WaPo's Blast: Post-9/11 Intel Ain't Working

| Mon Jul. 19, 2010 10:44 AM EDT

The troubled Washington Post still has some punch. On Monday morning, it unveiled a series on the growing and expensive post-9/11 intelligence system. The opening paragraph of the opening article was a knockout:

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

The story makes a critical point: This dark bureaucracy is beyond control. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the paper, "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." And senior Pentagon officials who have access to these programs—they're called "Super Users"—told the Post they cannot keep up with all the secrets. One of them:

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.

"I wasn't remembering any of it," he said.

Bottom line: this gigantic black network of government agencies and private contractors is not coordinated. So there's no way to know if the system is operating effectively. Retired Army Lt. General John Vines, who last year reviewed the Pentagon's method for tracking its most sensitive programs, said of this system, "We consequently can't effectively assess whether it is making us more safe." The series notes that the various agencies and programs produce far too much redundant and overlapping intelligence that clogs the system—meaning important intelligence is either not produced or is lost in the wash. This was the precisely the problem with intelligence before 9/11. Spending hundreds of billions of dollars since then has not redressed this fundamental flaw.

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