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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 priestd@washpost.com 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, trillions...to 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 attempt...how 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. www.eamonnoneill.com

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 william.arkin@washingtonpost.com

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....
.....so, 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: william.arkin@washingtonpost.com

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 more...it'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!

Priest, Dana and Arkin, Bill - Top Secret America Part 3: The Secrets Next Door - The Washington Post 20100721

Priest, Dana and Arkin, WM - Top Secret America Part 3: The Secrets Next Door - The Washington Post 20100721

The brick warehouse is not just a warehouse. Drive through the gate and around back, and there, hidden away, is someone's personal security detail: a fleet of black SUVs that have been armored up to withstand explosions and gunfire.

Along the main street, the signs in the median aren't advertising homes for sale; they're inviting employees with top-secret security clearances to a job fair at Cafe Joe, which is anything but a typical lunch spot.

The new gunmetal-colored office building is really a kind of hotel where businesses can rent eavesdrop-proof rooms.

Even the manhole cover between two low-slung buildings is not just a manhole cover. Surrounded by concrete cylinders, it is an access point to a government cable. "TS/SCI," whispers an official, the abbreviations for "top secret" and "sensitive compartmented information" - and that means few people are allowed to know what information the cable transmits.

All of these places exist just outside Washington in what amounts to the capital of an alternative geography of the United States, one defined by the concentration of top-secret government organizations and the companies that do work for them. This Fort Meade cluster is the largest of a dozen such clusters across the United States that are the nerve centers of Top Secret America and its 854,000 workers.

Other locations include Dulles-Chantilly, Denver-Aurora and Tampa. All of them are under-the-radar versions of traditional military towns: economically dependent on the federal budget and culturally defined by their unique work.

The difference, of course, is that the military is not a secret culture. In the clusters of Top Secret America, a company lanyard attached to a digital smart card is often the only clue to a job location. Work is not discussed. Neither are deployments. Debate about the role of intelligence in protecting the country occurs only when something goes wrong and the government investigates, or when an unauthorized disclosure of classified information turns into news.

The existence of these clusters is so little known that most people don't realize when they're nearing the epicenter of Fort Meade's, even when the GPS on their car dashboard suddenly begins giving incorrect directions, trapping the driver in a series of U-turns, because the government is jamming all nearby signals.

Once this happens, it means that ground zero - the National Security Agency - is close by. But it's not easy to tell where. Trees, walls and a sloping landscape obscure the NSA's presence from most vantage points, and concrete barriers, fortified guard posts and warning signs stop those without authorization from entering the grounds of the largest intelligence agency in the United States.

Gallery thumb

In our back yards

Many Americans don't realize that top-secret work could be happening right next door.
Launch Photo Gallery »

Beyond all those obstacles loom huge buildings with row after row of opaque, blast-resistant windows, and behind those are an estimated 30,000 people, many of them reading, listening to and analyzing an endless flood of intercepted conversations 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

From the road, it's impossible to tell how large the NSA has become, even though its buildings occupy 6.3 million square feet - about the size of the Pentagon - and are surrounded by 112 acres of parking spaces. As massive as that might seem, documents indicate that the NSA is only going to get bigger: 10,000 more workers over the next 15 years; $2 billion to pay for just the first phase of expansion; an overall increase in size that will bring its building space throughout the Fort Meade cluster to nearly 14 million square feet.

The NSA headquarters sits on the Fort Meade Army base, which hosts 80 government tenants in all, including several large intelligence organizations.

Together, they inject $10 billion from paychecks and contracts into the region's economy every year - a figure that helps explain the rest of the Fort Meade cluster, which fans out about 10 miles in every direction.


Just beyond the NSA perimeter, the companies that thrive off the agency and other nearby intelligence organizations begin. In some parts of the cluster, they occupy entire neighborhoods. In others, they make up mile-long business parks connected to the NSA campus by a private roadway guarded by forbidding yellow "Warning" signs.

The largest of these is the National Business Park - 285 tucked-away acres of wide, angular glass towers that go on for blocks. The occupants of these buildings are contractors, and in their more publicly known locations, they purposely understate their presence. But in the National Business Park, a place where only other contractors would have reason to go, their office signs are huge, glowing at night in bright red, yellow and blue: Booz Allen Hamilton, L-3 Communications, CSC,Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, SAIC.

