The Washington Post debuted the stunning first installment in its three-part series into “Top Secret America” Monday, based on a two-year investigation into the sprawling, out-of-control growth of the nation’s intelligence system. That network is almost incomprehensively vast, spanning nearly 1,300 government organizations and 2,000 private companies, Dana Priest and William M. Arkin report. The rub, they argue, is its size and lack of transparency make it impossible to tell if the system is effective or not.
More to the point, Priest and Arkin detail how the networks’ secrecy and redundancies caused authorities to miss red flags that could have prevented Nidal Malik Hasan from shooting up Fort Hood or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from ever getting on a plane last Christmas.
The Post’s series, and its companion Web site, shines a rare light on this classified world that’s essentially large and autonomous enough to be its own branch of government. What I found particularly jarring is how primitive human instincts have played a key role in growing an intelligence system seemingly to the point of dysfunction.
The first instinct, obviously, is fear. Nine days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress approved an additional $40 billion to boost homeland security and go after al-Qaeda. At $75 billion, the current intelligence budget is two-and-a-half times larger than before the Twin Towers went down, which Priest and Arkin point out does not include an additional range of military and domestic counterterrorism programs.