Frontline goes inside the Washington Post's two-year examination of the huge, unwieldy, top-secret world the government has created in response to 9/11. 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. Frontline: Top Secret America airs Tuesday, September 6, at 9:00 p.m. on KUED-Channel 7.
Frontline's Michael Kirk (Bush's War) teams up with Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post journalist Dana Priest to reveal an unprecedented yet largely invisible legacy of 9/11: the creation of a vast maze of clandestine government and private agencies designed to hunt terrorists and prevent future attacks on the United States. But this maze is hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.
From drone strikes to coercive interrogation to domestic spying and secret raids by special operations forces, Top Secret America tells the story of how in the days after September 11, the White House set the framework for a covert war that would be fought in the shadows. "The desire and willingness of the government to operate in secret and to deny the public [and] the media the basic facts about what they were doing was all-inclusive," Priest says. "We were falling deeper and deeper into a secretly run government."
Priest, who won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the CIA's secret network of "black site" prisons, traced the origins of a secret American workforce of almost a million people scattered in 10,000 different locations, spending untold billions on intelligence and national security. "We have close to a million people who are living in this different world, and there weren't a million people before," Priest says. "We have a growing number of people who are doing things that you and I cannot know about. This world is growing up behind a black wall."
Priest's book, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, will be published to coincide with the Frontline broadcast.
After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.
The investigation's findings include:
* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings - about 17 million square feet of space.
* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year - a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.
These issues greatly concern some of the people in charge of the nation's security. "There has been so much growth since 9/11 that getting your arms around that - not just for the CIA, for the secretary of defense - is a challenge," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview with The Post.
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