The Common Good

Top Secret America

The Washington Post today blanketed the front page with this lede:

"The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work."

The story, first of a three-part series on Top Secret America, resulted from a two-year investigation. It found that there are approximately 1,300 government organizations and 1,900 private companies, employing an estimated 850,000 people in 10,000 locations, working on programs involving homeland security, counterterrorism and intelligence. And as you might imagine, it results in duplication and waste, with no coordination and no one able to even be aware of all the activities. The Post has created a web page with interactive maps, graphics, and database of information it gathered.

A retired Army general asked to review the programs last year for the Defense Department was quoted in the article as concluding: "Because it lacks a synchronizing process, it inevitably results in message dissonance, reduced effectiveness and waste. We consequently can't effectively assess whether it is making us more safe."

So, we're spending an unknown amount of money on an unknown number of programs that collectively aren't making us any more secure. Seems to me that if we're interested in cutting big government, this would be a very good place to start.

Duane Shank is senior policy advisor for Sojourners.

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