More than 250 companies - 13 percent of all the firms in Top Secret America - have a presence in the Fort Meade cluster. Some have multiple offices, such as Northrop Grumman, which has 19, and SAIC, which has 11. In all, there are 681 locations in the Fort Meade cluster where businesses conduct top-secret work.

Inside the locations are employees who must submit to strict, intrusive rules. They take lie-detector tests routinely, sign nondisclosure forms and file lengthy reports whenever they travel overseas. They are coached on how to deal with nosy neighbors and curious friends. Some are trained to assume false identities.

If they drink too much, borrow too much money or socialize with citizens from certain countries, they can lose their security clearances, and a clearance is the passport to a job for life at the NSA and its sister intelligence organizations.

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The role of private contractors

As Top Secret America has grown, the government has become more dependent on contractors with matching security clearances.
Launch Photo Gallery »

Chances are they excel at math: To do what it does, the NSA relies on the largest number of mathematicians in the world. It needs linguists and technology experts, as well as cryptologists, known as "crippies." Many know themselves as ISTJ, which stands for "Introverted with Sensing, Thinking and Judging," a basket of personality traits identified on the Myers-Briggs personality test and prevalent in the Fort Meade cluster.

The old joke: "How can you tell the extrovert at NSA? He's the one looking at someone else's shoes."

"These are some of the most brilliant people in the world," said Ken Ulman, executive of Howard County, one of six counties in NSA's geographic sphere of influence. "They demand good schools and a high quality of life."

The schools, indeed, are among the best, and some are adopting a curriculum this fall that will teach students as young as 10 what kind of lifestyle it takes to get a security clearance and what kind of behavior would disqualify them.

Outside one school is the jarring sight of yellow school buses lined up across from a building where personnel from the "Five Eye" allies - the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - share top-secret information about the entire world.

The buses deliver children to neighborhoods that are among the wealthiest in the country; affluence is another attribute of Top Secret America. Six of the 10 richest counties in the United States, according to Census Bureau data, are in these clusters.

Loudoun County, ranked as the wealthiest county in the country, helps supply the workforce of the nearby National Reconnaissance Office headquarters, which manages spy satellites. Fairfax County, the second-wealthiest, is home to the NRO, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Arlington County, ranked ninth, hosts the Pentagon and major intelligence agencies. Montgomery County, ranked 10th, is home to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. And Howard County, ranked third, is home to 8,000 NSA employees.

"If this were a Chrysler plant, we'd be talking Chrysler in the bowling alley, Chrysler in the council meetings, Chrysler, Chrysler, Chrysler," said Kent Menser, a Defense Department employee helping Howard County adjust to the growth of nearby Fort Meade. "People who are not in the workforce of NSA don't fully appreciate the impact of it on their lives."


The impact of the NSA and other secretive organizations in this cluster is not just monetary. It shades even the flow of traffic one particular day as a white van pulls out of a parking lot and into midday traffic.

That white van is followed by five others just like it.

Job fair

Help wanted: professionals with security clearances

Recruiters for companies that hold government contracts meet with job seekers who have security clearances at a Targeted Job Fairs event in McLean, Va. Launch Video »

Inside each one, two government agents in training at the secretive Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy are trying not to get lost as they careen around local roads practicing "discreet surveillance" - in this case, following a teacher in the role of a spy. The real job of these agents from the Army, U.S. Customs and other government agencies is to identify foreign spies and terrorists targeting their organizations, to locate the spies within and to gather evidence to take action against them.

But on this day, they are trainees connected to one another by radios and specially labeled street maps. Some 4,000 federal and military agents attend counterintelligence classes in the Fort Meade cluster every year, moving, as these agents are, past unsuspecting residents going about their business.

The agent riding shotgun in one white van holds the maps on her lap as she frantically moves yellow stickies around, trying to keep tabs on the other vans and the suspect, or "rabbit," as he is called.

Other agents gun their engines and race 60 mph, trying to keep up with the rabbit while alerting one another to the presence of local police, who don't know that the vans weaving in and out of traffic are driven by federal agents.

Suddenly, the rabbit moves a full block ahead of the closest van, passes through a yellow light, then drives out of sight as the agents get stuck at a red light.

Green light.

"Go!" an agent yells in vain through the windshield as the light changes and the car in front of her pokes along. "Move! Move! Move!"

