Top Secret America

By Terry Turchie

The President’s nominee to become the next Director of National Intelligence (DNI), James Clapper, told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that he was very concerned about the release of the Washington Post story, “Top Secret America.”

Clapper said the release will make it “easy for adversaries to point out the locations of contractors who are working for the government.” According to Clapper, such an extensive report on America’s intelligence network might even increase the costs of security at various installations to overcome the additional threats posed by the release of the Post series.

He disputed two of the Post’s main conclusions.

On the charge that the intelligence community is out of control, Clapper told the committee, “I believe it is under control.”

Addressing the issue of redundancy, Clapper said, “One man’s duplication is another man’s competitive analysis.”

It’s not surprising that it’s the Washington Post that got it right. The “TOP SECRET AMERICA” investigative report was carefully researched and is a good piece of journalism, but the evidence of what’s wrong in the intelligence community has been available for years to whoever was inclined to collect and analyze it. It’s painfully obvious, however, that the man slated to become the next DNI, responsible for oversight and coordination of America’s behemoth intelligence network and analysis effort, doesn’t seem to get it at all.

Well over one hundred countries conduct intelligence operations inside the United States. Spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year on their intelligence efforts, they recruit American citizens to help them identify and acquire information of value. Supported by their own brand of targeting, collection and analysis, they know how and where to look for the jewels they are after.

They know the bars frequented by their American counterparts in major U.S. cities. They know who works at the top secret weapons labs where America conducts experiments to insure the safety of its nuclear arsenal. They are aware of the many private contractors who work on government sponsored projects, and they know which scientific and technical libraries to visit to get on the trail of highly sensitive research before it may one day become part of a classified project or breakthrough technology.

Foreign intelligence services have been successful in penetrating just about every agency listed in the Post report, gaining access to highly classified information about America’s own intelligence operations. They didn’t need the Washington Post to surprise them with a “gift” they already have. It was the American public that needed the wake up call.

Members of the intelligence community Clapper believes is “under control,” have been involved numerous times in covering up the use of torture, destroying government records, collusion and bribery. Only a few years ago, the third highest ranking official in the CIA was arrested for and subsequently pleaded guilty to receiving bribes from private contractors engaged in “Top Secret” work with the agency. The official knew the details of every ongoing sensitive intelligence operation. In the aftermath, his boss – Director of the CIA at the time, former U.S. Congressman Porter Goss – quietly resigned the position he had held for less than a year, and that was that.

As for as Clapper’s defense of redundancy, the proliferation of intelligence agencies and their increased budgets has led to turf wars, bad analysis, conflicts in operations and increased determination to keep secrets from each other.

There are two reasons intelligence agencies do this. One, they are convinced “the other guys” don’t have the charter or the expertise to handle intelligence information and operations. Two, if anyone’s going to handle them, they want to do it themselves, without interference from “the other guys” (who they’re sure don’t know what they’re doing).

This happens consistently and intentionally. And it’s dangerous for American security. Combined with firm political control of many of the agencies listed in the report, our intelligence agencies spend as much time running into each others’ operations as they do in identifying enemy operations.

These problems have always existed. But since 9/11 and the addition of even more layers to the intelligence community, they have become much worse. Collectively, they beg the question posed by the Washington Post report: is America safer as a result?

The answer is a resounding NO, for three reasons:

First, there are simply too many agencies with a piece of the intelligence pie, and they now spend most of their time pursuing their own interests. They offer little in the way of accountability, hardly touch a “bad guy,” and live to produce an abundance of data that no one reads and is just stored in a warehouse somewhere in the middle of Maryland.

Second, in an age when deadly terrorist organizations are evolving daily to take advantage of America’s weaknesses, the large and growing intelligence community has become too big to respond with agility and quickness to the dynamics of the threats the country faces. At a time when decisions need to be made quickly and with accountability, sprawling agencies with specialized interests are not nimble enough to keep up with the threats.

Finally, of all the agencies that comprise the intelligence community and their “contractor” relationships, the vast majority have no connection to – and little interest in – being guided by the “rule of law.” They are not law enforcement agencies; their training and philosophical approach to their assignments is about secrecy, not justice and transparency.

Unfortunately, when any government agency is not accountable to the law, it always leads to serious problems. A review of countless political scandals and corruption probes throughout American history illustrates clearly that secrecy has been consistently used to protect the agendas of ambitious and dishonest individuals in power – perhaps more often than it’s been used to actually protect national security.

President Eisenhower clearly foresaw the problem that was developing when he left the White House in 1961. A former military leader himself, he expressed deep concern about the growth of the military-industrial complex and its potential impact on our nation’s sovereignty and the individual freedom of American citizens.

Half a century later, Eisenhower’s worry is reality. Add “intelligence” to “military-industrial,” and the expanded nature of the problem as it exists today comes into focus. Washington, D.C. today – along with contractor organizations all over the U.S. – is a giant military-industrial-intelligence complex, intent on its own development and supremacy.

The Washington Post got it right. Those in power are still attempting to use secrecy and the protection of national security to avoid having to discuss the very real threat that is posed to America from the inside. That threat is very simply the subversion of the rule of law by a hidden, unaccountable, and ever expanding community of top secret government agencies and private contractors that – with the full support and complicity of those in Congress who continually clamor for new opportunities for their constituencies – have placed power, money and their own agendas over the national security of the United States.

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