When it comes to national security, do you really get what you pay for?


Thoughts on reading Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin

The little snap quiz I advertised in my last post didn’t go over well with my readers, since response was decidedly spotty. As you’ll know if you did take a look at it on SurveyMonkey, I listed acronyms for 16 supposed U.S. Government intelligence agencies and asked you to check off those you thought were real. Most people checked off the more familiar ones: CIA, FBI, NSA, DIA, DEA, NRO, ONI. One person checked all 16 — and became the only reader to pass the quiz. (No prize, though: that person didn’t actually name all the agencies.)

Here, straight from Wikipedia, is the complete list of major U.S. Government intelligence agencies — not all the agencies, mind you, just the biggest ones:

Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency (AFISRA)

Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM)

Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR)

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Coast Guard Intelligence (CGI)

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA)

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

National Security Agency (NSA)

Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A)

Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (OICI)

Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)

Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI)

Many of these agencies reside in the Department of Defense, others in Homeland Security or the Departments of State. Treasury, or Energy. The CIA is “independent.” If you can figure out why all these federal departments need to get into the job of counterterrorism, not just by cooperating with one another but by establishing their own autonomous intelligence agencies, you’re way ahead of me — and of Dana Priest and Bill Arkin, the authors of Top Secret America.

Collectively, this motley crew of organizations has spent — or, for the most part, better put, squandered — hundreds of billions of dollars since 9/11. Many of them were established after the 2001 attacks. The money has paid for a host of overlapping and duplicative efforts that employ tens of thousands of people, many of them in the private sector. Much of what this ill-considered community has done in the past decade would be viewed by any dispassionate observer as ineffective at best.

What would you guess is the possibility that this donnybrook will ever be rationalized? Consider this: the Bush Administration created the office of Director of National Intelligence (DNI)  in 2004 to coordinate all the disparate efforts. However, in fear of ruffling the feathers of the powerful people who ran all these agencies, the White House and the Congress carefully neglected to give the DNI any authority over the existing agencies. The upshot is that the Director now presides over an agency of his own with a staff of thousands in a newly built, 500,000-square-foot office building accomplishing exactly . . . nothing.

More to come, once I finish reading Top Secret America.

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Filed under Current Events, Nonfiction

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