The Washington Post this morning has a must-read story illustrating how massive, unwieldy and redundant the federal government’s post-9/11 security mission has become — and questioning whether it’s actually made us safer. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dana Priest and writer William Arkin’s three-part, two year investigation found that “after nine years of unprecedented spending and growth”:
- Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence at about 10,000 locations nationwide.
- About 854,000 people hold top secret security clearances.
- In the Washington area, 33 complexes for top secret intelligence work — the equivalent of three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — are under construction or have been built since 9/11.
- 51 different federal organizations and military commands in 15 U.S. cities are all assigned the same job — to track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
- One senior official in the Defense Department — a so-called Super User with the rare authority to have total knowledge of the department’s intelligence workings — became overwhelmed at the amount of information being dumped on him in his first briefing, threw up his hands and yelled, “Stop!”
- Because of the crushing bureaucratic secrecy surrounding the homeland security, counterterrorism and intelligence mission — secrecy that in some cases undermines the chain of command — nobody knows exactly how much it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs it has or how many of those programs are redundant.
The Post’s article raises good questions about whether the government — desperate to show results after the Sept. 11 sneak attack — has grown its counterterrorism apparatus so large that it risks collapsing under its own weight. “These are not academic questions,” Priest and Arkin write. “Lack of focus, not lack of resources, was at the heart of the Fort Hood shooting that left 13 dead, as well as the Christmas Day bomb attempt thwarted not by the thousands of analysts employed to find lone terrorists but by an alert airline passenger who saw smoke coming from his seatmate.”
The intelligence community is already firing back at the Post. Acting Director of National Intelligence David Gompert this morning released a statement saying “The reporting does not reflect the intelligence community we know,” but did not challenge any of the article’s specific findings. And last week, someone in the intel community leaked an ODNI memo to the Washington Times that expressed concern that the Post was going to reveal sensitive information. (The Times published the memo under the headline, “Is Wash Post harming intelligence work?” drawing dozens of frothing, angry comments.)
ABC News today reported that strife is growing between CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and the White House, and said Panetta might not be at Langley for much longer. The CIA and Obama administration are officially denying any shakeup, but ABC says Panetta let loose a profanity-laced tirade at the White HouseÂ last month over the Justice Department’s possible investigation into CIA torture of terrorism suspects and threatened to quit. And that’s not all:
In addition to concerns about the CIA’s reputation and its legal exposure, other White House insiders say Panetta has been frustrated by what he perceives to be less of a role than he was promised in the administration’s intelligence structure. Panetta has reportedly chafed at reporting through the director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, according to the senior adviser who said Blair is equally unhappy with Panetta.
“Leon will be leaving,” predicted a former top U.S. intelligence official, citing the conflict with Blair. The former official said Panetta is also “uncomfortable” with some of the operations being carried out by the CIA that he did not know about until he took the job.
[...] Six other current and former senior intelligence officials said they too had been briefed about Panetta’s frustrations in the job, including dealing with his former Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives.
One of the officials said the White House had begun informal discussions with candidates who were runners-up to Panetta in the CIA director selection process last year.
One of the candidates reportedly has begun a series of preparatory briefings.
Charles Freeman, who was President Barack Obama’s pick to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council, is blaming a so-called “Israel lobby” for orchestrating strong online opposition to his appointment. Freeman was criticized for his connections to the Saudi-funded Middle East Policy Council, past statements critical of Israel, and his perceived leniency on the Chinese government’s repression of political dissent.
Freeman released a statement Tuesday after taking himself out of the running:
I have concluded that the barrage of libelous distortions of my record would not cease upon my entry into office. The effort to smear me and to destroy my credibility would instead continue. I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country.
The National Intelligence Council advises the President and the Director of National Intelligence on mid- and long-term strategy.
President-elect Barack Obama just formally named Dennis Blair and Leon Panetta as his picks to be the next Director of National Intelligence and Director of Central Intelligence, respectively.
The choice of Panetta has been especially controversial, since he has no experience inside the intelligence world. In his comments today, Obama said that Panetta, a former White House chief of staff and Office of Management and Budget director,Â was chosen for his management skills and to restore the CIA’s clout:
He has handled intelligence daily at the very highest levels, and time and again he has demonstrated sound judgment, grace under fire and complete integrity. … He will be a strong manager and a strong advocate for the CIA. He knows how to focus resources where they are needed, and he has a proven track record of building consensus and working on a bipartisan basis with Congress.
Obama also said that the current DNI, Michael McConnell, will advise him as a member of the Foeign Intelligence Advisory Board. Michael Leiter will remain as head of the National Counterterrorism Center. And John Brennan — who was expected to head the CIA until concerns over his attitudes towards torture caused him to take his name out of the running — will be Obama’s homeland security advisor and deputy national secretary adviser for counterterrorism.