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Top Secret America 502

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 []? 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 []. 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 poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:32AM (#32950068) Journal

      okay, so the issue here is that top secret is a requirement for a lot of things that might not be top secret. Say you're doing some kind of database for the gov't? It could be as basic as library of congress but they might require someone with top secret clearance at some level of the company.

      It's the wrong issue to focus on if you simply look at "are top secret jobs productive/worthwhile or not", essentially.

      While I am sure there are some positions that are overpaid and won government contracts for more money than the minimal BS they're doing, the bigger issue should be : why do we need this many programs top secret?

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:33AM (#32950080) Homepage

      Terror attacks will come again from other sources. It doesn't matter how much money you spend. Maybe if you spend enough to create the situation that existed in former East Germany. But do anybody really want to go there?

      And are all these measures able to take care of a terrorist like the Una Bomber [] anyway?

      • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:43PM (#32952550) Homepage Journal

        Much of the anti-terrorist hysteria reminds me of the tiger repelling rock. The fact is that terrorist attacks were few and far between before 9/11 and probably would have remained so after. The tactics used on 9/11 didn't even remain effective for the entire duration of the attack simply due to the civilian response. Evidence suggests that it wouldn't have been effective at all but for the bad advice from our government that the first few plane's worth of passengers followed.

        Locks on cockpit doors make sense, and no longer telling civilians that passivity works make sense. The rest including the war on clean hair and proper hydration as well as the color coded chart telling us how terrified to be need to be scrapped.

        It's too bad all the airport security crap can't be re-purposed as medical scanners so we could address an actual problem (expensive healthcare) that actually causes people to die.

        Most of the stuff is marked top secret so they can severely punish anyone who points out that they're naked.

  • Correction (Score:3, Funny)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:51AM (#32949578) Homepage Journal

    detailing the companies and Government agencies currently doing previously Top Secret work in the United States.


  • Hmm! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NeoThermic ( 732100 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:52AM (#32949580) Homepage Journal

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

    The day after 9/11 I found a rock. I've kept this rock with me every day since then. Could it be more that this rock prevents terrorism?

    Will people ever learn that correlation does not imply causation?

    • Re:Hmm! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:56AM (#32949624)

      i'll give you $30 for the rock.

    • For most Americans, the day after 9/11 they found Iraq.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      In fairness, that rock is probably just as capable of preventing terrorist acts as the permanently-orange threat-level rainbow...
    • Re:Hmm! (Score:4, Informative)

      by andyring ( 100627 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @11:11AM (#32951274) Homepage

      Ummm, have you forgotten the Fort Hood shooting by Nidal Malik Hasan last November? 13 dead, 30 injured, by a Muslim terrorist who was basically a sleeper agent inside the US Military? Or the attempted car bomb in Times Square back in May (the fact that it didn't go off had nothing to do with any efforts by our intelligence forces)?

    • It's a common error to say that correlation does not imply causation. In fact, correlation need not imply causation. There's a subtle difference here, because sometimes correlation does imply causation--that is, when there is a reasonable causal link. A better way to put it is that correlation doesn't prove causation. At best, it gives you a clue that can then be followed up on. But it's the height of foolishness to say that trillions of dollars spent on the suppression of terror has no link whatsoever
  • 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.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Grygus ( 1143095 )
        I think the prevailing attitude is that if you don't have the clearance to know who has that clearance, then you probably don't actually need people with that clearance.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by blincoln ( 592401 )

        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 c

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons ( 302214 )

        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)

        Partly wrong on the first, correct on the second.

        Clearances expire if you exceed the periodicity requirements for renewal (though I forget the length of the period). This can happen even if you're currently cleared at that level - my submarine got dinged hard because one guy's paperwork slipped through the cracks at the end of a yard period result

  • Having the clearance doesn't immediately give you the access. You can't complete the certification process, and then stroll into FBI headquarters and ask for a list of undercover agents. TS clearance has been added as a necessity for many IT positions that don't actually access the data they're responsible for maintaining or retrieving, for example.

    Are we 'safer'? Maybe. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Those who would trade safety for freedom deserve neither.”

  • by blackpaw ( 240313 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:56AM (#32949620)

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

    Is the submitter a complete idiot? remember those little letters full of Anthrax much?

    Why do people keep saying this? its a completely weird oversight, especially as it was never credibly settled.

    • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:03AM (#32949686) Homepage

      Oh, and let's also ignore the Fort Hood shootings [], and accept the "on US soil" qualification. Then you might as well be saying "Fuck the troops. Fuck them in their stupid foreign-posted asses. Better them than me."

      If this is "success", then what would failure look like?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by daid303 ( 843777 )

        If this is "success", then what would failure look like?

        Freedom of the people.

