agency websites. So it’s not as if the paper has put anyone in harm’s way. (Some of those overlapping contracts issued by the “263 organizations [that] have been created or reorganized as a response to 9/11″ might now be in danger, however.)

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