"We lost him," her partner groans as they do their best to catch up.

Finally, the agents end their surveillance on foot at a Borders bookstore in Columbia where the rabbit has reappeared. Six men in polo shirts and various shades of khaki pants scan the magazine racks and slowly walk the aisles.

Their instructor cringes. "The hardest part is the demeanor," he confides, watching as the agents follow the rabbit in the store, filled with women in shifts and children in flip-flops. "Some of them just can't relax enough to get the demeanor right. . . . They should be acting like they're browsing, but they are looking over the top of a book and never move."

Throughout the cluster are examples of how the hidden world and the public one intersect. A Quiznos sandwich shop in the cluster has the familiarity of any other restaurant in the national chain, except for the line that begins forming at 11 a.m. Those waiting wear the Oakley sunglasses favored by people who have worked in Afghanistan or Iraq. Their shoes are boots, the color of desert sand. Forty percent of the NSA's workforce is active-duty military, and this Quiznos is not far away from one of their work sites.

Bill Brown, left, and Jerome James tend to James's property in suburban Maryland, which abuts a secure building. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount / The Washington Post)  |  Launch Photo Gallery »

In another part of the cluster, Jerome James, one of its residents, is talking about the building that has sprung up just beyond his back yard. "It used to be all farmland, then they just started digging one day," he says. "I don't know what they do up there, but it doesn't bother me. I don't worry about it."

The building, sealed off behind fencing and Jersey barriers, is larger than a football field. It has no identifying sign. It does have an address, but Google Maps doesn't recognize it. Type it in, and another address is displayed, every time. "6700," it says.

No street name.

Just 6700.


Inside such a building might be Justin Walsh, who spends hours each day on a ladder, peering into the false ceilings of the largest companies in Top Secret America. Walsh is a Defense Department industrial security specialist, and every cluster has a version of him, whether it's Fort Meade; or the underground maze of buildings at Crystal City in Arlington, near the Pentagon; or the high-tech business parks around the National Aerospace Intelligence Center in Dayton, Ohio.

When he's not on his ladder, Walsh is tinkering with a copy machine to make sure it cannot reproduce the secrets stored in its memory. He's testing the degausser, a giant magnet that erases data from classified hard drives. He's dissecting the alarm system, its fiber-optic cable and the encryption it uses to send signals to the control room.

The government regulates everything in Top Secret America: the gauge of steel in a fence, the grade of paper bag to haul away classified documents, the thickness of walls and the height of raised soundproof floors.

In the Washington area, there are 4,000 corporate offices that handle classified information, 25 percent more than last year, according to Walsh's supervisor, and on any given day Walsh's team has 220 buildings in its inspection pipeline. All existing buildings have things that need to be checked, and the new buildings have to be gone over from top to bottom before the NSA will allow their occupants to even connect to the agency via telephone.

Soon, there will be one more in the Fort Meade cluster: a new, four-story building, going up near a quiet gated community of upscale townhouses, that its builder boasts can withstand a car bomb. Dennis Lane says his engineers have drilled more bolts into each steel beam than is the norm to make the structure less likely to buckle were the unthinkable to happen.

Lane, senior vice president of Ryan Commercial real estate, has become something of a snoop himself when it comes to the NSA. At 55, he has lived and worked in its shadow all his life and has schooled himself on its growing presence in his community. He collects business intelligence using his own network of informants, executives like himself hoping to making a killing off an organization many of his neighbors don't know a thing about.

He notices when the NSA or a different secretive government organization leases another building, hires more contractors and expands its outreach to the local business community. He's been following construction projects, job migrations, corporate moves. He knows that local planners are estimating that 10,000 more jobs will come with an expanded NSA and an additional 52,000 from other intelligence units moving to the Fort Meade post.

Lane was up on all the gossip months before it was announced that the next giant military command, U.S. Cyber Command, would be run by the same four-star general who heads the NSA. "This whole cyber thing is going to be big," he says. "A cyber command could eat up all the building inventory out there."

Lane knows this because he has witnessed the post-9/11 growth of the NSA, which now ingests 1.7 billion pieces of intercepted communications every 24 hours: e-mails, bulletin board postings, instant messages, IP addresses, phone numbers, telephone calls and cellphone conversations.

In her own way, Jeani Burns has witnessed this, too.

