Priest, Dana and Arkin, Bill - Top Secret America - Q and A 03 - The Washington Post 20100721

Priest, Dana and Arkin, Bill - Top Secret America - Q and A 03 - The Washington Post 20100721

Dana Priest and Bill Arkin discuss the third part of their two-year investigation into the growth of the top secret world that the U.S. government created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as public reaction and reaction from the intelligence community

Dana Priest
I'm here trying to eat a messy sandwich as I chat....hope there aren't too many typos...welcome

Q: Clarification of today's segment
I was wondering if you could clarify or explain today's article. The first part of the series dealt with the waste and redundancy in the intelligence community, but today's article seemed to be a "in the life of someone with a top-secret clearance." It was interesting, but not, I think, particularly newsworthy, at least for a front page article. Was it a prelude to something else, or did I just miss the point completely?

A: Dana Priest
ouch....i wanted to show the ripple effect on the culture of a place....newsworthy in a different way. that's all.

Bill Arkin
Hello everyone. Sorry I'm late today. There's still ... uh interest in the story.

Q: Work Environment
In addition to polygraphs and the other invasions of privacy, keep in mind that in Top Secret America there is no such thing as taking work home. All work is done at work, which, in federal spaces at least, typically means a small cramped cubical. Finally, imagine having to work in an environment in which cell-phones and, often, MP3 players are banned. This is what annoys the many young employees more than anything else.

A: Bill Arkin
Annoying indeed. But here's a good question for you? How much of this work really needs to take place in a SCIF? I think that the intelligence agencies just decide for themselves what's Top Secret SCI and work accordingly. There's no rhyme or reason why; the justification certainly isn't "exceptionally grave harm" as it is defined in the Executive Order.

Q: CIA Secret Prisons: Reprise
Ms. Priest, looking back at your 2006 investigative series on the CIA's secret prisons, is it fair to say that your articles contributed to the diminished prestige of the U.S. around the world? Yes, the existence of the prisons may have been reprehensible, but it was making their existance public that hurt American foreign policy. As a side note, I cancelled my paper subscription to WaPo a few months after that series, in part because I strongly disagreed with the Post's reckless decision to publish it.

A: Dana Priest
So let's follow your logic. This means the American public should not have been told about the following (because each, in their own way, hurt the reputation of the United States overseas):

Secret prisons; abu ghraib abuse; blackwater killing of innocent civilians; DOD lack of armor for soldiers; the extent of PTSD among US troops; the weakness of the pre-war intelligence on Iraq; the lack of understanding about Al Qaeda's strength, pre-9/11; the Clinton administration's distraction on the problem; Pres Clinton's "issues," ..... oh, I get it now.
Q: Redundancy in the Intelligence Community
The chart accompanying this series seems to suggest that multiple organizations in the intelligence community are wastefully and redundantly conducting the same activities. Do you believe this to be the case? Has your research revealed that, for example, the counternarcotics missions of PACOM and SOUTHCOM are wastefully duplicative? Is the intelligence analysis performed by CIA similar enough to that of NSA to be considered redundant?

A: Bill Arkin
Well obviously reader, you know more than we do if you're in the inside. I would say this: We found, at an extremely granular level in our investigation, that there was much duplication. Now it's for Congress or other overseers to answer your question. What I saw was how as "counter threat finance" became hot, things were renamed as counter-terrorism to be more prominent and take in more money. We saw the same with counter-terrorism in general after 9/11 and with counter-IED work.

Q: Top Secret America
Dear Ms Priest and Mr Arkin Your top class investigation and the result that you gathered is beyond any scope of normal degree of comprehension. Your story reads like a 25th century sci fi drama triggered by 9/11. I have no words to thank you. I just have only 1 Q. Are we any close to defeating the Taliban and AQ spending this much money and resources that we would continue to dispose till the end of time? Thanks. Elizabeth, Baltimore

A: Bill Arkin
Ah, as one reader said yesterday: Never have so many profited from the actions of so few. I'm afraid that this system has become quite self-perpetuating. That is indeed a problem.

