Nearly 1 million top-secret security clearances... Who says America can't create jobs?

The Great Depression really ended only when World War II forced economies back to life. Now that America has outsourced most of our former manufacturing might, government is paying white collar college grads to spy on fellow Americans.

The U.S. government has purchased hundreds of billions of dollars of computers, software and networking equipment (unconstitutionally) used to collect and store incomprehensibly large databases of information about you, me and everyone we know. These purchases put food in the mouths — or, more accurately, skis on the feet and European vacation tickets in the hands — of IBM and SAIC employees' children.

Government largesse is also bankrolling several million deskbound spies, an extrapolation I base on the fact that nearly 1 million hold top-secret clearances:

  • Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

  • An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

  • In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.

  • Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

  • Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.

This looks like make-work public works projects for yuppies because even intelligence insiders with the greatest access to the information generated confess to being perplexed why the system is gathering so much “intelligence”:

“There has been so much growth since 9/11 that getting your arms around that – not just for the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], but for any individual, for the director of the CIA, for the secretary of defense – is a challenge,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview with The Post last week.

In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials – called Super Users – have the ability to even know about all the department’s activities. But as two of the Super Users indicated in interviews, there is simply no way they can keep up with the nation’s most sensitive work.

“I’m not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything” was how one Super User put it. The other recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn’t take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled ‘'Stop!“ in frustration….

Even the analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which is supposed to be where the most sensitive, most difficult-to-obtain nuggets of information are fused together, get low marks from intelligence officials for not producing reports that are original, or at least better than the reports already written by the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency or Defense Intelligence Agency.

When Maj. Gen. John M. Custer was the director of intelligence at U.S. Central Command, he grew angry at how little helpful information came out of the NCTC. In 2007, he visited its director at the time, retired Vice Adm. John Scott Redd, to tell him so. “I told him that after 4 ½ years, this organization had never produced one shred of information that helped me prosecute three wars!” he said loudly.

This would be comical, were it not so expensive and invasive. It perfectly illustrates Fred Brooks' famous line that “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

During the Clinton presidency, America talked about how to spend “the peace dividend.” After 9/11, military and intelligence contracting skyrocketed. Corporate welfare recipients like Raytheon could not have conceived a more effective profit booster than 9/11, which has spawned an entire domestic spy industry that costs a fortune, produces little obvious value, violates the U.S. Constitution, and invades the privacy of all Americans.

Posted by James on Tuesday, July 20, 2010