Burns, a businesswoman in the Fort Meade cluster, is having a drink one night after work and gesturing toward some men standing in another part of the bar.

"I can spot them," she says. The suit. The haircut. The demeanor. "They have a haunted look, like they're afraid someone is going to ask them something about themselves."

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An alternative geography

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the top-secret world created to respond to the terrorist attacks has grown into an unwieldy enterprise spread over 10,000 U.S. locations.
Launch Photo Gallery »

Undercover agents come in here, too, she whispers, to watch the same people, "to make sure no one is saying too much."

Burns would know - she's been living with one of those secretive men for 20 years. He used to work at the NSA. Now he's one of its contractors. He's been to war. She doesn't know where. He does something important. She doesn't know what.

She says she fell for him two decades ago and has had a life of adjustments ever since. When they go out with other people, she says, she calls ahead with cautions: "Don't ask him stuff." Sometimes people get it, but when they don't, "it's a pain. We just didn't go out with them again."

She describes him as "an observer. I'm the interloper," she says. "It bothers me he never takes me traveling, never thinks of anything exciting to do. . . . I feel cheated."

But she also says: "I really respect him for what's he's done. He's spent his whole life so we can keep our way of living, and he doesn't get any public recognition."

Outside the bar, meanwhile, the cluster hums along. At night, in the confines of the National Business Park, office lights remain on here and there. The 140-room Marriott Courtyard is sold out, as usual, with guests such as the man checking in who says only that he's "with the military."

Gallery thumb

Anti-Deception Technologies

From avatars and lasers to thermal cameras and fidget meters, this multimedia gallery takes a look at some of the latest technologies being developed by the government and private companies to thwart terrorists. Launch Gallery »

And inside the NSA, the mathematicians, the linguists, the techies and the crippies are flowing in and out. The ones leaving descend in elevators to the first floor. Each is carrying a plastic bar-coded box. Inside is a door key that rattles as they walk. To those who work here, it's the sound of a shift change.

As employees just starting their shifts push the turnstiles forward, those who are leaving push their identity badges into the mouth of the key machine. A door opens. They drop their key box in, then go out through the turnstiles. They drive out slowly through the barriers and gates protecting the NSA, passing a steady stream of cars headed in. It's almost midnight in the Fort Meade cluster, the capital of Top Secret America, a sleepless place growing larger every day.

Priest, Dana and Arkin, Bill - Top Secret America - Q and A 04 - The Washington Post 20101220

Priest, Dana and Arkin, Bill - Top Secret America - Q and A 04 - The Washington Post 20101220

Dana Priest and Bill Arkin will be online to chat about the latest installment in their Post investigation, Top Secret America.

Q: General observations
This might be a bit of an oversimplification, but this is my general theory based on what I have read about our homeland security efforts. It seems good ideas are taken from key administrators and then created as easily as possibly in the implementation stage. We joke that we have homeland security according to the lowest bidder, but I think it is more than that. I believe we need to do more to scrutinize our efforts and assessing how much protection they actually are adding and redesigning to make our efforts more effective.

A: Dana Priest
Hi everyone. Thanks for joining us. It's been a while. Measuring what works and what does not is a key question here. Does it really help to solicit tips from everywhere and then weed through them, or to have a more focused approach. In general the government has not done a good job evaluating the large number of programs out there. As money becomes tighter, this might happen more. We'll see.

Q: Who says this is OK?
Are there laws that specifically authorize this intensive data-mining? Or are the authorities just doing this because they can? Are they violating any existing laws regarding privacy, probable cause etc.? Also, is there any way someone can see what the authorities have/think they have on him, the way they can review their own credit reports? How much of this cross-referenced data is simply wrong: confusion about similar names, changed addresses, warrants canceled, etc.? Anybody who reviews his own credit report finds factual errors; an error in police files could result in a false arrest or much worse.

A: Dana Priest
The government will tell you that the Patriot Act and amendments to it, gives them the right to do all this. Civil liberties experts say they are chipping away at the Privacy Act inappropriately. Both sides will also differ on why, in fact, the "probably cause" bar has been lowered to do this kind of data collection. It's a debate about the legal interpretation of post 9/11 rules for the most part.