      • by bsDaemon ( 87307 )

        Isn't that just the crude way of saying "fight them over here so they don't fight us over here" or whatever Bush's stupid catch-phrase was? Actually, isn't that also the whole point behind maintaining a professional, standing army rather than a citizen's militia?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kilfarsnar ( 561956 )
      Or the DC Snipers? This is another example of people hearing something so much that they internalize it and treat it as fact. It's like when people thought that Sadam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. The government and media want you to think that so they keep saying it or alluding to it until people think it's true.
  • by RJarett ( 114128 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @08:58AM (#32949632)

    The site statistics and information are incredibly misleading. Simply because 1m hold TS clearance, or the right to gain TS clearance for an SCI level job, does not mean 1m people are actively working in the industry.

    With so many contractors such as Lockheed, CSC, OAO, etc... you have thousands which may hold clearance but they are not at the moment on a project. When I was working for CSC, in the span of a few years, I was on a dozen different projects. Some non-classified, some were. Not all were for the Gov't. I still had to hold a clearance.

    Some were for the Gov't but totally benign in terms of what was worked on.

    There is a massive amount of infrastructure to run all Gov't ops, bases, local and state Gov't. Even if you want to be a janitor in many places, you have to qualify for a clearance.

    If you want to run fiber or copper cabling between buildings which house classified projects, you need to have a clearance.

    To be a receptionist at many facilities, you need to have a clearance.

    The information leads the reader to think that all 1m with TS clearance are working at the moment on nefarious projects for an evil government. While the reality is, most are simply support staff doing work that if it were any other customer, would be easily overlooked and thought down on.

    This is just another Washington Post scaremongering article by someone who makes their living off of the people she is claiming are too many in number.

  • If you consider back in 2002/3 the 'intelligence' gained turned out spurious in crucial places - this, during one of the fastest periods of 'top secret america's' growth - then no I'd say it isn't serving us ordinaries in the West very well at all. Info gathering for matters as big as what Colin Powell put forth at that time was pitiful, but did serve the ulterior motives that have been discussed at length here on Slashdot and elsewhere.

    Since intelligence gathering was tied in with those two conflicts which

  • by Anonymous Coward

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

    Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm!
    Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, dad.
    Homer: Why thank you, honey.
    Lisa: 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.
    Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?
    Homer: Hmm... Lisa, I want to bu

  • I first heard about this site through an email from work. We handle a lot of government contracts, some of which are probably secret (though I'm not involved in any of that). The email was instructing us not to visit the site. That way we could more convincingly "neither confirm nor deny" anything from that site.

  • Terrorism is rare (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:04AM (#32949706) Homepage Journal

    Huge terrorist plots bringing down buildings are rare. The PETN bomber, for example, needed a steel detonator that could compress a sizable charge of PETN significantly, otherwise PETN just burns; but getting that kind of thing into airport security is hard, even pre-9/11, since they're bulky and steel and complex and obviously bombs. Taking over a plane is hard, too; seriously, box cutters aren't necessary when you can turn a shoe lace into a strangling tool and take a stewardess hostage.

    Really, they were rare before 9/11; remember the Oklahoma thing, ad the 2 prior attempts on the new york trade centers. They're rare now.

  • by EriktheGreen ( 660160 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:05AM (#32949718) Journal

    They're kind of like the TSA... the "war on terrorism" provided an excuse for a grandstanding president with little intelligence to look like a "great statesman" by creating more, bigger government agencies that will have limited usefulness and will never shrink on their own. After all, their creation was an opportunity for elected officials to both appear to be "doing something" about terrorism and to spend a lot of money on their constituents, helping ensure their re-election.

    It's a natural human impulse to think "more is better" or "bigger is better"... I'm starting to think it's biologically rooted. At any rate, combining all the intelligence agencies into one big organization only works if all the people involved are egoless, if they all are willing to work together, and if they all don't care if they have a job tomorrow. Most people can't do this, and the folks in charge at these agencies are the ones least likely to be able to do so, especially since many of them are government appointed or union.

    The worst part is that many of the people involved with these efforts truly believe that they are doing the Right Thing, that they are the best defense against "another 9/11" and that they must be allowed to continue regardless of whether the US has the money or whether our existing laws stand in their way.

    Submitted for your consideration: Which was worse for our country... the 9/11 attack and the aftermath, or the wars, restrictions, loss of freedoms, and problems created by our own government in response to it?

    I never believed that 9/11 was anything but a horrible crime. No less than that, but certainly no more than that...

    PS: Taco, this beta release of the comments editing software needs finishing...

  • 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).

    • Sorry, that should be three successful attacks -- I forgot the shooting at LAX in 2002.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Silverhammer ( 13644 )

        Geez, it must be too early in the morning for me, because I also forgot the Washington D.C. snipers. So make that four successful attacks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The shoebomber, pantybomber and times square incident WERE SUCCESSFUL ATTACKS. The goal of terrorism is to incite fear and terror in our populace causing our country to waste money (damaging our economy) and restrict our freedoms more and more. All three achieved the larger goal. Killing people is just one of the methods to get there.
  • WWII (Score:2, Interesting)

    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 peopl
  • by thijsh ( 910751 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:08AM (#32949766) Journal
    How do you measure effectiveness indeed? An attack that never occurs can never be proven to have been prevented, only attacks that actually occur can be reviewed by civilians. So that might skew the perception, but it's the only way to rate effectiveness.

