Comment: Washington Post’s ‘Top Secret America’
July 22, 2010 3 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Like most intelligence observers, we at intelNews have monitored with interest The Washington Post’s recent investigation into the current state of the US intelligence complex. Authored by longtime investigative reporter Dana Priest and national security correspondent William Arkin, the three-part series offers a long-overdue examination of some of the most pressing issues in American intelligence. The articles are well written, detailed and informative, and intelNews recommends that they be read by all those interested in understanding broad trends in contemporary American intelligence. However, those readers interested in a sneak peak of some of the most important findings of the Post’s investigation, may wish to browse the helpful summary provided by Liz Goodwin, of Yahoo! News’ Upshot blog. In it, she delineates the main conclusions of the report, which –broadly speaking– focuses on three critical issues.
The first critical issue on which the report focuses is what its authors view as an inefficient, cumbersome and often redundant bureaucratic culture that continues to typify American intelligence work. Priest and Arkin found that the near-unprecedented increase in the size of the US intelligence community, which was initiated after 9/11, and which continues today, has in fact increased bureaucratic inefficiency, unnecessary overlap, and even turf wars between different agencies.
Second, the report denounces the increasing secrecy that characterizes intelligence operations in the post-9/11 environment. Its authors raise flags about the fact that the number of senior intelligence officials that maintain authorized access to the entire spectrum of the operations and output of American intelligence, continues to shrink. This phenomenon of increasing centralization of intelligence oversight in 21st-century America worries the report’s authors substantially.
Third, Priest and Arkin raise alarm bells about what they see as the lack of accountability in the US community’s operations, which are now increasingly outsourced to private contractors. The latter’s history of cooperating with democratic institutions, and submitting to Congressional oversight, is either problematic or downright nonexistent. Where is this outsourcing trend heading, and to what extent does it endanger the very national security priorities that it claims to protect?
Regular intelNews readers will find none of the above concerns to be particularly new, as we have routinely highlighted these issues since 2008. But The Washington Post investigation is nonetheless important and useful. Most crucially, it manages to link all of these critical parameters of American intelligence, in an attempt to begin to address what is undoubtedly a most central question in domestic American politics: namely, is the work of the US intelligence community making Americans safer? The answer cannot be given lightly.