Q: Monitoring America's Technical Hobbyists
Hello Dana. Are America's railroad enthusiasts, airplane watchers, model rocket builders, model airplane pilots, amateur radio operators, inventors, technology photographers, etc., now going to be placed into Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) files because they have a strong curiosity and enthusiasm for technology and infrastructure? I am a photographer myself and I have taken photos and movies of trains and aircraft over the years as have many other enthusiasts. So am I in one of these files? What is happening to our freedom and privacy? What will happen to American technology when people are scared away from technological interests, activities and hobbies?

A: Dana Priest
Probably. this is an area thick with problems. my best advice is to carry some proof that you are a member of some kind of enthusiasts group and if you see a policeman or someone else watching you, go talk to him/her. Putting people like you in the database wastes everyone's time.

Q: Suspecting the muslim community?
In your article, you mention two experts who claim that the majority of Muslims in the U.S. want to impose Sharia law. This seems wildly inaccurate and prejudicial. Given the political environment these days (Texas passing a law that Sharia law can't be considered in the courts, Rep. King wanting to hold hearings into Radicalization of Muslims in America) how much of this opinion is accurate and how much is inflammatory? I could see a lot of issues rising from this attitude and a lot of civil rights being violated.

A: Dana Priest
We have only begun to see this strain of thinking. We will see much more of it.
Q: Trainers
What does the screening process entail for hiring the "trainers" considered inaccurate and counterproductive?

A: Dana Priest
There is no screening process. State and local law enforcement can hire whomever they like really. The betters one are consulting with the FBI but that doesn't happen all the time, as you can see

Q: german sausage
I live in Berlin and I feel that I am always being watched. Today I was buying some sausage at the market hall and I swear there were cameras embedded in the cheese from south Germany. Is this historical paranoia or is the reach and technology of the government so vast that somewhere, in some database, there is a record of the fact that I did not in fact work today? Miss Priest, I've always counted on you and I can say that many other readers here in greater Europe do as well. Your dogged reporting is most appreciated.

A: Dana Priest
Paranoia. Get back to work!

Q: Censoring
During your research did you come across any sensitive information that you decided not to publish? Thank you for taking the time to answer questions.

A: Dana Priest
yes, one thing.

Q: Most of this stuff is irrational fear
If you compare the lifetime risk of dying in A: car accident 1 in 83. murder 1 in 210. walk across the street 1 in 625. drowning 1 in 1,100. 1 airline bomb/year 1 in 1300. struck by lightning 1 in 80,000. hit by asteroid 1 in 200,000. Then spending $85M to buy 500 airport full body scanners at $170,000 each is just crazy: Source.

A: Dana Priest
Philip Mudd, the former CIA and FBI official quoted in the story makes the same case. And he prefers to call terrorists, criminals. And to deflate the entire conversation so as not to make them feel so powerful and not to egg us all on to overreact every time something almost-but doesn't, happen.

You mentioned Pennsylvania briefly in your article, but that caused real outrage here a few months ago. To the governor's credit, he put an end to the reports immediately, and the state police and attorney general both said the info was worthless (one example: bombing of a local train line in India was linked to an upcoming upgrade of train tracks in PA!!!!). I hope other states' investigative newspapers take on the state/local homeland security monitoring -- it seems like any form of peaceful protest is now suspect.

A: Dana Priest
I agree. Newspapers have been digging up instances of state police abuse in this area for several years now. I hope that continues because it seems the only way to bring it out into the open. We're hoping that the online state-heavy emphasis to this story will prompt journalists who have written such stories to post them on our facebook site.

Q: real threats or just talk?
Why are we spending tens of billions on intelligence and survellience yet almost all the alleged terrorist attacks that are being uncovered are FBI set-ups where the suspect has no bomb or terrorist training and the FBI informant was the instigator? The most recent threat to the Metro system was based on Facebook posts. Maybe we should just skip the billion dollar NRO satellites and just pay people to read Facebook.

A: Dana Priest
I would bet you that money it's already happening.