Q: From an undisclosed location.
This has an impressive piece of work. I suspect it is will be extremely useful to those in the community who are concerned about the very issues raised. Even though I think some of the analysis simplifies, probably out of necessity, the subtleties of this world, I think the main themes are correct. Top Secret America is very big, is entrenched in our economy, and creates a unique subculture among its participants. Nobody should dispute this. And although much of the reaction, both good and bad, has been based more on a lazy interpretation than on your careful words, I hope that this begins an honest and informed debate over the issues raised by this article.

A: Dana Priest
thank you. my hope is that some of this conversation can take place here, on our site. we hope to launch a blog (can everyone help me think of a better name for it, I don't read blogs--write to with your suggestions.) I want it to be a place of civil, intelligent discussion and also a place where we can get into more details. Hope to get it up and running tomorrow or Friday...Monday at the latest.

Q: "A Few Good Men" from yesterday's chat
Dana and Bill: Just wanted to comment on the poster who took Dana to task, by name yesterday. He quoted Jack Nicholson's rousing speech from the end of "A Few Good Men." I had to laugh, because the Marine colonel Nicholson plays makes that macho declaration and then shortly reveals that he is not an honorable Marine commander at all, but a tin pot dictator who had an enlisted man killed in the name of security (ironically), then tried to get two other enlisted men to take the fall. The poster reminded me of those conservatives who thought Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" was a flagwaving anthem when it's really about a veteran who feels that his country has used and deserted him. I guess people see, and hear, what they want to see and hear. Thanks for your work.

A: Dana Priest
passing along

Q: Classification
I've noticed that you haven't really discussed production of TS documents or what is really in them. I think the reading audience would benefit from a discussion of what TS means when items are classified as such, and I think they would benefit from the knowledge that each document doesn't necessarily mean its an original work. Any time a line is used from on TS report in something else that is completely harmless and common knowledge, that one line makes the entire document TS (and lines are often repeated meaning there could be 100 documents that are TS all because of one line). The mis-interpretation of what this work actually involves casts a shadow that we have all sorts of knowledge that we're not sharing- that we know where Bin Laden is, that we've uncovered thousands of attacks, etc. The truth is so far from that.

A: Bill Arkin
I completely agree with your observation, even from my own experience in Army intelligence in the 1970s! But the more that is "distributed" electronically, the more TS proliferates and that is also part of the problem, that access to the networks and the containment of those networks and the security of those networks requires signficant effort (and clearly is where much of the money is being spent).

Q: FOIA's usefulness
Was FOIA useful in your investigation? I understand your reluctance to talk specific sources and methods, but it would be a great service if you discussed how using FOIA helped, if at all, contribute to this series.

A: Dana Priest
yes it was. but maybe not as much as you would suspect. you can get a lot that's public without using FOIA if you explain that it's not classified in the first place and take the time talk about what you're trying to do.

Q: Welfare for the Best & Brightest?
It seems to me that if you do well in college, major in engineering, math, IT or Information Systems, have a clean history, you are an automatic hire for the DOD. Just what these people do, we will never know. But what is scary to see is the amount of money poured into this field, and we don't know what it is saving us from, because they disclose very little. All of these employees and contractors have their hand in the governments pocket, with what appears to be very little oversight...the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing? Looks a lot like welfare to me?? As a private sector worker, I'm envious of the benefits these people get...cost of living increases, pension, etc....these things no longer exist in the private sector! Urgh!

A: Bill Arkin
I'm a bit puzzled by your comment because most people seem to be telling us quite the opposite, that the private sector folks have quite the economic advantage, but maybe that's just the case in the Top Secret industry.

Q: Tea Party reaction?
Has the Tea Party weighed in yet? It seems that this expense is the big budget buster, not social spending.

A: Bill Arkin
I would say we have heard and seen interesting comments from all parties. This is the ultimate non-partisan issue: our national security.

Q: Is 2001 a valid baseline for comparisons?
You seem to take 9/11/2001 as the baseline for all your comparisons. Yet, 2001 may well have be an uncharacteristic low-point for classified programs, following on a decade after the cold war lacking in a perceived threat and in the implementation of vigorous de-classification policies during the 1990s. Wouldn't a more valid point of comparision been the 1980s? My memory of working in top-secret environments from the 1960s onward is that they were at least as chaotic and wasteful (and perhaps more so) as what you are presenting.

