5 blockbuster revelations from the Washington Post’s intelligence complex exposé

Liz Goodwin

The nation's sprawling top-secret intelligence complex is so bloated and riddled with redundancies and inefficiencies that no one in the United States government actually knows if it's making U.S. citizens safer.

That's what the Washington Post's Dana Priest and William Arkin describe in a blockbuster three-part series that calls top-secret America a "fourth branch" of the government, cloaked in secrecy and accountable to no one. Top government officials are already on the defensive about the story. Director of National Intelligence David C. Gompert said in a statement Monday (PDF) that the reporting "does not reflect the Intelligence Community we know."

The whole thing is a must-read, but here's the Upshot's cheat sheet on the top five revelations from the piece:

1. The U.S. intelligence system has exploded in size since the Sept. 11 attacks. Its budget was $75 billion last year, 2.5 times what it was before the attacks, and more than 850,000 people hold top-secret security clearances. More than 30 top-secret intelligence complexes have been built or are being built in the D.C. area since 2001, and at least 263 government intelligence organizations have been created or reorganized since 9/11.

2. Only a few officials in the Department of Defense have access to all of the top-secret activities and information. Two "super users" in the department told the Post that it's impossible for them to keep track of the mountains of top-secret info they're exposed to. "I'm not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything," one said.

3. Agencies are collecting so much data that they don't have enough translators or researchers to analyze it. Every day, the National Security Agency's systems "intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications."

4. Turf wars among agencies can prevent the sharing of information. Congress created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2004 so that someone would be in charge of the sprawling national intelligence apparatus. But Congress didn't give the director clear legal or budgetary control over all the agencies.  As a result, the office, the Defense Department and the CIA have engaged in counterproductive power struggles.

5. This confusion has had real consequences. The reporters say secrecy and lack of coordination prevented intelligence workers from stopping an Army major's attack on Ft. Hood and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's alleged attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airplane last fall.

Check out the Post's interactive site about the report.