Q: Names of agencies
How come you didn't name/identify the agencies and their locations? Will be useful since I'm looking for a job. Thanks

A: Dana Priest
did you check online? lots of info there, and city-state locations

Rocci Fisch
Top Secret America

Q: Leadingto sympathy for WikiLeaks?
I wonder if Americans' displeasure with the government accumulating so much information about them in secret (though accumulating info about OTHER people in secret might be okay) leads some to feel more sympathetic to the massive leaks by WikiLeaks. Though the documents leaked by WikiLeaks don't have to do with domestic intelligence, and were leaked on a wholesale basis (i.e., no selective examination of what should be made public and what shouldn't, just a wholesale release of 250,000 documents without examination of each one), mightn't some people just say "everything should be public"? I still don't detect any widespread move to repeal the Patriot Act, as long as it's used only against other people, not you and me (well, at least not me).

A: Dana Priest
Don't know if there's a correlation. I do know, from personal experience, that government officials sometimes feel more willing to talk when the internal review process doesn't work at all, and when whatever it is they are concerned about seems, to them at least, to be a big deal.

Q: A repeat of McCarthyism?
Is the current government hysteria over terrorism equivalent to the 1950s hysteria over Communists everywhere? Will it ever end?

A: Dana Priest
People have made the comparison. But I think there's another factor here that wasn't present in the 1950s: The public's expectation that the government can, and must, stop the next attack at all cost. Even if it's a tiny one and no one gets hurt. This means the government has to do everything possible, which is a lot. Because we have never had a rational discussion about this, about the risks versus costs, this paradym remains and government officials have nightmares of being called to testify in congress when something goes amiss.

Q: "Experts"
The Nashville Tennessean did an article on "experts" making lots of money, including payments from government, for - essentially - spreading fear about Muslims. To what extent does the federal government rely on these outside consultants on terrorism matters?

A: Dana Priest
Thank you. Can you post this also on our Facebook page? The feds are supposed to know better and I think, for the most part, they do. Although sometimes I wonder about the FBI. I think there is a range of opinion at the bureau, once you leave the counterterrorism section. The problem is at the state and local level.

Q: NGA, ODNI, icc?
In Sept 2010, it was reported that the National Geospatial Agency would complete its move out of Sangamore Rd in Bethesda before Sept 30, 2011 and that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was approved by the U.S. Army in June 2009 to relocate to the Sangamore Road base, according to a memo released by U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr.'s office in May (2010). The office, headquartered in Tysons Corner, Va., has not committed to moving to Bethesda and will not make a decision until a feasibility study is completed, said spokesman Michael Birmingham. That study is due later this fall, he said. Was the study completed? Has a decision been made? Will part of Liberty Crossing move? Will Sangamore become an intelligence community campus?

A: Dana Priest
Sorry I don't know the answer to this. Maybe someone reading will know. If you are out there, come chat.

Q: Unstoppable?
It seems our security network gets a little more extensive every year, even when no new major terror attacks succeed, and the trend doesn't seem to have stopped when the presidency changed hands. I'm not aware of any cases of a new security program being rolled back after it got started. And the 'war on terror' doesn't seem like something which can ever possibly end, since the abstract threat of 'there are bad people in the world' will always be there. Plus it already seems that there are now whole DHS-centered industries out there lobbying for more security for its own sake. Where will this leave the country in 10, 20, 30 years? Is an ever-expanding surveillance state inevitable?

A: Dana Priest
A couple of things have been shelved--like a multi-billion stealth satellite program that never worked-- but overall, I think you are right, and are stating the correct reasons--none of which have to do with hard-nosed national security. If nothing else, commercially available technology is driving us towards a surveillance state.

Q: Anacostia
Your article said that there were some cases, like in Colorado, where fusion centers claim to have actually identified potential terrrorists. Is this widely accepted? Are there many of these cases? Were they examples of identification that only the fusion centers were responsible for?

A: Dana Priest
Colorado helped with Zazi, the Afghan-born resident who wanted to bomb New York. The FBI says they were helpful although they also say it wasn't unique information they produced, and that the bureau probably would have come up with it soon anyway. DHS gave me a list of successes. There were not many related to terrorism. Some of them related to everyday crimes.

Q: It is the Beast
I'm not a religious person, however, I feel the Beast metaphor applies. We have created an infrastructure which empowers people at the community level to use covert lethal means on unsuspecting targets. What is to stop them from acting in personal revenge? What about solutions to business competition? It isn't a good thing in my opinion.

A: Dana Priest
I think you are going too far: "covert lethal means" means assassinating people. I don't see that at all.