A: Dana Priest
we had a lot of trouble even getting comparison figures for 2001, so going back even further would have been very difficult. but i get your point, although i will point out the obvious: the enemy is very different and technology has made warfighting very different

Q: Eligiblity versus access
How many of the 900,000+ Top Secret clearance holders actually have acces to Top Secret. DOD adjudicates the investigation to the highest clearance level the investigation will support . A SSBI is adjudicated to level of TS or TS/SCI. the level of access is totally different. I have held a Top Secret eligibility for over 25 years but have never seen Top Secret info. Also it doesn't matter if you need a Secret clearance, Top Secret clearance or TS/SCI the adjudcation guidelines are the same! They are available on line

A: Bill Arkin
This is a very good question and one that Congress will undoubtedly ask in their comprehensive hearings on this subject! Seriously though, if people don't need TS clearances to do their jobs, then this is literally just the bling of varsity national security. Who knows the answer?

Q: National Security
Great series. One point: based on my 40 years in the US intelligence community, I think administration claims that so many details must be kept secret due to "national security" concerns is an induring myth. Everything doesn't have to be revealed, but knowing where government facilities are is of no use to terrorists...they have plenty of other targets. The last two presidents...if not three...have stated plainly that the Russians are not our enemies. The Chinese...what would they do with such information? People around the facilities certainly already know they're sensitive facilities from the security protection. US officials like to talk vaguely about "our enemies"...but are unable to state who exactly these vile "enemies" are who would use many of the details kept secret...and exactly how. It's only useful to keep Americans from knowing the extent of the money spent and the huge bureaucracy created. Just an observation.

A: Bill Arkin
There is a self-perpetuating element to this all, as I've said earlier. But thanks for your comment and for reading our series.

Q: Magnitude of the Threat
Do you think anyone will ever address the exact magnitude of the "threat" America is actually facing? Americans seem willing to spend any amount...hundreds of billions, prevent not just a terrorist act, but even EVERY attempt. Yet, fanatics/radicals have used acts of terror for at least 2,000 years and will for another 2,000 years, most likely. No country has EVER been able to stop all acts of terror, and we won't either. On the other hand, fanatics don't even have that much to gain from another attack...our overwhelming panic at even an attempt has given them an impact far beyond their wildest fantasies. When there IS another attack...or much more do we spend, or how much more secretive will our government become, and how many of our freedoms and liberties will be at further risk? All for the most powerful country to try to thwart a few thousand fanatics/radicals.

A: Dana Priest
Defense Sec Gates told me in an interview that he thought a more in-depth conversation on threats and risks should take place. you are right of course. the only way decrease threats to zero is to live in a police state bubble --not happening.

Q: Public Reaction - Top Secret America
Your series on Top Secret America has exposed a world of questions about political leadership, government spending, and national security. How do you hope the public will respond? What do you consider the most productive ways for us to voice our concerns?

A: Bill Arkin
I wish I had an easy answer here, but my guess is that, given what happened at the Clapper hearing yesterday that Congress has gotten the message. What they will do with it is our decision....

Q: Top Secret America Overseas?
I'm a colleague from the UK who's investigated this issue for the UK media. I was wondering had you examined the similar expansion of, for example, US public/private sector(s) Intelligence community in the UK or any other overseas countries? Your series is fantastic incidentally - really enjoying it.

A: Dana Priest
thank you...we did not look at foreign intel services in this piece. it's a fascinating topic. good luck and please send me what you find and I will post it ....Dana

Q: Cost of clearance
Were you able to obtain information on the cost of each TS/SCI clearance? Further, of those cleared TS/SCI, were you able to obtain data on how many have Full Scope Polygraphs, how many have CI Polygraphs, and how much those cost the taxpayer?

A: Bill Arkin
We've been told (and I think I've seen figures from OPM and the DSS) about the cost of a TS background investigation, about $6000.00. But I don't know if that's accurate or what the difference would be for each of the levels you describe. If anyone knows, email me at

Q: Budget totals
A DoD press release in Feb. put the 2011 requested defense budget at $708 billion; $549b base plus $159 for Iraq and Afghanistan. Is all this national security money you're writing about on top of that? What's the estimated total again, in a nutshell?

A: Dana Priest
some of it is included in that, much of it is not. the netshell is this: $75 billion for the 16 members of the intelligence community, plus billions and billions more in military intelligence programs---I think $100 b is a safe number, but that doesn't include all the domestic side.

