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Top Secret America 502

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-have-a-secret dept.
mahiskali writes "The Washington Post published an immense interactive website today, detailing the companies and government agencies currently doing top secret work in the United States. Everything from counter-IED operations to human intelligence is touched upon. Citing various interviews with 'super users' and through exhaustive analysis of public records for over two years, this interactive site allows users to peer into the guarded world of top secret intelligence. With more than 854,000 people currently holding a TS clearance, has the defense and intelligence world grown too big, too fast? Or has this large growth served us well, exemplified by no successful terrorist acts on US soil since 9/11? How can we judge the success of these programs, when much of it will never be known by the general public?"
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Top Secret America

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  • How can we judge the success of these programs, when much of it will never be known by the general public?

    I thought the effectiveness of intelligence and homeland security spending were periodically reported on and covered by the GAO [gao.gov]? Then you'd get congressional hearings on bad years and large contracts like the FBI's Virtual Case File System (complete failure)?

    Seems to be a lot of hype. Yeah, we know the contractors soak up a lot of your tax dollars. Yeah, I know you can use black and white footage to make it look evil and interview your own reporters to sell newspapers and ads. You might be correct saying that there has been too much spending since 9/11 on this stuff but how does revealing contracts and small businesses associated with the government help this situation?

    Also, I'd like to point out that this appears to be a three part story running Mon-Tues-Wed with a PBS Frontline one hour special on it [pbs.org]. Evidently, PBS and the WP think the little stuff you know about national security is going to aid you in your decision to determine whether or not your tax dollars are being appropriately spent. Good luck.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:53AM (#32949586) Homepage Journal

    That number mey be exaggerated; it's possible it includes me, as I held a TS clearance in the USAF almost 40 years ago. It may even be likely. Just because a person holds a clearance doesn't mean they actually know anything, even with a clearance you're only briefed on a "need to know" basis. If it does include me, it includes anyone who was ever stationed at Utapao, Thailand during the Vietnam war, since some secret recon gear was there. It also likely includes anyone who was ever stationed at a SAC base.

    If this is so, 854k people doesn't seem quite so outrageous; it may sinply be the people still living who were investigated, cleared, and trained (you have to get training to get a TS clearance).

  • by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:05AM (#32949724)
    Clearances expire if they aren't being actively used. (although I imagine it'd be easier to reactivate an old clearance than it would be to get a new one)

    You're right about the "need to know". Top Secret is only a starting point. After that, you get special clearances for specific projects. Even the names of some of these clearances are secret. I know of a guy that lost *all* of his clearances simple for listing his special clearances on his resume. Which makes finding people interesting. If you're a contractor needing people with QizBang clearance, you're not allowed to advertise for people with that clearance, and they aren't allowed to say they have it. ***

    *** It's been twenty years since I've done anything that needed clearances. The DoD may have now have a secret clearing house where spy employers and employees can meet. If not, it should start one.
  • by Silverhammer (13644) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:05AM (#32949726)

    Or has this large growth served us well, exemplified by no successful terrorist acts on US soil since 9/11?

    There have been numerous terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11, two successful (e.g., Fort Hood, Little Rock) and the rest foiled only by the attackers' own incompetence (e.g., Shoebomber, Pantybomber, Times Square).

  • WWII (Score:2, Interesting)

    by crow_t_robot (528562) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:07AM (#32949762)
    I would argue that SECRECY was more profound during eras like World War II when things like the "Loose Lips Sink Ships" posters were in public areas like commercial shopping places and the general public was warned about not communicating ANY info about local projects like scrap drives to anyone they didn't trust.

