Top Secret America: First Reactions
I haven’t yet had a chance to read Dana Priest and William Arkin’s investigative bombshell in the Washington Post (called “Top Secret America”), but from the endless amount of responses on the blogosphere, I felt like I’ve memorized the whole thing (for a nice replay of what people have said so far, click here, here, or here).
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I highly suggest you jump online, because it only takes a few clicks (if that) to get a glimpse of the story.
But in any case, the entire Washington Post series is a two-year project in the making that takes a rare in-depth look into how large and secretive the U.S. intelligence community has become. Through Priest and Arkin’s remarkable work- with personalized interviews, declassified records, and a frank tone to back that work up- the reader gets the sense that the United States is hostage to a besieged mentality. Private contractors with top-secret security clearance are lurking in your neighborhoods, the National Security Agency is wiretapping your phones, and every move that you make (from swiping your credit card to calling a distant relative) is tracked by the government and packed away in a database for future use. You are, in effect, a citizen with a million eyes on you at all times; a citizen who’s heard earned money is sent to fund this “Top Secret America” behemoth. The trouble is that you don’t know who is really spying on you, or which agency your money is going to.
Here’s the summary in a nutshell: beware, because 854,000 people on the government’s payroll are watching you.
I don’t want to say that the article exaggerates the situation, because in many ways, Priest and Arkin are accurate in their reporting. U.S. intelligence has grown dramatically since the September 11 attacks, with more workers in the industry than ever before. There are 16 separate intelligence agencies across the U.S. Government, most of whom track the same information and come to the same conclusions.
But I can’t help but wonder if this whole story has another motive buried deep between the lines. Could one of the Post’s messages be “look how much of your money is being wasted on keeping this country safe?” From all of the comments surfacing up on blogs and editorials across the country, it appears that this could be a motive. I doubt the Washington Post (or anyone in journalism) would be talking about the bloated national security bureaucracy if the U.S. economy were still in relatively healthy shape.
Arkin and Priest are not only making the point that U.S. Intel has gotten redundant and overweight (which is not necessarily a bad thing, as Dan Drezner pointed out earlier this week), but that this redundancy is costing American taxpayers billions upon billions of dollars every year. It’s a quick and classic way to discredit a particular policy, and it’s also an easy way to criticize how things are being done inside the government. Reporters have done this many times in the past, for good or for ill.
I don’t know if Arkin and Priest have a partisan agenda here, but by drilling the money aspect into this investigation, it gives you a reason to believe that they both may be trying to expose their own true feelings.
This isn’t an exercise in poor judgment, because democracy is all about conflicting views and outspoken mantra. It’s just another factor to consider as you read the article.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Dan Drezner, Thomas G. Mahnken, and Peter Feaver**