The intelligence agencies and contractors are smart. They know how to spread the wealth around, to make sure that plenty of congressional districts have jobs and facilities. They know how to wield what you might call the 'race card' of this debate -- "we can't talk about it. it's secret. Only the Gang of 8 can know about it." The IC and contractors know that the oversight committees are too busy to get up to speed on each SIGINT cell, each cyber intrusion detection team, each fusion center geospatial analysis function that's created.
That's what makes "Top Secret America" different. It IS context. One of the funny things about James Clapper's quote about how only God knows all of the special access programs is that it is indisputably true. Anyone who's voiced concern about SAPs will get the same answer from policy makers, from members of Congress, from operators in the field. Quick: do you think that the House Armed Services Committee knows each and every special access program that controls information flowing out of the government's counterterrorism special missions units?
The intelligence community is furiously fighting back. They've produced a long document responding to some of the criticism. Many of the responses are technically correct but respond to charges that the intelligence community isn't being asked to answer. The Post story does not claim that there ought not to be ANY duplication of analytical effort; it merely points out that WITH all the duplication of effort, the Christmas Day bomb plot wasn't stopped. (The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found 16 chances for said plot to be disrupted -- 16 missed opportunities.) The story questions the wisdom of the DNI -- it does not say the DNI has done nothing.
Primarily, the Post series is questioning whether the government is fulfilling its side of this implicit secrecy bargain between the governing and the governed. The first article is a broad overview of the question; tomorrow, Priest and Arkin will delve into the world of contractors, particularly the growth of entire communities of SIGINT analytical cells near Ft. Meade, as well as the large and insatiable demand for cyber security expertise.
It is good that the IC is on the defensive. Our secrecy bargain is in everyone's interest; if it's not working, if the system is being gamed for illegal activities or for profit, then there's a problem. Unfortunately, the enormous power of the status quo and the political penalties that accompany criticism of the intelligence community have hidden the magnitude of the question from the American public. No longer. Let the debate begin.