Q: Suspecting the muslim community?
In your article, you mention two experts who claim that the majority of Muslims in the U.S. want to impose Sharia law. This seems wildly inaccurate and prejudicial. Given the political environment these days (Texas passing a law that Sharia law can't be considered in the courts, Rep. King wanting to hold hearings into Radicalization of Muslims in America) how much of this opinion is accurate and how much is inflammatory? I could see a lot of issues rising from this attitude and a lot of civil rights being violated.

A: Dana Priest
I thought I answered this but it's still in the queue: Neither the FBI, nor intelligence experts believe this view is true. I expect, though, to see the argument surface more and more. I sat in on the legal proceeding in Murfreesboro , Tenn, where several residents were asking a judge to stop a local Muslim community from expanding their mosque and school house. It was like watching the Scopes Monkey trial (also in Tenn) on evolution. One of the complainants' main arguments was that Islam is not a religion. (Hello? Tell that to Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country. Really now)

Q: Information Age Gone Wrong
Could the information infrastructure and profiling ultimately overwhelm the bill of rights? On a personal note, I was visited by an agent doing a background check on my son for his job. I did not feel comfortable, and regret not seeking council before agreeing to the interview. I've been able to piece together a few things. My son was not even aware of the background check. After a few months he was edged out of the firm. Then offered a new job, and after a few months edged from that firm. Then again, and again. They must have found something, but we have no idea what. And it seems they have a system whereby as soon as he is employed, it sends some kind of report to the employer. But it is all hidden from us. At least this offers an explanation, but it is only our theory. He has since deleted all social accounts on the internet. We figure maybe a "friend" was the problem. But how does one even begin to parse something like this?

A: Dana Priest
hopefully he was having a background check for a security clearance, not for something less than that. You could try to find out by appealing, if, in fact, he was denied a clearance. Otherwise, not sure. Good luck. His instinct about social media is a good one.

Q: Privacy, the 4th Amendment, Traditional Values
The question becomes how do we stop it? This country bears no resemblance to the open and democratic society I knew before 9-11. All the values we held dear in 1999 when I came for a Hill internship have been turned on their head in the name of security theater. How can we stop these abuses and get these dollars re-directed into Social Security and Medicare, where they were supposed to have been going all along?

A: Dana Priest
I'm not at all this pessimistic but I think people need to pay attention to what the government is doing. So does the media, and we aren't doing enough of that these days.

Time is up. Thanks for joining me. Dana

Jimmy Carter would consider pardoning Edward Snowden

Jimmy Carter says he would consider pardoning Edward Snowden - The Washington Post - 20140326

Former president Jimmy Carter (D) said Wednesday that he would consider pardoning Edward Snowden if he returned to the United States and was convicted and sentenced, but acknowledged he doesn't have enough information to judge how much damage the former National Security Agency contractor has done to U.S. national security interests.

"If he was found guilty and sentenced to death, I would certainly consider pardon," Carter said. But, Carter added that he doesn't have "the information President Obama has about what damage has been done to our security apparatus."

When asked whether he would pardon Snowden today as president, Carter replied, "No, because you can't pardon someone who has not been tried and convicted."

Carter made his remarks during an appearance at The Washington Post. He's been making the rounds to promote his new book, "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power." The discussion, which also focused heavily on women's issues and religion, was moderated by David Ignatius and Sally Quinn.

Carter has been a critic of the NSA surveillance efforts revealed by Snowden, who is living in Russia. The former president recently said that he believes the agency is monitoring his e-mails. On Wednesday, Carter called on Obama to do more to scale back the scope of government surveillance.

"I would like to see him do it by executive order which I think he could," Carter said.

On the situation in Ukraine, Carter reiterated his belief that the United States and its allies could not have done anything to stop Crimea from falling into Russia's hands. But, he added that Russian President Vladimir Putin "has to be stopped now." He said that while the threat of U.S. military force to prevent Russia from moving further into Ukraine is probably excessive, showing support for the Ukrainian military in concert with U.S. allies is prudent.

"I think it would be legitimate to say we are going to make sure the Ukraine military are fortified and [provided with] whatever weapons they need," said Carter.
On Middle East peace efforts, Carter urged Obama to adopt a robust posture in support of his chief diplomat if he comes forth with a comprehensive peace plan in the region.

"He doesn't have to be involved in the negotiations," said Carter, "but he has to make sure once [Secretary of State] John Kerry comes forward with a roadmap ... that he lets the whole world know this is the United States position."

