In July the Washington Post began its ‘Top Secret America’ series, examining the rapid growth of the USA’s heavily privatised intelligence establishment. Investigative journalism at its best, the series and its findings  should prompt those of us in Europe who care about such matters to start making the same kind of inquiries about our own security-corporate nexus.

The most alarming findings (summarised here) include:

* 1,931 intelligence contracting firms doing work classified as “top secret” for 1,271 government organisations at over 10,000 sites around the USA; 533 of these  firms were founded after the ‘9/11′ attacks.

* Contractors make up nearly 30 percent of the workforce of America’s intelligence agencies. At the Department of Homeland Security the ratio of contractors to permanent staff is 50-50. The Washington Post estimates that of 854,000 people with top-secret clearances, 265,000 are contractors.

* 18 government organisations contract 37 private companies to conduct psychological operations;

* 16 government organisations use 50 companies for “special military operations” (e.g., SWAT teams and unconventional warfare);

* 14 government organisations contract 50 companies for top-secret conventional military operations;

* 32 government organisations employ 36 different companies for counter-drug operations.

* The National Security Agency intercepts 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications every day and divides some percentage of these between 70 different databases.

* At least 263 intelligence organisations have been created or reorganized in response to 9/11.

Why does any of this matter? As the authors of Top Secret America point out: “What started as a temporary fix in response to the terrorist attacks has turned into a dependency that calls into question whether the federal workforce includes too many people obligated to shareholders rather than the public interest — and whether the government is still in control of its most sensitive activities”.

See Washington Post TSA series. Part one: “A hidden world, growing beyond control“, part two: “The secrets next door“, part three: “National Security Inc.” and Top Secret America blog.

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