    As a note, I hold a clearance and most of the stuff that is classified is just ridiculous. Of course, there is the problem of classification due to aggregation of info, but seriously, most people would not believe what the majority of classified information encompasses.
  • by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:10AM (#32949786)
    Worse, if the latest research [cnneffect.net] (Warning: PDF research paper) on journalist standards at "credible" newspapers like Washington Post/NYT is any indication, we can't even trust anything that isn't secret to be reported correctly inside "Top Secret America". Sad, very sad, but at least the rapidly growing internet journalism is showing them up [editorsweblog.org]...
  • by playcat (1723020) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:17AM (#32949864)
    Phew... I sincerely hope you're writing this as irony.

    They found Iraq for totally different reasons. I live in Bosnia, and am almost everyday watching news about terrorist training camps in Bosnia. And US troops are here. Doing nothing about it.

    Come on, it's just politics... Maybe Americans found Iraq after 9/11, but that's only because US gov pointed their finger over there... Average American could have found Iraq during primary school, if they actually cared enough to know.
  • Very difficult (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:22AM (#32949930) Journal

    There has been no 9/11 since 9/11 BUT there also was no 9/11 BEFORE 9/11

    The point is, terrorists are NOT like regular soldiers who are expected to keep up a steady attack to defeat the enemey. All a terrorist has to do is create terror. As long as you are afraid of a terrorist, the terrorist has done his job.

    Or to turn the roles around, partisans who fought the germans were NOT judged on the number of germans they killed but on how many german soldiers they kept away from the front lines. The allies played this game to great effect, weakening the german army by forcing them to fight on all fronts at the same time. Every soldier that had to patrol "safe" ground was a soldier not fighting the allies. That is PART of the reason for city bombardments, every AA gun defending cities was not blowing up tanks.

    So, how have terrorist managed to affect the US BEFORE 9/11 and AFTER 9/11?

    There have been terror attacks before including on US targets, but the average US citizen failed to be afraid of them... well except for celebs being afraid to fly to europe from time to time.

    Post 9/11 the average US citizen, or at least the people who claim to speak for them, have become afraid. Job done as far as the terrorists are concerned. No succesful new attacks are needed. They might even be counter productive. Shoe bomber and the nigerian just harm the cause because they look silly and you might get the Israel effect, were the population doesn't care anymore and just votes to have muslims shot on sight (move to far right in Israely politics). Last thing the terrorists want is to really piss of the US to the point that nukes start flying. Turn the desert to glass would solve the whole problem in one go.

    To many attacks and terror looses its meaning, people just demand vengeance. See the total failure of city bombings in europe to demoralize the public. Nukes were needed in Japan to achieve it. 8 million vietnamese citizens killed by the US and the US still lost that war. Terror is overrated in volume. Small attacks that are rare but people still think could happen any moment are scary.

    Think Doom 3. Yeah yeah, lights go out, I turn around and BOOM BOOM, dead enemy. Yawn.

    There have been failed and successful attack before 9/11 and after. Most likely all the security isn't changing the numbers in any real way.

    And it doesn't have to be in the US. If the madrid bombings stopped US citizens from travelling abroad: Mission accomplished.

    That is way a handful of terrorists/freedom fighters can tie up a large army... and why armies fighting them often resort to killing civilians in retribution.

  • by perhj (68103) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:41AM (#32950174)

    Reminds me of the following scene from The Simpson's:
    Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol is working like a charm!
    Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, dad. By your logic, I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
    Homer: Hmm. How does it work?
    Lisa: It doesn’t work, it’s just a stupid rock!
    Homer: Uh-huh.
    Homer (after a moment's thought): Lisa, I want to buy your rock

    It could well be that the ridiculous sums of money spent on "Homeland Security" (a phrase that creeps the fuck out of me) is indeed money well spent. But please allow me to posit that the terrorist threat is actually McCarthy-esque bogeyman. Nevertheless, if the people of the US truly want to be (as opposed to feel) more safe, the best policy just might be to refrain from meddling in other countries' affairs quite so much...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:53AM (#32950302)

    For that matter, you could also count the May 2010 bombing of a mosque in Florida [crooksandliars.com]. But bombings are the work of lone nuts, not terrorists, right? Like the Anthrax scare... it was just a lone nut, not an organized group of terrorists, or so each of the narratives about "persons of interest" has told. And Ft. Hood... was he a terrorist or a psychiatrist in need of some "Physician Heal Thyself?"