Carter: Snowden's leaks 'good for Americans to know' - USA Today 20140325

Jimmy Carterdefended the disclosures by fugitive NSA contractorEdward Snowden on Monday, saying revelations that U.S. intelligence agencies were collecting meta-data of Americans' phone calls and e-mails have been "probably constructive in the long run."

Carter, 89, was interviewed on USA TODAY's Capital Download about his new book,A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, being published Tuesday. He discussed the need to change the way the U.S. military handles sexual abuse cases, his correspondence with Pope Francis, his grandson's campaign for governor of Georgia -- his former job -- and whether Hillary Clinton would make a good president.

And he described how concern that his own e-mails are being monitored by intelligence agencies prompted him to type or write letters when he has a personal message for a foreign leader, then to mail them. Even then, he suspects the letters might be scrutinized when they pass through U.S. embassies.

"I think it's wrong," he said of the NSA program. "I think it's an intrusion on one of the basic human rights of Americans, is to have some degree of privacy if we don't want other people to read what we communicate."

Does he view Snowden, now granted asylum in Russia, as a hero or a traitor?

"There's no doubt that he broke the law and that he would be susceptible, in my opinion, to prosecution if he came back here under the law," he said. "But I think it's good for Americans to know the kinds of things that have been revealed by him and others -- and that is that since 9/11 we've gone too far in intrusion on the privacy that Americans ought to enjoy as a right of citizenship."

Carter cautioned that he didn't have information about whether some of the disclosures "may have hurt our security or individuals that work in security," adding, "If I knew that, then I may feel differently." And he said Snowden shouldn't be immune from prosecution for his actions.

"I think it's inevitable that he should be prosecuted and I think he would be prosecuted" if he returned to the United States, the former president said. "But I don't think he ought to be executed as a traitor or any kind of extreme punishment like that."

In his new book, published by Simon & Schuster,Carter details human rights abuses against women and girls around the world, often justified in the name of the Bible, the Koran and other religious texts. He called the issue "the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge," in the developing world and the United States.

He expressed fears that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year would reverse many of the gains made there in the treatment of women and girls.

"I am concerned," he said. "I think the long occupation of the United States in Afghanistan and the evolution of the right of some girls to go to school has maybe decreased the adverse consequences of Taliban domination. I don't think it will come back as bad as it was in the past, but I think it still exists."

Carter, who endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign, spoke highly of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the candidate he didn't endorse then. "I think Hillary has done a good job, obviously, as secretary of State and I think she obviously knows politics as well as anybody in America -- she and her husband together -- and I think she would make a good president."

As his 90th birthday approaches this year, he offered some thoughts on his legacy.

"One is peace," he said. "I kept peace when I was president and I try to promote peace between other people and us, and between countries that were potentially at war, between Israel and Egypt for instance. And human rights. . . . I think human rights and peace are the two things I'd like to be remembered for -- as well as being a good grandfather." And he laughed.

‘America has no functioning democracy’ – Jimmy Carter on NSA - RT 20130718

Former US President Jimmy Carter lambasted US intelligence methods as undemocratic and described Edward Snowden’s NSA leak as “beneficial” for the country.

Carter lashed out at the US political system when the issue of the previously top-secret NSA surveillance program was touched upon at the Atlantic Bridge meeting on Tuesday in Atlanta, Georgia.

"America has no functioning democracy at this moment," Carter said, according to Der Spiegel.

He also believes the spying-scandal is undermining democracy around the world, as people become increasingly suspicious of US internet platforms, such as Google and Facebook. While such mediums have normally been associated with freedom of speech and have recently become a major driving force behind emerging democratic movements, fallout from the NSA spying scandal has dented their credibility.

It’s not the first time Carter has criticized US intelligence policies. In a previous interview with
CNN, he said the NSA leaks signified that “the invasion of human rights and American privacy has gone too far." He added that although Snowden violated US law, he may have ultimately done good for the country.

"I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial."

Jimmy Carter was President of the United States from 1977 to 1981. After leaving office, he founded the Carter Center, an NGO advocating human rights. The ex-president’s human rights credentials won him Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

Carter has frequently criticized his successors in the White House. Last year, he condemned the Obama administration for the use of drone attacks in his article "A Cruel and Unusual Record" published in the New York Times.