Aug 262011

The first rule of intelligence is always to ask “So what?”. This great piece of information has landed on my desk… but so what? What does this information mean? What does it tell me? Why is it relevant to the current problem?

When I recently stumbled across a piece of investigative journalism by The Washington Post titled ‘Top Secret America‘ I was left thinking exactly this… So What?

To tell you the truth, at first I was intrigued, a two year long investigation by a dozen journalists into the massive expansion of US Top Secret security infrastructure since 9/11, who wouldn’t be? I mean spies n shit, always very cool. The website looks great, interactive databases and snazzy videos. But what is it really? I mean So What?

The Washington Post has compiled a mass of unclassified information about Top Secret organizations and made some pretty base-level deductions. The key theme; the number of Top Secret organizations has dramatically increased since 9/11.

No shit hey. A team of terrorists drive a couple of jets into a structure that represents everything American and kills nearly 3000 people and the US government pours a massive load of money into intelligence capabilities. Seems a fair enough response to me. But I digress.

Top Secret America argues that all this new capability lacks a single controlling master, resulting in significant overlap and wasted capability. Then it tries to draw a link from this wastage to intelligence failings, citing the failure to identify the bomb on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 bound for Detroit as evidence.

On one hand it criticizes, and then it apologizes for the inability to provide in-depth analysis due to the Top Secret nature of the organizations, adding that some officials argue that the overlap in jurisdiction and capability is a result of differing intelligence needs. If this sounds a bit confusing and lacking in substance, it is. Top Secret America isn’t much more than pretty databases full of readily available information.

I have to admit I didn’t get much out of this investigation, it lacked any sort of ‘So What’. It is plainly obvious to me that the US security infrastructure is huge. And of course there is some inevitable wastage and overlap. These are the challenges inherent to any large-scale organization. Apart from the lack of investigation and analysis, what pissed me off is that Top Secret America doesn’t acknowledge the many successes the US counter-terrorism machine has achieved.

Success in the intelligence world is not a public affair. Yes wins like the Bin Laden raid are made public, but many, many others are not. The Washington post does not have Top Secret clearance, and there are numerous incidents of which the public remain blissfully unaware.

While the intelligence effort is widespread across thousands of agencies, it can also be highly focused. The Bin Laden raid is a good example of what can be achieved when the US allows a small highly specialized team access to the resources of its 4000 odd CT intelligence entities.

This is exactly how PRIMAL operates; a small team of highly trained specialists covertly accessing intelligence feeds from the world’s top agencies. Want to know more? Then check out PRIMAL Origin for an intro to the team. For more detailed insight you’re going to have to wait for the full length novel PRIMAL Unleashed – due out in Nov 2011.

Till next I blog,


  3 Responses to “Top Secret America – So What?”

  1. First let me say, i read Primal Origin and really enjoyed it. i am looking forward to the next release.

    So what? What is that in reaction to a single tragic incident, the United States has allowed a clandestine infrastructure of Orwellian proportions to be created. Its size, I believe, is disproportionate to the threat and its fractured nature seems to defy effective oversight. Americans need to be made aware of this, be continually reminded what is being done behind the curtain in their name.

    I don’t deny the need for such organizations. Yes their successes are private and most likely numerous, but their failures are also numerous and becoming increasingly public. Not to mention embarrassing and shameful. The situation is snowballing and needs to be curtailed. Perhaps this Washington Post piece will inspire other journalists or citizens to take a hard look at what this country is doing under the guise of national security.

    That being said, please do not take my comment to be in anyway critical of the brave men and women serving this country. The Navy Seals, Delta, CIA field agents, and I’m sure others I am not aware of, who selflessly do the jobs no one else can or wants to do. They are the silent hero’s and i support them by demanding that they not be taken advantage of in the interests of furthering a political agenda.

    • Hey Pax,

      I don’t disagree with any of your points. I’m more disappointed by the complete lack of “so what” put forward by the journalists. note that there are a lot of fantastic journalists out there so this is not an attack on journalism. I’m just getting a little tired of media content that lacks and real subsistence. It seems to be all about pretty graphs and interactive widgets and not any real investigative journalism.

      Without a doubt the US needs to have a close look at its homeland security and Counter Terrorism piece, it’s chewing up a huge budget that could be put to a lot of different uses. Perhaps the current economic conditions will prompt a more detailed government assessment.Yes it needs to be more efficient and yes it needs to be more effective. I do think that a lot of agencies have used 9/11 and the Counter Terrorism placard to gather resources and broaden their influence, this is however just my opinion.

      Thanks for your thoughts Pax, no one is going to question your support of the brave men and women that are out there putting their lives on the line for our safety. It behoves people to hold decision makers to account on how these people are supported and what it is we ask them to do. When we stop asking how it can be done better, that’s when we have failed.


Leave a Reply to Pax Rolfe Cancel reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>