This morning, The Washington Post began publishing it's three-part investigation into "Top Secret America"—the massive homeland security-intelligence complex that has arisen since September 11, 2001.
The investigation is the culmination of two years of work by reporters Dana Priest and William M. Arkin in an attempt to shed light on the massive intelligence and security spending initiated by the federal government in response to al Qaeda's three-pronged attack on 9-11.
"We're all aware there are three branches of government in the United States," a video introduction to the investigation intones. "But in response to 9-11, a fourth branch has emerged. It is protected from public scrutiny by extraordinary secrecy."
According to the Post investigation, nearly 1,300 government organizations use about 2,000 private contracting companies to perform work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence. To do this work, it takes security clearances, lots of them—even down to lowly janitors. The Post estimates that 854,000 people hold top-secret security clearances, a population that's 1.5 times greater than Washington, D.C.
The bureaucracy that has arisen is described as enormously unwieldy, expensive, and secretive.
The Post says its investigation has discovered "an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine."