What do you get when you build your intelligence service up to such a size that it occupies three times the floorspace as the main centre of your executive government? When the services employ about150% of the population of your capital city? And when the amount of intelligence reports produced are so huge that a large proportion are just ignored completely?
Surely you’d have some kind of dictatorship or police state on the scale of China or North Korea or some tinpot Arab state. You’d also have the United States of America.
The Washington Post has produced an investigative report called “Top Secret America” (TSA), which has become effectively the fourth of three branches of US government since the September 11 terrorist attacks and has created
... what amounts to an alternative geography.
You’d think something this big would be effective in protecting Americans from terror. But as the Post argues,
... 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.
That’s right. The “Land of the Free” has a huge but secretive inner core to protect the freedoms of the free but that the free have little knowledge of. And there is no co-ordinating “American Homeland Security Agency” (AHSA — credits to The Hollowmen.)
All this creates huge opportunities for corrupted or manufactured intelligence to enter the system and lead to bungle after bungle. TSA bungles could lead to the wrong person being indefinitely detained, deported, tortured or even killed. One such person could be Australian citizen David Hicks, who is currently seeking to have his conviction overturned. Another such person would definitely have to be Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib, released from Guantanamo gulag without a single charge being laid.
Most TSA spending went on during the Bush/Cheney administration.
[T]he Bush administration and Congress gave agencies more money than they were capable of responsibly spending ... In all, at least 263 organisations have been created or reorganised as a response to 9/11. Each has required more people, and those people have required more administrative and logistic support ... With so many more employees, units and organisations, the lines of responsibility began to blur.
And this was an allegedly conservative President who believed in small government.
TSA has a strong private industry focus, with about 2000 contractor companies and a staggering 850,000 people with top security clearance. Despite even US Defence Secretary Robert Gates saying that “getting your arms around [the growth of intelligence networks] ... is a challenge”, the response from the intelligence community was a predictable denial.
So much money is now being spent, we are told, to fight violent extremism. Yet some 25 years ago, huge amounts were spent to support the same violent extremism. Much of the money used to fight the Soviet Union, Reagan’s so-called “Evil Empire”, was spent on a group of “freedom fighters” in a tiny country called Afghanistan. Among America’s allies was an Afghan faction that included one Mullah Omar. Also allied to the US was a chap named Usama, a young member of a Saudi business family with close ties to the Bush family.
And now we are back there fighting the forces of Mullah Omar and Usama. And losing. And its costing America more money than anyone in the US government can count. It’s also costing Australia troops.
First published in Crikey on Wednesday 21 July 2010.
Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf
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