Q: Lack of prescriptions -
Hello, a comment I've heard a lot is that this report lacks anything prescriptive, which is unusual given what I'd say is a frankly critical tone throughout the report. Surely if there are problems with America's intelligence or security apparatus, someone quotable has some suggestions about how to improve it. It seems none of that has been included. Any thoughts as to why? Thanks -

A: Dana Priest
that is really not the role of a reporter. editorial pages, pundits, administration officials yes. but not me.

Q: So you know...., I'm sure you realize a lot of us TSers are following the chat? Thanks for the workweek excitement!

A: Bill Arkin
We are so glad that you are following? But how do you get vanilla Internet access from inside the SCIF?

Q: The "Five Eye" allies
You mention in passing the "Five Eye" allies. Will you have more to say about this interesting alliance in the series?

A: Dana Priest
not in the series. maybe later? it's a longstanding alliance

Q: Top Secrest America
Great series and great reporting. What did you think when the new DNI chairman-to-be called the report "harsh"?

A: Bill Arkin
Well, I suppose I'm pleased that he noticed and thought anything about it. I'd still like to here from someone about what it is that was actually wrong with anything we wrote as opposed to the government's constant straw man responses to "myths" we never said.

Q: Reasons for Strategies and Locations
While we understand why it is important to learn about the number of private contractors working on top secret intelligence work and the corresponding waste and lack of effectiveness, why is it necessary to highlight where the top secret work is being done and to give away some of the strategies used by intellegence agencies to guard that intelligence?

This may be a reactionist response, but it is almost like providing information for other countries to target.

A: Bill Arkin
The editors here at the Washington Post, with much legal counsel, made the determination of the balance between giving a sense of the spread of all of this and at the same time preserve national security.

Q: presentation
I love the way you have conveyed the information. In this world of multimedia, tweets, online updates and short-form journalism, it is hard to present an in-depth piece like this. How did you decide how to present your coverage?

A: Dana Priest
first, it had to be simplified so people without expertise could understand it; needed to boil it down to specific conclusions that the facts supported; needed to be written in a way that, we hoped, would keep people reading; needed a web component that was even more in-depth because we wanted to show, as our little experience within this series, that web journalism does NOT mean opinionated blather. It can mean more journalism, presented in a different fashion.

Q: reading between the lines
I still agree withe yesterdays comment, "I want my money back!"

How soon can we expect our refund? Or an accurate accounting?

A: Bill Arkin
Well, I guess I see our series as the form to fill out, a foundation for the public to demand fiscal accountability even in the field of national security.

Q: Writing process
Great articles so far. Question: How do you guys co-write these pieces?

A: Dana Priest
On the general division of labor: Bill did the database, I put the stories together. That's a simplification because we spent hours and hours over the two years talking about database methodology, finding more organizations and corporations through our reporting, etc. Also, he had writing suggestions and contributions.

Q: Who has any answers?
Did any of the people in positions of power have suggestions for reducing the redundancy and waste that extends to "unmanageableness" of the Top Secret America?

If so, have they begun to implement their suggestions? It seems like many are dissatisfied with the effectiveness of Top Secret America, but few have done anything to improve things. Do you have any hope that things will improve?

A: Bill Arkin
One of the things we learned in reporting out this series and getting a sense of how things work is how, particularly in unregulated bureaucracies and in the private sector, there is little structural incentive to cooperate. In other words, Company A doesn't want to work with Company B; they both want to profit from what they have to offer. And government organization A doesn't even want government organization B to know what they are doing, let alone admit that maybe what they are doing is duplicative of something else.

Q: Over-classification
I think Bill brings up a great point early in today's chat: Top Secret isn't some ontological given for a certain set of facts.

Many or most people with TS clearances rarely touch anything much more than Secret. Furthermore, much that is classified is debatably really that vital. In a CYA world, it is easier to "over classify." I think the system that this great story exposes is what is often discussed in social science theory-real or most imagined external threats create large hierarchical structures of security embedded in regimes of secrecy. For better or worse.

A: Dana Priest
passing on for thoughts

Q: Numbers
You claim there are X number of government agencies and contractors performing TS work. However, how many of them are really a subset or superset of another TS organization? If you have Office A who reports to Office B who in turn reports to Office C, do you have 3 TS organizatons of just 3 flavors of one such organizaton?

