The Dana Priest investigative series in the Washington Post states that 854,000 employees now hold top-secret security clearances, an example of the astonishing growth in the intelligence bureaucracy since 2001.
The series’ contribution to national security is not that it provides new information, but that it is the first substantial criticism of the intelligence community’s lack of accountability to appear in a major left-of-center newspaper.
Despite the growth of Internet news and talk radio, the New York Times and the Washington Post retain enormous power. Their reporters have developed excellent sources among top CIA officials. These sources, illegally and often for political reasons, provided classified information on such things as Abu Ghraib, torture and interrogations, and Iraq-WMD intelligence failures. In exchange, these journalists did not investigate the CIA’s huge domestic growth, profusion of bureaucrats, lack of financial accountability and fraud, because to do so would have offended their sources. Journalists David Ignatius, Scott Shane, and Mark Mazzetti, for example, write articles that at first glance appear to be critical of the intelligence community, but are really only about isolated scandals.
A member of the Senate intelligence committee once told me he met with intelligence officials to propose changes to improve clandestine operations, and the officials fought back through a Washington Post column the very next day. In not confronting the intelligence bureaucracy, journalists who cover the CIA build careers and win prizes, but in doing so the New York Times and the Washington Post — located in America’s two primary terrorist target cities — abandoned their readers and exposed them to danger. Until now, the only journalists to explore intelligence dysfunction have been political conservatives, such as Jack Kelly, Bill Gertz, and Eli Lake.
Something’s up at the Washington Post. In addition to this investigative series, there’s the fact that they’ve brought aboard journalist Jeff Stein, an aggressive critic of intelligence-community dysfunction. Maybe the Washington Post has figured out it’s good business to work toward the improvements in intelligence that would help keep its readers alive and could save billions. When the intelligence community becomes a place to get rich, real intelligence work suffers.
The CIA’s standard complaint about articles such as the Post’s series is that although the information is unclassified, it should not have been gathered together in one place. But while the articles reveal the locations of massive, Pentagon-sized office buildings, for example, these addresses can be found out by anyone with Internet access.
The great majority of the 854,000 people with top secret security clearances thrive within expensive offices located in the United States. The number of heroes protecting Americans by gathering intelligence in foreign countries is tiny.
– “Ishmael Jones” is a former deep-cover officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. He is the author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, published last year by Encounter Books.