We chirp endlessly about the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Democrats and Republicans, but this is the Real U.S. Government: functioning in total darkness, beyond elections and parties, so secret, vast and powerful that it evades the control or knowledge of any one person or even any organization.
I have one small quibble ... which is with the "redundancy and waste" argument about multiple agencies doing the same work. This is a standard argument in favor of rationalization, and it's not always wrong. It should be noted, however, that some redundancy is actually a good thing, particularly on an issue like counter-terrorism.
The Post’s series may wind up exposing classified data, but what it mainly exposes in the first installment is the reality that we went the wrong direction five years ago in intelligence reform, and it’s costing us both money and security. While that was utterly predictable, the exposure of the reality might finally prompt Congress to return to intel reform and demand real restructuring, streamlining, and bureaucratic reduction before it really gets too late.
Leaks of highly classified information can pose a serious threat to our security. But in foreign policy reporting, leaks are also the coin of the realm. Some of them pose no danger at all. Indeed, they are a principal channel by which the public is informed, which is why the subject is so contentious. In this particular instance, there does not even appear to have been a leak. There is nothing top secret about "Top Secret America" (at least in its first installment). In this respect it is a case of falseand very smartadvertising.
This piece is about much more than dollars. It’s about what used to be called the Garrison State the impact on society of a Praetorian class of war-focused elites. Priest and Arkin call it “Top Secret America” and it’s so big, and grown so fast, that it’s replicated the problem of disconnection within the intelligence agencies that facilitated America’s vulnerability to a terrorist attack. With too many analysts and too many capabilities documenting too much, with too few filters in place to sort out the useful stuff or discover hidden connections, the information overload is its own information blackout. “We consequently can’t effectively assess whether it is making us more safe,” a retired Army three-star general who recently assessed the system tells the reporters.
More is not better, bigger is not better. Gigantism is inherently bad.
Why has this catastrophic growth occurred? There are probably several reasons, most of them embedded in our shared culture. We like big. There is an assumption in American culture that "bigger and more" must be better. We tend to assume that we can solve problems by throwing money and manpower at them. Why? We are addicted to the leveling idea. My insistence that smaller is better is typically seen as "elitist" because it implies that all people are not created equal and that some people do much better work than others, often being capable of the intuitive leaps called "intuition" by the "elitists" and "guessing" by the levelers. The levelers are in charge.
The best solution is probably not to have 60 percent of all intelligence work done by government employees. But neither, given the distribution of expertise, is an IC workforce of 95 percent government employees.
Both the Senate and the House have a chance to use Priest's series to reform the problem. The Senate will hear from DNI nominee James Clapper on Tuesday, and you can bet that he'll bring contracting reforms to the table. The House (and the White House) can resolve the logjam over the intelligence authorization act. And the public debate about a sensitive issue can finally begin.
Congrats to the WaPo for the kind of work that will actually save newspapers.