Lots of folks are submitting the big interactive investigative report
put out by the Washington Post, detailing the massive bureaucratic mess that has become the US's anti-terrorism operations
. Basically, since September 11, 2001, when the government (reasonably) agreed to devote more resources to the counter-terrorism, it's been an opportunity for both government employees and the private sector to build up giant, well-funded bureaucratic entities that have little to no oversight, and quite frequently seem to overlap with what others are doing:
In all, at least 263 organizations have been created or reorganized as a response to 9/11. Each has required more people, and those people have required more administrative and logistic support: phone operators, secretaries, librarians, architects, carpenters, construction workers, air-conditioning mechanics and, because of where they work, even janitors with top-secret clearances.
With so many more employees, units and organizations, the lines of responsibility began to blur. To remedy this, at the recommendation of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, the George W. Bush administration and Congress decided to create an agency in 2004 with overarching responsibilities called the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to bring the colossal effort under control.
While that was the idea, Washington has its own ways.
The first problem was that the law passed by Congress did not give the director clear legal or budgetary authority over intelligence matters, which meant he wouldn't have power over the individual agencies he was supposed to control.
The second problem: Even before the first director, Ambassador John D. Negroponte, was on the job, the turf battles began. The Defense Department shifted billions of dollars out of one budget and into another so that the ODNI could not touch it, according to two senior officials who watched the process. The CIA reclassified some of its most sensitive information at a higher level so the National Counterterrorism Center staff, part of the ODNI, would not be allowed to see it, said former intelligence officers involved.
The article then notes that, despite the fact that ODNI is supposed to be coordinating everything "today, many officials who work in the intelligence agencies say they remain unclear about what the ODNI is in charge of."
So, there are turf battles with little oversight and lots of focus on status symbols, rather than actually getting stuff done:
It's not only the number of buildings that suggests the size and cost of this expansion, it's also what is inside: banks of television monitors. "Escort-required" badges. X-ray machines and lockers to store cellphones and pagers. Keypad door locks that open special rooms encased in metal or permanent dry wall, impenetrable to eavesdropping tools and protected by alarms and a security force capable of responding within 15 minutes. Every one of these buildings has at least one of these rooms, known as a SCIF, for sensitive compartmented information facility. Some are as small as a closet; others are four times the size of a football field.
SCIF size has become a measure of status in Top Secret America, or at least in the Washington region of it. "In D.C., everyone talks SCIF, SCIF, SCIF," said Bruce Paquin, who moved to Florida from the Washington region several years ago to start a SCIF construction business. "They've got the penis envy thing going. You can't be a big boy unless you're a three-letter agency and you have a big SCIF."
SCIFs are not the only must-have items people pay attention to. Command centers, internal television networks, video walls, armored SUVs and personal security guards have also become the bling of national security.
"You can't find a four-star general without a security detail," said one three-star general now posted in Washington after years abroad. "Fear has caused everyone to have stuff. Then comes, 'If he has one, then I have to have one.' It's become a status symbol."
But is this working? Well, it doesn't sound like it. Rather than finding the ever important terrorist needles in the haystack, it sounds like they're just creating more and more haystacks:
In Yemen, the commandos set up a joint operations center packed with hard drives, forensic kits and communications gear. They exchanged thousands of intercepts, agent reports, photographic evidence and real-time video surveillance with dozens of top-secret organizations in the United States.
That was the system as it was intended. But when the information reached the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington for analysis, it arrived buried within the 5,000 pieces of general terrorist-related data that are reviewed each day. Analysts had to switch from database to database, from hard drive to hard drive, from screen to screen, just to locate what might be interesting to study further.
As military operations in Yemen intensified and the chatter about a possible terrorist strike increased, the intelligence agencies ramped up their effort. The flood of information into the NCTC became a torrent.
As we noted earlier this year, this is why the government missed
the guy who tried to blow up a plane on Christmas day. They had all the data. But there was such a backlog, they couldn't actually piece it all together.
Oh, and beyond the fact that that this "Secret America" has hired hundreds of thousands of people doing overlapping work that just makes everything more confusing, the focus on status symbols and things like SCIFs might make you wonder who's doing the actual work. You probably don't want to know:
Among the most important people inside the SCIFs are the low-paid employees carrying their lunches to work to save money. They are the analysts, the 20- and 30-year-olds making $41,000 to $65,000 a year, whose job is at the core of everything Top Secret America tries to do....
When hired, a typical analyst knows very little about the priority countries - Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan - and is not fluent in their languages. Still, the number of intelligence reports they produce on these key countries is overwhelming, say current and former intelligence officials who try to cull them every day. The ODNI doesn't know exactly how many reports are issued each year, but in the process of trying to find out, the chief of analysis discovered 60 classified analytic Web sites still in operation that were supposed to have been closed down for lack of usefulness. "Like a zombie, it keeps on living" is how one official describes the sites.
So you have four star generals fighting over who has a bigger security detail, while a bunch of recent college grads with little experience produce the "analysis." Fantastic.
And given our recent stories about cyberwar hype
, this story provides a bit more background. Cyberwar is, of course, the hot thing, so all of these different groups are all shoving each other aside to pitch themselves as cyberwar experts to get more money to garner more status symbols.
In the meantime, it's not at all clear that this deluge of information is actually making anyone safer. We've already discussed how adding more haystacks doesn't make it any easier to find the terrorist needle, but it doesn't even appear that all this "top secret" security is all that secure. In a separate story, Jim Harper
points out the news of a security researcher who created a fictitious, but cute, information security woman
, who used social engineering and social networking tricks to build up all sorts of connections within the security world, including top security experts, military personnel and staff at intelligence agencies and defense contractors.
Ms. Sage's connections invited her to speak at a private-sector security conference in Miami, and to review an important technical paper by a NASA researcher. Several invited her to dinner. And there were many invitations to apply for jobs.
"If I can ever be of assistance with job opportunities here at Lockheed Martin, don't hesitate to contact me, as I'm at your service," one executive at the company told her.
One soldier uploaded a picture of himself taken on patrol in Afghanistan containing embedded data revealing his exact location. A contractor with the NRO who connected with her had misconfigured his profile so that it revealed the answers to the security questions on his personal e-mail account.
"This person had a critical role in the intelligence community," Mr. Ryan said. "He was connected to key people in other agencies."
So for all this massive new security infrastructure, totally hidden from public view, it's easy to infiltrate parts of it with some cute photos of a non-existent woman. Fantastic.