In­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing in U.S. is a vast, baf­fling net­work

Re­port finds that agen­cies are drown­ing in top-se­cret data

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Dana Priest and Wil­liam M. Arkin

The top-se­cret world the govern­ment cre­ated in re­sponse to the ter­ror­ist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has be­come so large, un­wieldy and se­cre­tive that no one knows how much it costs, how many peo­ple it em­ploys, how many pro­grams it has or how many agen­cies do the same work.

These are some of the find­ings of a two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Washington Post, which also con­cludes that 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 other 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 11⁄ times

2 as many peo­ple as live in Washington, hold topse­cret 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.

These are not aca­demic is­sues; lack of fo­cus, not lack of re­sources, was at the heart of the Fort Hood shoot­ing that left 13 dead, as well as the Christ­mas Day bomb at­tempt, which was thwarted not by the thou­sands of an­a­lysts em­ployed to find lone ter­ror­ists but by an alert air­line pas­sen­ger who saw smoke com­ing from his seat­mate.

They are also is­sues that 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 (di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence), but for any in­di­vid­ual, for the di­rec­tor of the CIA, for the sec­re­tary of de­fense — is a chal­lenge,” De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert Gates said in an in­ter­view last week.

In the Depart­ment of De­fense, where more than two-thirds of the in­tel­li­gence pro­grams re­side, only a hand­ful of se­nior of­fi­cials — called Su­per Users — are able to even know about all the depart­ment’s ac­tiv­i­ties. But as two of the Su­per Users in­di­cated, there is sim­ply no way they can keep up with the nation’s most sen­si­tive work.

“I’m not go­ing to live long enough to be briefed on ev­ery­thing” was how one Su­per User put it. The other said that for his first brief­ing, he was es­corted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small ta­ble and told he couldn’t take notes. Pro­gram af­ter pro­gram be­gan flash­ing on a screen, he said, un­til he yelled “Stop!” in frus­tra­tion.

Gates, in his in­ter­view, said that he does not be­lieve the sys­tem has be­come too big to man­age but that get­ting pre­cise data is some­times dif­fi­cult. Sin­gling out the growth of in­tel­li­gence units in the De­fense Depart­ment, he said he in­tends to re­view those pro­grams for waste. “Nine years af­ter 9/11, it makes a lot of sense to sort of take a look at this and say, ‘OK, we’ve built tremen­dous ca­pa­bil­ity, but do we have more than we need?’ ” he said.

In an in­ter­view be­fore he re­signed as the di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence in May, re­tired Adm. Den­nis Blair said he did not be­lieve there was over­lap and re­dun­dancy in the in­tel­li­gence world. “Much of what ap­pears to be re­dun­dancy is, in fact, pro­vid­ing tai­lored in­tel­li­gence for many dif­fer­ent cus­tomers,” he said.

Weeks later, he mused about the Post’s find­ings. “Af­ter 9/11, when we de­cided to at­tack vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism, we did as we so of­ten do in this coun­try,” he said. “The at­ti­tude was, if it’s worth do­ing, it’s prob­a­bly worth over­do­ing.”

Sky­rock­et­ing num­bers

Ev­ery day across the United States, 854,000 civil ser­vants, mil­i­tary per­son­nel and pri­vate contractors with top-se­cret clear­ances are scanned into of­fices pro­tected by elec­tro­mag­netic locks, reti­nal cam­eras and for­ti­fied walls that eaves­drop­ping equip­ment can­not pen­e­trate.

The U.S. in­tel­li­gence bud­get is vast, pub­licly an­nounced last year as $75 bil­lion, which is 21⁄

2 times the size it was on Sept. 10, 2001. The fig­ure doesn’t in­clude many mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties or do­mes­tic coun­tert­er­ror­ism pro­grams.

The Post’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion was based on gov­ern- ment doc­u­ments and con­tracts, job de­scrip­tions, prop­erty records, cor­po­rate and so­cial net­work­ing web­sites and hun­dreds of in­ter­views with in­tel­li­gence, mil­i­tary and cor­po­rate of­fi­cials and for­mer of­fi­cials. Most re­quested anonymity ei­ther be­cause they are pro­hib­ited from speak­ing pub­licly or be­cause they feared re­tal­i­a­tion at work. The Post’s on­line data­base of govern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions and pri­vate com­pa­nies was built en­tirely on pub­lic records.

At least 20 per­cent of the govern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions that ex­ist to fend off ter­ror­ist threats were es­tab­lished or re­fash­ioned in the wake of 9/11. Many that ex­isted be­fore the attacks grew to his­toric pro­por­tions as the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress gave agen­cies more money than they were ca­pa­ble of re­spon­si­bly spend­ing.

The Pen­tagon’s De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency, for ex­am­ple, has gone from 7,500 em­ploy­ees in 2002 to 16,500 to­day. The bud­get of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, which con­ducts elec­tronic eaves­drop­ping, dou­bled. Thirty-five FBI Joint Ter­ror­ism Task Forces be­came 106.