    The most recent example of a terrorist attack on US soil would be 9/11, and we know some things about the involvements of government agencies there:
    - First of all they (CIA) funded, armed and trained the people responsible (although decades before, it had a measurable influence)
    - After that their 'betrayal' and international covert operations (or more in general US involvement abroad) are mentioned by terrorist organizations as a mayor reason for their war on the US
    - And last but not least these agencies knew of an impending attack prior to 9/11 and failed to protect the civilians

    So according to my score they failed miserably! Given the absence of proof to the contrary it looks like the larger the (counter)intelligence in a country is the more likely that country will become involved in international terrorism and other unwanted unintended consequences. I'm really glad the Netherlands where I live does not have such massive covert operations, if the US is the example to go by it would probably cause more problems for us than it would ever solve...
  • And yet the haven't found Osama bin Laden or the Anthrax killer and still don't seem to have any clue who really killed JFK! Obviously, more money has to be spent on national security in order to solve these mysteries!

  • 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.

    • Re:Very difficult (Score:4, Insightful)

      by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:45AM (#32950236)

      "Turn the desert to glass would solve the whole problem in one go. "

      Somehow I think if the US exterminated over a billion people overnight it would only be the start of their problems.
      Think the world hates the US now?

      I've heard people speculating that the most successful campaign the IRA ever pulled off was one with very few casualties.
      They bombed a few train stations after giving warnings (someone was killed though) and then phoned in similar warnings (with no bombs) for months.

      When there's bombs exploding and people dying people rally around their government for protection.
      When there's no bombs exploding but the train stations keep getting closed and people keep getting delayed and being late for work they get angry at their government.

    • We already lost (Score:3, Insightful)

      by copponex ( 13876 )

      Paranoid terrorism is US foreign policy in a nutshell. The only difference between Osama bin Laden threatening to destroy America and the United States threatening to destroy Iran is that we can actually do it.

      Islamic fundamentalists love the US War on Terror. They get to train against our soldiers, drum up support from places where they had none before, like Iraq, and use our degraded moral standards in their propaganda. The moment we kidnapped and tortured a single human being, we lost the war on terror.

  • by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:23AM (#32949948) Homepage

    "With more than 854,000 people currently holding a TS clearance"

    That is a lot of people.
    Their is no way they keep much secret with that many people having access to it.

  • We cannot prove what cannot be theoretically disproved (falsified). So we cannot prove "no terrorist attacks because of Top Secret work" just because "no attacks occurred", for there is no evidence to challenge. If there were a direct link, there would be, and we would be able to.

    This is an extremely powerful fake fact generating technique that politicians are all too well aware of, and what conspiracies are made of. No one can disprove UFOs, hence they exist. No, they don't exist because there is no proof.

  • by rinoid ( 451982 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @09:28AM (#32950012)

    Listen, USA spends more than how many nations combined on "defense" ?

    It's time to END THE MADNESS now. Call your senators, representatives, neighbors, priests, doctors, whoever you think may have a pulse and explain why we should cut our defense spending today.

    America's infrastructure is crumbling, the top 1% are laughing, the rest of us are in trouble.

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @10:47AM (#32950990) Homepage Journal

    Terrorism doesn't have to have the bomb explode. It's mere presense makes for a successful attack. Was the "Times Square Bomber" successful? The answer is YES, HE WAS -- because it created a sense of "terror" to the population. The "bomb" didn't have to explode. In fact, the bomb couldn't have "exploded" because it was so poorly built, the best it could have done was burn brightly. It would have been a car-fire and nothing more, the kind you see on the Cross-Bronx expressway almost every day and ignore.

    But because it was reported as a "bomb", the populace was scared. Job done. Terror is created. The Media and the Government create more "Terror" than the actual terrorists do.

    Successful attack? It doesn't matter if the 'bomb' explodes or not. Frankly, it doesn't matter if there's even a bomb at all. Just the "act" of terrorism in any way that gets the population to be scared, change their travel plans, worry about their homes, run out and buy duct-tape and plastic sheeting, build bomb shelters, yadda-yadda, is a *successful attack* because it's done the job intended.

    And the job is to CHANGE OUR BEHAVIOR. Spend money on security theater. Waste our time fearing the bogeyman.

    Job done. Successfully. Every time.

  • TS isn't high (Score:3, Informative)

    by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @11:24AM (#32951472)
    Top Secret is not a very high level of clearance anymore. It hasn't been for a while. TS is essentially the entry level of clearance.

Thufir's a Harkonnen now.