Wednesday, September 7, 2011

National Security costs, duplications and secrecy depict U.S. paranoia after 9/11

From the NPR website, September 7, 2011
On today's (September 6th) Fresh Air, Washington Post national security reporter Dana Priest, the co-author of both the Post's investigative series and the book Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, joins Terry Gross for a discussion about how the "terrorism industrial complex" created in response to the Sept. 11 attacks grew to be so big.

"The government said, 'We're facing an enemy we don't understand, we don't have the tools to deal with it, here's billions ... of dollars and a blank check after that for anybody with a good idea to go and pursue it,' " she says. "Not only does the government find it difficult to get its arms around itself, [but now] it doesn't know what's inside, it doesn't know what works, it doesn't know what doesn't work. And nobody still, 10 years later, is really in charge of those questions."

Priest and fellow Post reporter William Arkin found that many security and intelligence agencies do the same work. For example, there are 51 federal organizations and military commands, she says, that track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
"So what you have are good-hearted people and companies and employees who are doing what they think they can get paid for and what might help but so much of it is reinventing the wheel that another organization has already reinvented five times," she says.
Because much of the counterterrorism work is classified, she says, there's no room for the public to have any kind of oversight into the process. That role falls largely (to) those with security clearances and the intelligence committees within Congress.
"So you and I cannot pressure government to do better," she says. "The interest groups that weigh in on every other subject matter in our governments cannot weigh in, in any public manner. So you get this cabal of people who have clearances and they weigh in — and that cabal, unfortunately, includes a profit motive because there are so many companies whose livelihoods depend on a continued flow of money to them — because [right after Sept. 11] the government relied on contractors to do the work ... [because] Congress and the White House didn't want it to appear like they were growing government while they were asking the government to do much more."
Many of the contractors that the government hired to do counterintelligence and security work are paid much more than their public counterparts in the CIA and Homeland Security.
"[The government] is willing to pay these companies money to get the bodies," she says. "It's created this unintended adverse consequence: [The private companies then] also drew from the agencies. It sucked away the very people that those agencies needed to keep. And it did it because it could attract them with relatively high salaries and less stressful work than when you're working in government. So in addition to costing more, it cost the government some of its best people — and then it sold those people back to them at two or three times as much money."
More than 800,000 people now hold top-secret security clearances. And now an entire industry has sprung up to provide those clearances, says Priest.
"The government is now contracting contractors to do the security clearances for other contractors," she says. "The contractors, in the beginning, were just supposed to be supplemental to the federal employees. ... But now, they are everywhere. And some agencies ... could not exist without them."
When we hear, as we often do this week prior to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers at the Trade Centre in Lower Manhattan, that the terrorists have not won, that America is strong and has not become bowed or cowed, we must also reconcile those stories, albeit bearing their own truth, with the astonishing and somewhat incomprehensible information that the two Washington Post reporters, Priest and Arkin, have included in their shocking book.
Of course, it would be nothing short of political apostasy for a U.S. Senator to utter words like, "Why don't we take a serious look at the waste generated around national security and counter-terrorism "cabals" that have grown up with our consent and our overt approval since 2001, as part of our debt and deficit cutting efforts?"
And yet, it is nothing short of national paranoia that has gripped the country, and other countries hit by the terrorists in the last decade, and has grown a whole new industry: the joint public-private maga-corporations who could not spend all the money allocated by Congress if they had to. And all of that spending is now beyond the reach of public scrutiny.
So, dear reader, I ask you, "Has the United States fallen victim to both the threat of additional attacks from non-state terrorists and also to the threat that the national response is so fraught with fraud that the country cannot tolerate any public investigation of the mis-allocation and the mis-spending of the billions available, under the politically saleable umbrella, "national protection" or "homeland security?"
And the answer, sadly, even tragically, would seem to be, "Yes."
Everyone knows that there is a deep and tragic divide in the U.S. between the public and the private sector. It is virtually holy grail to support and enhance the private sector as the sector best able to provide efficient and effective action on any social problem. Also, the government, especially under Dubya (George W. Bush), sought to keep government spending, that is the part over which Congress has scrutiny, as low as possible, in order to protect and preserve their political asses. So, just as in Iraq and in Afghanistan, they hired private security firms to carry out much of the work previously conducted under the jurisdiction of the Pentagon and thereby open to public scrutiny.
Similarly with national security, the private firms are hiring from the staff already hired by the government and paying them more under their private contract with the government than they were earning while working for their government to do the same jobs, often while many others are doing exactly the same tasks.
Not only is the country paying dearly for its own paranoia, it is paying even more dearly for its complicity in this duplicity. And much of the duplicity, the fine print of dollars and cents, of overt redundancy and duplication, not to mention the covert reduncancies and duplications, is hidden from public view by statute. So the complicity is completely understandable.
But so is the significant decline in public trust of the government, as practiced by the Bush administration, and then left as an unwanted and undeserved legacy to the Obama administration.
These two reporters deserve the Medal of Honour for their difficult and somewhat unpopular reporting.
The country has become like the former Soviet "gulag" an expensive, secret and dangerous operation in both fact and in principle. And the only way out is to "bell the cat" which, in this case means, coming clean with the size, the scope and the full accountability and responsibility for the situation, prior to cleaning it up.
The savings to the treasury department, not to mention the restoration of confidence in government, would likely more than ensure the re-election of Obama as president in 2012.
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