Dec 5, 2013
How the U.S. Intelligence Community Came Out of the Shadows
Posted on Dec 18, 2012
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
Or consider an outfit that did exist then: the National Security Agency, or NSA (once known jokingly as “no such agency” because of its deep cover). Like its geospatial cousin, it has been in a period of explosive growth, budgetary and otherwise, capped off by the construction of a “heavily fortified” $2 billion data center in Bluffdale, Utah. According to NSA expert James Bamford, when finished in 2013 that center will “intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.” He adds: “Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’” We’re talking not just about foreign terrorists here but about the intake and eternal storage of vast reams of material from American citizens, possibly even you.
Or consider a little-known post-9/11 creation, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which is not even a separate agency in the IC, but part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration has just turned that organization into “a government dragnet, sweeping up millions of records about U.S. citizens—even people suspected of no crime.” It has granted the NCTC the right, among other things “to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them… copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students, and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited.”
Or take the Defense Intelligence Agency, which came into existence in 1961 and became operational only the year their book came out. Almost half a century ago, as Wise and Ross told their readers, it had 2,500 employees and a relatively modest set of assigned tasks. By the end of the Cold War, it had 7,500 employees. Two decades later, another tale of explosive growth: the DIA has 16,000 employees.
In their 2010 Washington Post series, “Top Secret America,” journalists Dana Priest and William Arkin caught a spirit of untrammeled expansion in the post-9/11 era that would surely have amazed those two authors who had called for “controls” over the secret world: “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.”
Let’s add in one more futuristic shocker for our time travelers. Someone would have to tell them that, in 1991, the Soviet Union, that great imperial power and nemesis of the invisible government, with its vast army, secret police, system of gulags, and monstrous nuclear arsenal, had disappeared largely nonviolently from the face of the Earth and no single power has since arisen to challenge the United States militarily. After all, that staggering U.S. intelligence budget, the explosion of new construction, the steep growth in personnel, and all the rest has happened in a world in which the U.S. is facing a couple of rickety regional powers (Iran and North Korea), a minority insurgency in Afghanistan, a rising economic power (China) with still modest military might, and probably a few thousand extreme Muslim fundamentalists and al-Qaeda wannabes scattered around the planet.
They would have to be told that, thanks to a single horrific event, a kind of terrorist luck-out we now refer to in shorthand as “9/11,” and despite the diminution of global enemies, an already enormous IC has expanded nonstop in a country seized by a spasm of fear and paranoia.
Preparing Battlefields and Building Giant Embassies
Staggered by the size of the invisible government they had once anatomized, the two reporters might have been no less surprised by another development: the way in our own time “intelligence” has been militarized, while the U.S. military itself has plunged into the shadows. Of course, it’s now well known that the CIA, a civilian intelligence agency until recently headed by a retired four-star general, has been paramilitarized and is now putting a significant part of its energy into running an ever spreading “covert” set of drone wars across the Greater Middle East.
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