This week, The Washington Post is publishing a series called “Top Secret America” on the “secret world” of federal intelligence agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), various agencies within the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and others. The series is based on a two-year investigation into America’s intelligence world intended to uncover and expose the problems within it.
The first installment of the series, which came out yesterday, introduces the series by describing how the sheer size of the intelligence community makes it nearly impossible to determine its effectiveness. To give some examples of the vastness and complexity of the community, according to the Post, 854,000 people (or 1.5 times the population of Washington, D.C.) hold top-secret security clearances, and national security work is carried out by 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private contractors.
The second installment, which came out today, delves deeper into the large amount of private contractors hired to perform national security and intelligence work. Around 265,000 of the 854,000 people with top-secret clearances are contractors; since 9-11, they can be found in every intelligence agency doing every sort of security work. This comes at great cost to the taxpayers and creates a risk by giving top-secret clearance to people who are not government officials, and creates the potential for conflicts of interest as experienced federal employees switch over to the private sector to make more money. POGO has been very outspoken in advocating for greater oversight of private contractors; we are happy to see the Post shedding light on this important issue.
As we noted earlier this afternoon, POGO hopes that the Post’s efforts help Congress and those in the intelligence community recognize the necessity of granting the Government Accountability Office (GAO) the authority to audit the intelligence community—and that ultimately this will help create a more secure and accountable government.
UPDATE: We'd be remiss if we didn't point out that Timothy Shorrock has broken a lot of ground on this issue.