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Are We Any Safer Now that the U.S. Intelligence Community Has Come Out of the Shadows?

A vast edifice of surveilling, storing, spying, and killing that gives us what we now call “security,” leaves us in terror of the world, never stops growing, and is ever freer to collect information on you.

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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.”

Similarly, the combined Intelligence Community budget, which in deepest secrecy had supposedly soared to at least  $44 billion in 2005 (all such figures have to be taken with a dumpster-ful of salt), has by now nearly doubled to an official  $75 billion

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 recentlyheaded 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. 

Meanwhile, since the early years of the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. military has been intent on claiming some of the CIA’s turf as its own.  Not long after the 9/11 attacks, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld  began pushing the Pentagon into  CIA-style intelligence activities -- the "full spectrum of humint [human intelligence] operations" -- to “prepare” for future “battlefields.”  That process has never ended.  In April 2012, for instance, the Pentagon released the information that it was in the process of setting up a new spy agency called the Defense Clandestine Service (DCS).  Its job: to globalize military “intelligence” by taking it beyond the obvious war zones.  The DCS was tasked as well with working more closely with the CIA (while assumedly rivaling it). 

As Greg Miller of the  Washington Post reported, “Creation of the new service also coincides with the appointment of a number of senior officials at the Pentagon who have extensive backgrounds in intelligence and firm opinions on where the military’s spying programs -- often seen as lackluster by CIA insiders -- have gone wrong.”

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