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The 'Super User' Problem and Other Top Secret America Enigmas

Perhaps most surprising was a little-known detail regarding military intelligence inside the Pentagon (two thirds of all national intelligence programs fall under Department of Defense control). There, a small group of officials with elite, need-to-know access are called “Super Users.” The Post managed to interview two of these Super Users, one of whom explained the dilemma he faces: “I'm not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything,” the Super User said. Secretary of Defense Gates disagreed with the Post’s criticism of the system, saying it is not too big to manage. “After 9/11, when we decided to attack violent extremism, we did as we so often do in this country,” Gates says. “The attitude was, if it's worth doing, it's probably worth overdoing.” Which is an odd thing to say. Since when is a bloated anything better than something lean?

One of the most troubling divides with the creation of all these new agencies is the wall that has gone up between civilian intelligence and military intelligence. When the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was created in 2004, the CIA quickly reclassified projects so other organizations -- including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- couldn’t access them. Right around that same time, the Defense Department moved billions of dollars out of one budget and into another for the same reason—so others couldn’t access it, including people in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

If that’s not disheartening enough, try perusing the Post’s online database of private contractor information. The site provides links to the corporate websites of all 1,931 private defense contractors. There, one finds a seemingly endless money trail of contracts, divided into categories like “under $100 million” and “$1 billion to $10 billion.” What exactly these contracts entail can’t be told because they have been classified top secret. This leaves one with the overall sense that Top Secret America is indeed an endless maze of bloated bureaucracy -- one that does not necessarily keep America safer or more secure.