Top Secret America

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Dana Priest speaking about the Top Secret America book in 2011 Dana Priest.jpg
Dana Priest speaking about the Top Secret America book in 2011

Top Secret America is a series of investigative articles published on the post-9/11 growth of the United States Intelligence Community. [1] The report was first published in The Washington Post on July 19, 2010, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dana Priest and William Arkin.


The three-part series, which took nearly two years to research, [2] was prepared with the assistance of more than a dozen journalists. [3] It focuses on the expansion of secret intelligence departments within the government, and the outsourcing of services. [4]

An online database, as well as the articles to be published, were made available to government officials several months prior to the publications of the report. Each data point was substantiated by at least two public records. The government was requested to advise of any specific concerns, but at that time, none were offered. [2]

The Public Broadcasting System featured Priest and Arkin's work on Top Secret America in a September 6, 2011 broadcast of the news documentary series Frontline . video [5] That same month, the book Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State was published by Little, Brown and Company. [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

The report

Part 1 – "A hidden world, growing beyond control"

Published July 19, 2010, this first installment focuses on the U.S. intelligence system's growth and redundancies. It questions its manageability, as it 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." [12] The report states that "An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances." [13]

Part 2 – "National Security Inc."

This segment, published on July 20, 2010, describes the widespread use by the U.S. of private contractors to fulfill essential intelligence functions, despite regulations prohibiting this. At present "close to 30 percent of the workforce in the intelligence agencies is contractors": 265,000 out of 854,000. [14] "So great is the government's appetite for private contractors with top-secret clearances that there are now more than 300 companies, often nicknamed 'body shops,' that specialize in finding candidates, often for a fee that approaches $50,000 a person." [15]

Part 3 – "The secrets next door"

Published on July 21, 2010, the third part provides accounts of individuals working within the field and focuses on the National Security Agency. [16]


Hundreds of thousands of public records from government organizations and private-sector companies were consulted for this report, including 45 government organizations; these were broken down into 1,271 sub-units. Some 1,931 private companies were identified that engage in top-secret work for the government. For each company listed, employee data, revenue, and date of establishment were obtained from public filings, Dun & Bradstreet data, and original reporting. [17]

Key findings


The Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued a notice [19] to "industry partners" prior to the publication of the report reminding "cleared employees" of their "responsibility to protect classified information and relationships, and to abide by contractual agreements regarding non-publicity." The notice also states that:

"Employees should be reminded that they must neither confirm nor deny information contained in this, or any, media publication, and that the publication of this website does not constitute a change in any current ODNI classifications. They should also be reminded that if approached and asked to discuss their work by media or unauthorized people, they should report the interactions to their appropriate security officer."

Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan stated on July 20, 2010, that redundancy within the U.S. intelligence community is a "well-known" problem. He told reporters:

"We've been fighting two wars since 9/11, and a lot of that growth in the intelligence community has come as a result of needed increases in intelligence collection and those types of activities to support two wars." [20]

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stated:

"Well, look, I'm not going to get into some of the discussions that we had," Gibbs said. "Obviously there were some concerns. And I think the Post covered that there were some concerns, about certain data and the availability of some of that data." [21]

Acting Director of National Intelligence, David C. Gompert [22] about the report:

"The reporting does not reflect the Intelligence Community we know. We accept that we operate in an environment that limits the amount of information we can share. However, the fact is, the men and women of the Intelligence Community have improved our operations, thwarted attacks, and are achieving untold successes every day."

Brendan Daly, Nancy Pelosi's spokesperson said:

"The Speaker is working with the White House and her Congressional colleagues to ensure that Congress has strong, effective oversight of the intelligence community." [23]

Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.), ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee remarked:

"We can do more to keep our nation safe, and improving Congressional oversight and ensuring the top spy chief has the authority needed to streamline our intelligence community are the first steps." [24] [25]

Related Research Articles

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A security clearance is a status granted to individuals allowing them access to classified information or to restricted areas, after completion of a thorough background check. The term "security clearance" is also sometimes used in private organizations that have a formal process to vet employees for access to sensitive information. A clearance by itself is normally not sufficient to gain access; the organization must also determine that the cleared individual needs to know specific information. No individual is supposed to be granted automatic access to classified information solely because of rank, position, or a security clearance.