A: Bill Arkin
We put together our database by looking at each entity and then tracking its subordination. Then for ease of digital presentation and explanation, we aggregated those organizations into 45 "top level" groupings. Even there, we combined many different agencies and commands. And the category "civil government" includes the lesser activities of the Departments of Transportation, Commerce, etc., all of whom have some TS cell tucked away somewhere. It is a lot of data to display, but I think we didn't "cheat" with the numbers to show bigness. It is big.

Q: Culture of Intelligence
Having grown up near Ft. Meade, I enjoyed today's segment. I understand that your focus is on the growth of the intelligence industry, but learning not to talk about what goes on is nothing new.

I learned from an early age that my father wasn't going to talk about what he did that day. And I had friends who knew not to ask why their father came home with a sunburn when he was supposed to have been in Missouri in February.

It has a big effect on the families as well as the culture of the area, and I think that is something that is often missed. I don't work in the security field, but having grown up around it I keep things close to my vest to this day.

A: Dana Priest
Thank you for your comment. I hope the fellow/gal who asked why day three was relevant is still on line out there somewhere....this is the reason.

Q: Investigative reporting
Do you feel this type of investigative reporting has becoming less popular in journalism in recent years? If so, what do you attribute this to?

A: Bill Arkin
First let me say that Dana Priest is the best! We were given the long leash to do this because she has produced in the past. There were many points along the way where we even doubted wrapping our arms around this system. But once we did, we had no trouble whatsoever getting the Washington Post to back us all the way, and continue to do so.

Q: Intelligence Community
With all these agencies, who is the final authority for granting top secret security clearances to these government workers? Is it the individual agency?

A: Dana Priest
it varies from agency to agency: DOD and some others use the Defense Security Service system. CIA and FBI have their own as do others. Standards are supposed to be similiar.

Q: Congressional Oversight
I asked this yesterday and hope you'll answer it today. Do you think the scenario you've described is more the product of the post-9/11 mentality of amorphous fear at an enemy we couldn't see, or more the result of failed Congressional oversight? Last night on the NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown made the latter point forcefully. What is your take on this issue?

A: Bill Arkin
Certainly Congress has a role to play and shares much of the responsibility, but my best guess is that the growth occured first as a result of panic and need and then now has been sustained a decade later by secrecy and bureaucracy.

Q: Scale and scope of investigation
Did the investigation began as an analysis of the ever-growing security bureaucracy or was it broader in scope? Was the goal of the investigation to expose the sheer volume of contractors and government waste or, more broadly, to shed light on the country's national security apparatus as a whole?

A: Bill Arkin
We began this project because we were both seeing something that we didn't know quite what is was: this new set of post 9/11 government organizations and companies. We thought that it was in totality one-tenth of the size we eventually found. That is both what took us so long and has been the difficulty in describing it. It is much more and much bigger than the intelligence community.

Q: Multiple Shifts
Think your reporting is excellent and accept a few of your premises about redundancy -- but if you factor in two wars and that nearly a third of our military is involved in direct conflict for nearly seven full years now that the need to increase the civilian force (both government and contract) would seem to be obvious. Someone needs to cover down on the work that many who are deployed previously conducted. That is one of the purposes of contracting the work out -- when the war is over (hopefully soon) and forces redeploy you can then downsize the workforce by eliminating contracts.

A: Dana Priest
you are definitely correct--but only up to a point. we did not include/count in our work all the tactic military intelligence people/units/organizations. yes, some of those are serviced by national-level capabiilties, but not always and not everyone.

Q: Internet Access in a SCIF
There's no issue with internet access for many TS'ers, even inside a SCIF. Can't have a cell phone, but Perez Hilton is fine.

A: Bill Arkin
I seem to remember a while back that some air force and army bases were not allowing people onto the internet -- or at least on to blogs -- from inside military networks. Anyone have any informatio on the situation today?

Q: Company ownership
Did you learn anything in your research about how many of the 1,931 companies are foreign-owned (parent company) or what percentage of the work is outsourced or conducted in U.S. by non-U.S. citizens?

QinetiQ, for example, is a UK Corp. And thanks, by the way, for this tremendous series--a real clarion call.

