Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Secrets, Secrets Are No Fun

Homeland Securityphoto © 2006 Derek Purdy | more info (via: Wylio)
In reading some of the Washington Post's set of articles on Secret America the most surprising thing I found wasn't in their content at all. It was the fact that here existed a news piece (from an old media outlet no less) that was a long thoughtful investigative piece of journalism. It seems like just yesterday we were reading about how the news media is failing. Bravo Washington Post.
That aspect aside, the bloated intelligence community issue is a tough one to deal with, and one that has left me frustrated in thinking about. I'm sure everyone can agree that some level of secrecy is important and some level of intelligence is important, but here we are faced with a real catch-22. The only way to deal with too many oranizations in the acronym jungle is to create another agency to oversee it, this just adds more beauracracy and this new agency is very unlikely to have the same level of authory as the agencies it is suppose to manage. This leaves said regulatory agency fairly impotent and only adds to the bloat. Add another layer in that the regulatory agency probably doesn't have supreme security clearance either, so it doesn't even know about some of the groups it is suppose to regulate. This is frustrating, but not so aggravating as a few of the other phenomenon that the Post talks about.

The parts that really irritated me was the petty personal issues that some individuals seemed to be displaying. One general commented about how everyone and their mother has a security detail. I suppose this could be viewed as a job creation program, but I'm not really sold on that. In many cases I got the feeling that the lack of sharing between these agencies wasn't just due to the fact that noone knows who else is out there, but instead feelings of superiority lead to a lack of sharing. For whatever reason I find I have more patience for organization dysfunction than for people just being assy.

The next layer of difficulty I can see in this whole basket is that shrinking the intelligence community is a dangerous political move. While there is definitely a strong anti-waste feeling about the government right now, I don't think that's going to trump being seen as diminishing our national security. The irony of that is that as we can see from the Post articles, trimming the copious amount of fat off of Secret America would probably make the whole operation more effective.

It's all very frustrating, I kept thinking about Jack Bauer in CTU. He wouldn't stand for this beaucracy, but I don't really trust him either.


  1. Daniel,

    Wonderful assessment! I was also surprised on the thoroughness of the Washington Posts’ articles concerning government secrecy. The thing that really popped out at me was the complexity of the system which was designed to keep us safe.

    In the article entitled “A Hidden World, growing beyond control” an eyewitness reported that he could not take notes during a terrorist security briefing – there was simply too much information for them to remember. Now, I understand the need for security, not leaving a paper trail, and all that. But, is not the accuracy of the information presented during said briefings most important? Is it not a waste of funds, time and safety if our own agents can not remember what they are being told?

  2. The mind reels. Many of the specific facts and numbers that were presented in this week’s readings were new to me, many of them I had never considered before, but overall the level of secrecy in government was not surprising. I was impressed that there are people out there that can make some sense of it, and, I too couldn't help but grin at the Washington Post's in depth coverage of a complex and worthy issue in light of our recent discussions.

    I share your frustration with the overlap and in-fighting that seems too common in the government intelligence community. My mind kept flashing to every movie scene involving government agents of some sort of another arguing with each other over jurisdiction. At least in the movies they are always arguing over who gets to catch the bad guys; it appears in reality you also get a fair amount of "that's not our job."
    The fact that many of the intelligence employees and directors quoted said, in essence, that it is impossible to tell who is doing what and how well anything is being done is both frustrating and worrisome. Maybe overtime things will begin to straighten out - especially if the citizenry stays diligent in their monitoring of the monitors, but I don't see it happening.
    I think Dennis Blair was right when he said, "After 9/11, when we decided to attack violent extremism, we did as we so often do in this country. The attitude was, if it's worth doing, it's probably worth overdoing." And things are only going to get more complex.
    Our only hope is that government, as we get further away from 9/11, will begin to reign in the rampant intelligence complex a little at a time. But I agree with you that it is a dangerous game for any administration to play - too much, too fast and someone shouts that we are unsafe and they have just committed political suicide.

    I am so glad that I am going to be a librarian and not a politician.