Saturday, September 4, 2010

National security overload.(Comment). USA, LLC

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We re no longer living in Ike's "military-indusrial complex." Bomb and missile production have been replaced by information production. Private companies run satellites, build computer systems, craft war plans, and use social network sites and Google Earth to track the movements of people in conflict zones. Half of the companies involved in national security are essentially IT companies. Call it Military-Industrial Complex 2.0.

Major corporations, such as General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, have gone from providing bullets to providing staffing. General Dynamics' income from its intelligence and information divisions accounted for more than one-third of its overall revenue last year.

These are just a few of the insights gleaned from The Washington Post 's investigative series "Top Secret America," written by Dana Priest and William Arkin. These enterprising reporters examined the national security industry that has mushroomed during the last nine years.

"The top secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy, and so secretive that 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," Priest and Arkin write. "After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine."

Priest and Arkin delved into data (available on the Post 's website) and conducted interview after interview to explore the confidential Washington that lies beyond public scrutiny. Their conclusions are shocking. They found duplications of efforts, turf rivalry, a lack of transparency, and a huge bureaucracy staffed more and more by private contractors who actually cost more than federal employees.

A lack of focus, not a lack of resources, is the takeaway.

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.

* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, fifty-one federal organizations and military commands, operating in fifteen 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."

S ince 9/11, the federal government's approach to stopping terrorism has had a distinctly American flavor: Throw money at the problem. So much money, in fact, it's nearly impossible to know how much we spend on national security, and, more importantly, whether or not the country is any safer.

Contractors staff one-third of the positions in the intelligence agencies. This was supposed to save the government money. "But that has not turned out to be the case," the Post writes. "A 2008 study by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence found that contractors made up 29 percent of the workforce in the intelligence agencies but cost the equivalent of 49 percent of their personnel budgets. [Defense Secretary Robert M.] Gates said that federal workers cost the government 25 percent less."

Private companies that have been enlisted in the war on terrorism have become an intrinsic part of government. The George W. Bush Administration and Congress eased the ability of the CIA and other counterterrorism agencies to hire more contractors than civil servants. A short-term fix became a permanent facet of the war on terror.

Defense officials admitted to the Post that at this point they could not perform their missions without these wartime perma-temps. But private companies are beholden to their shareholders, not to the American public.

As CIA Director Leon Panetta told the Post , private companies have a responsibility "to their shareholders, and that does present an inherent conflict."

Some companies cannot resist the opportunity to latch onto an unlimited supply of funds, and have paid bribes to Congressmen to get lucrative contracts. Randy "Duke" Cunningham is serving time in prison for his entanglement in defense contractor bribery.

This new national security complex represents a further bloating of the Executive Branch. And the heavy reliance on private companies not only wastes money but also limits accountability. As a result, democratic governance becomes less and less possible.

"There's no way that Capitol Hill has the resources or the ability to oversee all of this activity," Arkin told Democracy Now! "We have created a government apparatus that really does not comply with our very precept of the balance of powers."

I f Congress doesn't have the ability to assess national security programs, then who does? Not Gates. He confessed to the Post , I cant get a number on how many contractors work for the Office of the Secretary of Defense."

No one, it seems, can get a handle on the new national security complex. At least 263 organizations were created or revamped after 9/11, the Post writes, and the lines of responsibility began to blur.

Plus, there's so much data coming in, it's hard to sort it all out.

Richard H. Immermen, who worked at Office of the Director of National Intelligence, saw "tremendous overlap" in intelligence reports.

Retired Army Lieutenant General John R. Vines evaluated the Defense Department's most sensitive programs last year and was damning in his criticism. "I am not aware of any agency with the authority, responsibility or a process in place to coordinate all these interagency and commercial activities," he said. "We consequently can't effectively assess whether it is making us more safe."

The Post looks at the Christmas Day bomb attempt as an example of a terrorist threat. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab wasn't stopped by analysts or military officials before boarding a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, despite his name appearing on reports. Instead, it was the passenger sitting next to Abdulmutallab who saved the day.

Officials later testified to Congress that they failed to follow up on leads about Abdulmutallab because, well, they weren't sure who was in charge.

"Everyone had the dots to connect," former Director of National Intelligence Daniel C. Blair explained to lawmakers. "But I hadn't made it clear exactly who had primary responsibility."

Blair's solution to the lack of focus? Throw more money at the problem, hire more analysts, create another team.

I t's long overdue for Congress to act. Our representatives need to rein in the military and the private contractors who are employed in the national security complex. Congress needs to do more than simply pass another appropriations bill.

President Obama has said he will not freeze spending on national security, but he needs to rethink that position and tap down the military's free-flowing gusher of money.

The Post notes that the Administration has made some progress toward its goal of reducing the number of contractors by 7 percent over two years. Undoubtedly, there is more that can be cut.

The military, like the rest of us, needs to learn to live on a budget.

Source Citation
DiNovella, Elizabeth. "National security overload." The Progressive Sept. 2010: 8+. General OneFile. Web. 4 Sept. 2010.
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