A: Bill Arkin
Thanks for the compliment. In the case where the company is foreign owned, we try to show that, and in some cases where a company is incorporated overseas (e.g., Accenture) we try to show that as well. But I think the overall number, without querying the database directly, is less than one percent. AND I know a lot of effort is spent on what is called "foreign ownership" control and security, particularly when the U.S. company (such as BAE) is such a large player in the TS market.

Q: Reaction
What do you think of the initail reaction to your articles? Is it what you expected? Any surprises?

A: Dana Priest
the interest has been amazing. most of the debate has been thougf
Q: Secret Prisons: Reprise II
Ms. Priest, those examples are not all qualitiatively the same as your pieces on CIA prisons. Some of those other pieces exposed issues and questionable practices that hurt *Americans* (e.g., PTSD among troops, your great series a few years ago on military medicine, armor for soldiers on the front lines).

Those pieces I have no problem with. But the primary beneficiary of the prisons articles (and Blackwater for that matter) were America's enemies, or at least our competitors.

A: Dana Priest
i wholeheartedly disagree., obviously

Q: Cost difference between contractors and employees
How much are we over-spending based on the cost difference between contracted employees versus government employees? I've heard that a contracted intelligence analyst costs the government in the range of $200,000 annually versus less than half that for an employee.

A: Bill Arkin
This is one of these Washington questions that makes my computer sizzle. I think that there is no clear answer, given public financing of government and military health care, pensions, etc. I would love a clear explanation from someone about what a contractor versus a government employee costs...

Q: Why reveal locations?
I understand your premise that the intelligence maize is complex but what was to gain by revealing locations that could without a doubt expose these people to danger?

A: Dana Priest
We really don't "reveal" many locations. Only at the headquarters level of a company or gov org can you go all the way down on the map. this is also usually available on the company's and government's website. for all others, which is the vast majority, you can only go to a city, and for the government, we don't say which government orgs the dots represent (again, except for the headquarters)

Q: Classified Info in the Series
Is there any classified information in your published series or in the presentations, or is everything in the public domain (even if scattered)?

A: Bill Arkin
This is a good question, but also requires a clarification. The government decides what is "classified," not the Washington Post. On the other hand, a free press in a free society exercises its own judgment about matters of public interest and the national security implications. If every time the government cried national security and "classified" the news media saluted, there would be little news. The most important standard is "harm." Whether something if published, even if the government considers it classified, that it won't do harm to either people or programs. Nothing the government told us made us think that we had crossed that line in the final product.

Q: Clearances for All
There may only be 1-2 "things" about a program that are classified TS....however, if 1000 people have access to that information, you need 1000 people with TS clearances.

A: Bill Arkin
True, but then we need to ask whether it needs to be TS and whether everyone needs to have access.

Q: 108 Committees and Subcommittees for HLS alone
Don't you believe that all these members of Congress overseeing these organizations is in part what leads to overspending?

It seems that Congress has help create this mess by allowing essentially every member of Congress to get in on the spending.

A: Dana Priest
congress is indeed a large part of the problem

Q: Pre 9/11
My brother was hired after 6 years in Army intelligence by the company that manufactured the project he worked on. He ended up in the same tent with the same group of guys, but instead of E-5 pay he received a huge signing bonus and a low six figure salary. This was 1996.

He and his wife both work for another large company that has an entire division of ex-intel folks from all over the world. They started with this well-known brand name in 1999. Should I let him know he's a trend setter?

A: Bill Arkin
You should let him know how to get in contact with us.

I'm glad there's someplace in America where introverts reign. How does the intel community feel about INFPs? I'm getting a little tired of journalism. Seriously, great job on the series.

A: Dana Priest
yes, and mathematicians rule!

Q: Future of the OFDI
Is the office of the Director of National Intelligence really a viable position, in your opinion, given the power politics played by the individual agency heads and the compartmentalization of information they probably use to maintain their power?

A: Bill Arkin
As currently constituted, and with the current legislation, the evidence seems to suggest it is "just" another institution. But I guess we'll see whether Clapper can do a better job of both taming it and giving it power, not an easy balance.

Q: Needle in a haystack
I think people are focusing too much on the "are things duplicated" issue. The real issue -- as discussed in the first article -- is the sheer volume of information that is being collected. There's no possible way to sort through that information in any coherent manner, which is why the Fort Hood shooter and the attmpted airplane bomber slipped through the cracks. Forgive the analogy, but if trying to uncover a terrorist plot is like trying to find a needle in the haystack, the best answer to finding it isn't always to add more hay.

