Saturday, September 15, 2012
the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt one)
from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:
The spy boom has been a beautiful windfall for architects, construction companies, IT specialists, and above all defense contractors, enriching thousands of private companies and dozens of local economies hugging the Capital Beltway. All those SCIFs and the rest of the government-contractor gravy train have made suburban Washington, DC, home to six of the ten wealthiest counties in America. Falls Church, Loudoun Country, and Fairfax County in Virginia are one, two, and three. Goodbye, Nassau Country, New York. Take that, Oyster Bay.
The crown jewel of this sprawling intelligopolis is Liberty Crossing, in the Virginia suburbs of Washington--an 850,000 square foot (and growing) complex that houses the National Counterterrorism Center. The agency was created and funded in 2004 because, despite spending $30 billion on intelligence before 9/11, the various spy agencies in our country did not talk to one another. So the $30 billion annual intelligence budget was increased by 250 percent, and with that increase we built ourselves a clean, well-lighted edifice, concealed by GPS jammers and reflective windows, where intelligence collected by 1,271 government agencies and 1,931 private companies under government contract is supposedly coordinated.
It is a big, big idea, and perhaps necessary--the financial commitment to it implies at least that we think it is. But it turns out Liberty Crossing is a bureaucratic haystack into which the now even more vast intelligence community tosses its shiniest needles. When a businessman relayed to CIA agents in Nigeria that his son seemed to be under the spell of terrorists and had gone to Yemen, perhaps for training, that duly reported needle got sucked into the fifty-thousand-reports-per-year haystack, only to be discovered after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit and tried to set off a bomb he'd stuff into his underpants. "The complexity of this system defies description," a retired Army lieutenant general and intelligence specialist told the Post reporters. "We can't effectively assess whether it's making us more safe."