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Will 'Top Secret America' bring reform?

Two weeks after the Post's Top Secret America series examined the government's growing counter-terrorism empire, some actions are being taken. But some say they would have expected more.

"I would have thought this series would have been a game changer of how Congress looks at intelligence," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a frequent critic of military and intelligence contractors. "I would have thought they would be having a hearing scheduled immediately. I thought people would have been asking for GAO [Government Accountability Office] reports."

The GAO is already doing some work in this area. A rundown of some other actions being taken:

*Within the House and Senate intelligence committees, there's a push to create an inspector general position that would have broad, sweeping powers to review work being done by various agencies. After some jockeying between the White House and Congress, and negotiations among lawmakers, the proposal is moving forward.

One of the idea's cheerleaders is Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a member of the Senate intelligence committee. She said The Post's series highlighted the need to "act swiftly" on the proposal.

*Also on the Hill, Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill., a member of the House intelligence committee, said she plans to help hold hearings this fall that will probe the issues raised in the series. Her worry: "we're not safer."

"We need to get control of what appears to be out of control spending and layering," she said. "I want to see if it can be a catalyst for a more robust discussion and investigation. It certainly sounds like there's a lot of duplication where the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."

*Prior to Top Secret America's publication, the GAO was already at work examining several of the issues that Priest and Arkin raised. That work includes a review of the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis; an examination of funding and privacy issues related to state and local fusion centers; and evaluating how terrorist watch lists are created and updated in light of the Dec. 25th attempted terrorist attacks.

Why not more sounding of the alarms after the Top Secret America series, some have asked?

Some contractors, Congressional staffers and think tank analysts suggested that while the series broke new ground in documenting how vast the empire had become, it covered debates that were already underway.

"You've got a portrayal of an ever-expanding, multiple-ring circus, but there's no accident where people fell off the trapeze without a net," said Gordon Adams, a former senior White House official for national security budgets under President Clinton. "The stuff that gets the public irate is when there's some malfeasance. Waste, fraud and abuse. You've got the waste, but there wasn't the fraud and abuse."

To what extent the series might ultimately affect the complex web of five dozen government organizations and military command posts that track counter-threat financing efforts, for example, remains unknown. Some observers are skeptical.

"These are fiefdoms inside a larger bureaucracy," said Mike Lewis, a financial analyst at BB&T who covers a dozen defense contractors.

"Everyone is going to try to hold on to their budget as tightly as possible. No one's going to say, 'Oh, remove X dollars from my budget because there's another agency doing nearly the same practices."

By Dana Hedgpeth  |  July 30, 2010; 2:25 PM ET
 
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Comments

What kind of post is this? The WaPost speculating on whether or not their "major journalistic undertaking" is going to bring about change so they can pat themselves on the back. Is that really what journalism has boiled down to? It's not good enough to do a nice piece of work, but it's got to be good enough to win a Pulitzer Prize or for the subject of the piece to realize the error of their ways.

The Post needs to stop thumping their chests of this piece and just admit that most people just don't care!

Posted by: Russtinator | July 30, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

In my opinion the Washington Post series that exposed the exponential increase in the size and cost of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) was not taken seriously by official Washington and is considered a minor nuisance. That is why the only response to the series, as crafted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), was largely vintage intelligence agency boilerplate with a few bizarre additions such as the claim that the collection and analysis of intelligence are not essential government functions of intelligence agencies and so can be left to contractor personal. The series did not merit a serious response in the thinking of the Executive Branch and Intelligence Community. Also it is the case that quantity always trumps quality in official Washington. A bloated IC serves as “proof” that Washington is serious about protecting America from the often referenced, but ill-defined terrorist threat.
Also it must be said that the series, although much touted, was a disappointment to many readers who were expecting a more deeply researched and insightful examination of the IC.

Posted by: retiredreader | July 30, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

"You've got the waste, but there wasn't the fraud and abuse."

No fraud? You've got to be kidding. The entire premise for the invasion and occupation of Iraq was the threat of WMDs, which we now know to be a 'fraud' at the highest levels of the US and UK governments under Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Blair. Abuse? Using the US military in a 'resource war' to gain control of Iraq oil reserves - the same reserves that Rumsfeld swore would pay for the war and even generate a profit - is not abuse? Sending these men and women on 'unprecedented' three and four deployment cycles is not abuse? The Washington Post under Murdock's control is bullsh*t propaganda 'journolism' - one step up from tabloid sensationalism. This whole "secret government" piece is fluff. Crap.

Posted by: innovator101 | July 31, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

POGO is extremely naive, and should know better than to expect this to be a spur to real action.

Posted by: axolotl | July 31, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

"You've got a portrayal of an ever-expanding, multiple-ring circus, but there's no accident where people fell off the trapeze without a net ... You've got the waste, but there wasn't the fraud and abuse."

Another ignorant and obtuse bureaucrat. Yes, Gordon, there is. You just aren't aware of it.

Posted by: Confuzus | August 1, 2010 5:14 AM | Report abuse

Arkin is a hack, a weasel filled with contrariness. The security of a home, block, community, city, county, state, region, country depend on lawful secrecy. Security is job one for every American, whether they accept it or not. Those who work in the security business are sworn to the constitution and overwatch each other to insure compliance. So Arkin is the only genuine American concerned about security or is he really just wanting to beat a horse that is dead but he cannot know because it is secret too ... Arkin the azzclown never put his life on the line for the security of our land. He is pitiful and should be living in a cabin in the forest writing stories no one cares about ...

The security of America is entrusted to people who love America to death ...

Posted by: WIDOWMAKER06 | August 1, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

"Why not more sounding of the alarms after the Top Secret America series, some have asked?"

Indeed, and Glenn Greenwald has provided the answer in his Salon column.

But of course, he can't be right because he is a paranoid left/right/center/liberterian wingnut and borderline conspiracy theorist.

This is not an orange.

Posted by: Yash1 | August 2, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

that's not a position i would trust to most people.. especially within the military / intelligence. i'm very disappointed in how these oversite committees are / have been handling things.

Posted by: jmr12 | August 3, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

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