Director of National Intelligence United States government official

The director of national intelligence (DNI) is a United States Government Cabinet-level official, required by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to serve as head of the United States Intelligence Community and to direct and oversee the National Intelligence Program (NIP). The DNI also serves, upon invitation, as an advisor to the president of the United States and the executive offices of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council about intelligence matters related to national security. The DNI produces the President's Daily Brief (PDB), a top-secret document including intelligence from all the Intelligence Community agencies, given each morning to the President.

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United States Intelligence Community Collective term for US federal intelligence and security agencies

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Dana Priest American journalist, writer and teacher

Dana Louise Priest is an American journalist, writer and teacher. She has worked for nearly 30 years for the Washington Post and became the third John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism in 2014. Before becoming a full-time investigative reporter at the Post, Priest specialized in intelligence reporting and wrote many articles on the U.S. "War on terror" and was the newspaper's Pentagon correspondent. In 2006 she won the Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting citing "her persistent, painstaking reports on secret "black site" prisons and other controversial features of the government's counter-terrorism campaign." The Washington Post won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, citing the work of reporters Priest and Anne Hull and photographer Michel du Cille "exposing mistreatment of wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital, evoking a national outcry and producing reforms by federal officials."

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  1. David Sessions (July 20, 2010). "'Top Secret America': Washington Post Unmasks Unwieldy Security Behemoth". Politics Daily. Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  2. 1 2 Washington Post Editors (July 18, 2010). "A note on this project". The Washington Post . Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  3. 1 2 "'Top Secret America': By the numbers". The Week. July 19, 2010. Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  4. Dana Priest, William M. Arkin. Jason Bacaj, and David Turim (July 21, 2010). "Cash cow for contractors". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 22, 2010.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. "Dana Priest: Top Secret America Is "Here to Stay"". PBS FRONTLINE. September 6, 2011. Retrieved October 8, 2011.
  6. "The 'Top Secret America' Created After Sept. 11". National Public Radio. September 6, 2011. Retrieved October 8, 2011.
  7. Aftergood, Steven (September 1, 2011). "A Spotlight on "Top Secret America"". Federation of American Scientists Secrecy News. Retrieved October 13, 2011.
  8. Rhodes, Richard (October 14, 2011). ""Top Secret America The Rise of the New American Security State" by Dana Priest and William Arkin". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 30, 2011.
  9. Drogin, Bob (October 17, 2011). "Book review: 'Top Secret America'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 30, 2011.
  10. Coll, Steve (February 9, 2012). "Our Secret American Security State". New York Review of Books. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
  11. Benhalim, Rabea (June 22, 2012). "Top Secret America:The Rise of the New American Security State". Lawfare. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  12. Dana Priest & William Arkin (July 19, 2010). "A hidden world, growing beyond control". The Washington Post . Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  13. A hidden world, growing beyond control, Priest and Arkin
  14. "A hidden world, growing beyond control". The Washington Post.
  15. Dana Priest & William Arkin (July 20, 2010). "National Security Inc". The Washington Post . Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  16. Dana Priest & Williams Arkin (July 21, 2010). "The secrets next door". The Washington Post . Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  17. "Methodology and Credits". The Washington Post . July 18, 2010. Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  18. Max Fisher (July 18, 2010). "The Washington Post Reveals 'Top Secret America'". The Atlantic Wire. Archived from the original on July 22, 2010. Retrieved July 22, 2010.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  19. ODNI. "Notice to Industry Partners" (PDF). Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  20. Barbara Ferguson (July 21, 2010). "Clapper and secret America in the spotlight". Arab News. Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  21. Pete Hoekstra (July 19, 2010). "Hoekstra Statement on Washington Post Story on National Security". U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  22. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (July 19, 2010). "Acting Director of National Intelligence, David C. Gompert, reaction to The Washington Post series" (PDF). Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  23. Marc Ambinder (July 19, 2010). "The Support Activity Group Entity Program Evaluation Office: TOP SECRET!". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  24. Garance Franke-Ruta (July 20, 2010). "Congress, White House react to 'Top Secret America'". The Washington Post . Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  25. Susan Crabtree (July 19, 2010). "Pelosi faces pressure to end standoff over intelligence bill". The Hill. Retrieved July 22, 2010.

Further reading