Nine days af­ter the attacks, Congress com­mit­ted $40 bil­lion be­yond what was in the fed­eral bud­get to for­tify do­mes­tic de­fenses and launch a global of­fen­sive against al Qaeda. It fol­lowed that up with an ad­di­tional $36.5 bil­lion in 2002 and $44 bil­lion in 2003. That was only a be­gin­ning.

At least 263 or­ga­ni­za­tions have been cre­ated or re­or­ga­nized as a re­sponse to 9/11. Each has re­quired more peo­ple: phone op­er­a­tors, sec­re­taries, li­brar­i­ans, ar­chi­tects, car­pen­ters, con­struc­tion work­ers, air-con­di­tion­ing me­chan­ics and, be­cause of where they work, even jan­i­tors with top-se­cret clear­ances.

With so many more em­ploy­ees, units and or­ga­ni­za­tions, the lines of re­spon­si­bil­ity be­gan to blur. To rem­edy this, the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress de­cided to cre­ate an agency in 2004 with over­ar­ch­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties called the Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence to bring the colos­sal ef­fort un­der con­trol.

Though that was the idea, Washington has its own ways.

The first prob­lem was that the law passed by Congress did not give the di­rec­tor clear le­gal or bud­getary author­ity over in­tel­li­gence mat­ters, which meant he wouldn’t have power over the agen­cies he was sup­posed to con­trol.

The sec­ond prob­lem: Even be­fore the first di­rec­tor, Am­bas­sador John Ne­gro­ponte, was on the job, the turf bat­tles be­gan. The De­fense Depart­ment shifted bil­lions of dol­lars out of one bud­get and into an­other so that the Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence could not touch it, ac­cord­ing to two se­nior of­fi­cials who watched the process.

The CIA re­clas­si­fied some of its most sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion at a higher level so the Na­tional Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter staff, part of the Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence, would not be al­lowed to see it, said for­mer in- tel­li­gence of­fi­cers in­volved.

To­day, many of­fi­cials who work in the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies say they re­main un­clear about what the Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence is in charge of. The of­fice has made some progress, es­pe­cially in in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing, in­for­ma­tion technology and bud­get re­form. The di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence and his man­agers hold in­ter­a­gency meet­ings ev­ery day to pro­mote col­lab­o­ra­tion.

But im­prove­ments have been over­taken by vol­ume, as the in­creased flow of in­tel­li­gence data over­whelms the sys­tem’s abil­ity to an­a­lyze and use it. Ev­ery day, col­lec­tion sys­tems at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency in­ter­cept and store 1.7 bil­lion e-mails, phone calls and other types of com­mu­ni­ca­tions. The NSA sorts a frac­tion of those 1.7 bil­lion in­ter­cepts into 70 data­bases. The same prob­lem be­dev­ils ev­ery other in­tel­li­gence agency, none of which has enough an­a­lysts and trans­la­tors for all this work.

The Hasan case

Last fall, pros­e­cu­tors say, Maj. Ni­dal Hasan opened fire at Fort Hood, killing 13 peo­ple and wound­ing 30 more. In the days af­ter the shoot­ings, in­for­ma­tion emerged about Hasan’s in­creas­ingly strange be­hav­ior at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Washington, where he had trained as a psy­chi­a­trist and warned com­man­ders that they should al­low Mus­lims to leave the Army or risk “ad­verse events.”

He had also ex­changed e-mails with a well-known rad­i­cal cleric in Ye­men be­ing mon­i­tored by U.S. in­tel­li­gence.

But none of this reached the one or­ga­ni­za­tion charged with han­dling coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tions within the Army. Just 25 miles up the road from Wal­ter Reed, the Army’s 902nd Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence Group had been do­ing lit­tle to search the ranks for po­ten­tial threats.

In­stead, the 902nd’s com­man­der had de­cided to turn the unit’s at­ten­tion to as­sess­ing gen­eral ter­ror­ist af­fil­i­a­tions in the United States, even though the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and the FBI’s 106 Joint Ter­ror­ism Task Forces were al­ready do­ing this work in great depth.

The 902nd had qui­etly been gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion on Hezbol­lah, Ira­nian Repub­li­can Guard and al Qaeda stu­dent or­ga­ni­za­tions in the U.S.

The as­sess­ment “didn’t tell us any­thing we didn’t know al­ready,” the Army’s se­nior coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer at the Pen­tagon said.

Se­crecy and lack of co­or­di­na­tion have al­lowed or­ga­ni­za­tions — the 902nd in this case — to work on is­sues oth­ers were al­ready tack­ling rather than take on the much more chal­leng­ing job of try­ing to iden­tify po­ten­tial ji­hadist sym­pa­thiz­ers within the Army.

Den­nis Blair de­nied over­lap be­fore re­tir­ing.

Ni­dal Hasan left clues that Army unit missed.

Robert Gates says he will check for waste.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.