A: Bill Arkin
Thanks for your comment. I couldn't agree more.

Q: Fusion Centers
I wondered if you investigation into Top Secret America would include the drive by DHS to establish intelligence Fusion Centers between State and Federal law enforcement. Is this an effort to make a major expansion of the intelligence community or will this turn out to be a small part of the entire structure?

A: Bill Arkin
If you know some specific about this area, I'd love to hear from you:

We are interested in continuing our journalism in this area.

Q: Future of TSA
What would you tell a college graduate who is about to enter the IC? Do you expect that there will be budget cuts/layoffs/reorganization? Should he/she reconsider?

A: Dana Priest
nah, not any time soon

Q: Tradeoffs
Since the terrorist threat is never going to completely dissipate from the world landscape, what sort of trade offs are we as Americans willing to make between what it will take to protect our country and our assets around the world versus the opportunity cost of not spending as much money on other national priorities?

A: Dana Priest
this is the kind of question i'd like to probe in a deeper why on our site's "blog." and is there any way to quantify it?

Q: Demand for top secret security clearances
Dana, Bill: Do you anticipate the demand for workers with top secret clearances will continue to rise? If so, is there any reliable estimate on how big the national security behemoth will become? Are there any limits?

A: Bill Arkin
I see lots of questions in the queue about the job prospects, and I imagine in these hard economic times, it's an interesting concern. But the questions themselves sort of point to the problem to me, which is, should this be a "job" or is it public service?

Q: This is the gal who asked why day 3 was relevant
Oddly, I too have a parent with these clearances who will NOT talk to us about his day (for the same reason.) I understand that some of the policies are invasive and the culture is sometimes something out of a bad spy flick, but these workers (all the hundreds that I know of, anyway) choose to work in this field. They are also very proud of the work that they do. They do not see this close-mouthness as a sacrifice, and I know of no instance where it caused family problems...any more, anyway, than the lawyer or Wall Street banker who worked so hard they never saw their kids. Ergo, while I thought today's segment was interesting, I still don't really see how it was newsworthy.

A: Dana Priest
okay, others differ. i've heard about the "family problems" this does cause sometimes, the lack of trust when the children finally learn the truth; the hard time parents have final explaining a little's complicated and delicate.

Q: Private contractors
I thought the most groundbreaking and interesting part was part 2, about private contractor's roles in national security. The rest, I thought was more like the other poster stated "a day in the life of TS." I would have like to seen part 2 a lot more in depth. I do think that the ever increasing role of private companies in national security work is a very important topic and something that needs to be addressed. Is this something that we want happening? Our national security, intelligence analysis, etc, being farmed out to private companies? Much less actual operations? Remember Blackwater and other companies in Iraq; the Northrop Grumman owned and operated plane that was shot down performing actual anti-drug air raids in Colombia for the US Govt? I hope this is something you will be investigating further in the future.

A: Bill Arkin
I would have liked to have seen all parts displayed in more depth. My God, they only gave us 12 pages of the entire newspaper on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday! Seriously though, I think there is a lot of good reporting out there on this subject and lots a good books. So it want more, more is out there.

Q: This is the "intelligence revolution"
Instead of the Industrial Revolution, we have the "Intelligence Revolution". Appears that this is the only thing keeping the local economy surrounding DC thriving. Do you agree?

A: Bill Arkin
It is the federal government that is the client my friend, and that is something we have control over.

Q: Access
How difficult was it to gain access to these suburban sites? Did you and/or photographers run into trouble getting close to these locations?

A: Dana Priest
we really didn't "gain access" in the sense of getting through the door---with some exceptions. as you can see from the third piece, i got to ride around in a counterintelligence agent's vehicle surveillance class. it was a blast. i've been into dozens of other government locations, mostly military, some intel. but we spent an awful lots of time just driving around buildings, trying to figure out how to describe the unusual landscape in the clusters.

Dana Priest
I have to run out to do another tv interview. I'll leave Bill to sign off for good. please keep an eye out on our website and come back soon. Thanks, Dana

Bill Arkin
Thanks so much everyone for tuning in today! I'm off to do another radio interview. Thanks for being readers of the Washington Post!

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