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Useful New Resource on Surveillance Society: Top Secret America

Yesterday morning, a team of Washington Post journalists unveiled a major new resource called Top Secret America: A Hidden World, Growing Beyond Control. A series of connected web pages identify and connected various government agencies and private companies that are engaged in erecting a new classified surveillance structure in the United States.

The amount of information contained in these pages is initially overwhelming, and it may be hard at first to figure out how useful the information might be. For instance, below is a static copy of Top Secret America’s “interactive” map — to zoom in and use other features, click on the map to be taken to the original website:

Top Secret America Map of government and corporate classified installations

Unfortunately, the “zoom” and search by city features are of limited utility because zoomed-in maps (with the notable exception of the Washington, DC area) don’t provide any more detail. It’s perhaps understandable, but there aren’t any names and addresses of facilities or involved corporations or government agencies on the map, no matter how closely one zooms in. But even in the national aggregate, the map tells us a lot. For instance, while these classified organizations are clustered around Washington DC, they’re also distributed in every state, no matter how small that state is in size or population, making these classified industries part of the constituency for members of Congress from every state. The bar below the map with the distribution of classified installations for various government agencies tells us that the parts of government that are least accountable to democratic processes are most in charge of classified activity.

The aspect of the Top Secret America website I think will be of most use is the search function which allows one to find companies or government agencies by type of work or location. Using this function, I can quickly generate a list of 32 government agencies and 36 companies involved in classified activity related to the “War on Drugs”. For each of those agencies and companies, I’m informed of headquarters location and other contextual information. This kind of data would prove useful in determining, say, whether a correlation exists between campaign contributions from companies involved with the “War on Drugs” and a congresscritter’s policy actions regarding the same.

The Washington Post has written a series of news articles connecting the dots in this data in various fashions as well:

… In June, a stone carver from Manassas chiseled another perfect star into a marble wall at CIA headquarters, one of 22 for agency workers killed in the global war initiated by the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The intent of the memorial is to publicly honor the courage of those who died in the line of duty, but it also conceals a deeper story about government in the post-9/11 era: Eight of the 22 were not CIA officers at all. They were private contractors.

To ensure that the country’s most sensitive duties are carried out only by people loyal above all to the nation’s interest, federal rules say contractors may not perform what are called “inherently government functions.” But they do, all the time and in every intelligence and counterterrorism agency, according to a two-year investigation by The Washington Post.

What started as a temporary fix in response to the terrorist attacks has turned into a dependency that calls into question whether the federal workforce includes too many people obligated to shareholders rather than the public interest — and whether the government is still in control…

If you’re interested at all in the expansion of the Homeland Security state, this resource is worth more than a casual look.

2 thoughts on “Useful New Resource on Surveillance Society: Top Secret America”

  1. Hendrix says:

    Speaking before the Senate about the Post’s great report, the nominee to take over all intelligence agencies, a Mr. Clapper, said,
    “I didn’t agree with some of that — I think there was some breathless and shrillness to it that I don’t subscribe to,” he said.

    He also said he was “very concerned about the security implications” of the second part of the series in “making it easy for adversaries to point out the locations of contractors”.

    So you see, apparently the only problem with the intelligence bureaucracy is that people report on its expansiveness.

    1. Jim says:

      My, my! I had no idea databases could be “shrill.”

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