    The DC snipers ended up being two lone nuts cooperating in a lonely, nutty fashion, not terrorists.

    The name of "terrorist" is applied when convenient.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @10:35AM (#32950820)

    That number mey be exaggerated; it's possible it includes me, as I held a TS clearance in the USAF almost 40 years ago. It may even be likely. Just because a person holds a clearance doesn't mean they actually know anything, even with a clearance you're only briefed on a "need to know" basis.

    Around here (university campus), we use Top Secret clearance instead of a background check. If you can come up with a semi-legitimate justification for TS clearance - like access to rooms in which TS work is done for maintenance purposes - then the FBI will run a thorough background check. To get the same thing through a private security service costs thousands of dollars.

  • Re:Hmm! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shakrai (717556) * on Monday July 19, 2010 @10:42AM (#32950916) Journal

    Comparing public outrage to institutionalized discrimination is disingenuous. The United States has it's share of people that are intolerant towards other faiths yet our government isn't busy drafting laws to control what kind of Houses of Worship can be built (the Swiss minaret ban) or what kind of clothing can be worn (the French legislation). You've literally got national governments in Europe that are concerning themselves with the clothes that people wear. That's absurd and frightening.

  • by blincoln (592401) on Monday July 19, 2010 @10:59AM (#32951116) Homepage Journal

    It's been twenty years since I've done anything that needed clearances. The DoD may have now have a secret clearing house where spy employers and employees can meet. If not, it should start one.

    When we had an open position in my group at work earlier this year, one of the candidates had spent most of his career working for organizations that required those kind of clearances. Maybe if I worked for a spy agency, there would be something available like you describe, but he said there was literally no way he could tell anyone about what he'd worked on. We've had a couple of people with TS or above clearance (because of past work), and apparently even if they had the same clearances for previous work and got together alone in the same secure room, they still couldn't discuss it outside the oversight of the government.

    It was kind of frustrating for both parties. How can you prove to a potential employer that you know your line of work when you can't tell them what you've done for the last decade?

  • Re:Hmm! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Shakrai (717556) * on Monday July 19, 2010 @11:58AM (#32951914) Journal

    Then, I might point out that blowing up a mosque might offend you, but unless you are standing in the mosque, it hardly harms you.

    Stop being an idiot.

    Much of Islam is at war against the United States.

    Bullshit. A handful of extremists != 'much of Islam'

    Allowing a Mosque at Ground Zero would be the equivalent of allowing the Emperor of Japan to plant his Rising Sun flag on the USS Arizon monument.

    The Arizona memorial is public land that's run by the National Park Service. The land near Ground Zero is privately owned and can be used for any purpose that's allowed under the NYC zoning law. You'll note that there's nothing stopping you from planting a Rising Sun flag on any private property in Hawaii.

    There will be no mosque at Ground Zero, unless and until Islam takes control of those extremists that claim to act for Islam

    And which central Islamic authority exists that has control over these extremists?

    Some redneck will be around to destroy any mosque.

    Then he will be punished to the full extent of the law.

  • Re:Hmm! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:26PM (#32952290) Homepage Journal

    No one claimed to be offended by the existence of the Shinto religion - except you. What I am offended by, is the establishment of the Emperor's official religion on a site where the Emperor authorized the murder of a couple thousand American citizens.

    The fact that you are offended by the existence of religion in general has no bearing on the fact that we suffered a military defeat at Pearl, and that many people would object to a Japanese temple being erected on the site of that defeat.

  • by eugene ts wong (231154) on Monday July 19, 2010 @01:35PM (#32953246) Homepage Journal

    Don't forget the wall between the state and the other institutions.
    * state and educational institutions
    * state and health care providers

    I'm sure that there are more.

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