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There is always something in the media that captures the conversation of people in Washington, whether it is some unfortunate gaffe that a political figure makes, some new gossip about a government official’s missteps, or the latest poll numbers identifying the rising and falling fortunes of one political power over another. This week seems to be different though.

In a series of front-page exposes entitled, “Top Secret America,” the Washington Post has essentially blown the cover off a number of classified programs and their geographic locations around the country. Using public sources and their own talents as investigative journalists, Post reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin have put together a very impressive piece of work that raises a number of important questions about the explosive growth of the intelligence community since 9/11.

These questions (most notably, “What are we spending billions of tax dollars on?” and “What difference are these investments making?”) echo questions that have been raised by both sides of the political aisles over the past few years. The ability to spend money without thinking or an overarching strategy is a skill that Washington has long perfected to the detriment of American taxpayers. Priest and Arkin’s work highlights some of the waste of tax dollars, particularly those instances where multiple intelligence players are conducting the same intelligence analysis work as their peers.

Shining a light on those actions and raising the questions of why we are doing the same thing multiple times over is certainly of value. But Priest and Arkin and their employer, the Washington Post, have also done something of disturbing value that benefits no one but those persons foreign or domestic that wish to do us harm.

By identifying the geographic locations of some of our country’s top secret facilities (government and private sector) and surmising who does what and where at those spots, the Post reporters created an operative target list that is literally synthesized and ready for use by people whose allegiances are not in American’s best interest. While they used publicly available sources and had the cooperation of the public affairs offices of many of the federal intelligence pieces highlighted in the article, the authors seem to have taken the extra mile to share things that frankly need not be shared.

In the Editor’s note about the series, the Post does share that the newspaper removed from their map graphic the geographic locations of several sensitive facilities. As commendable as that may be, that which the Post details has potentially grave consequences for the men and women who work at those facilities. The fact is that every one of those facilities had a bull’s eye on their front door last week. After this series and its wide online dissemination, that bull’s eye just got a whole lot bigger.

There are very good reasons you are not allowed to photograph inside security screening areas (e.g. airport screening areas).

There are very good reasons that the President and other dignitaries’ motorcade routes are not published in the newspaper.

There are very good reasons that when you go to Google Earth or other digital map services some areas are not available for downloading and printing (e.g. Camp David, MD; Area 51; etc.).

There are also some very good reasons that organizations like the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial Information Agency, and others in the public and private sector do not actively place neon marquee signs outside their locations and say “WE DO INTELLIGENCE WORK HERE!”

Is there signage outside many of these facilities to denote who they are?

For many of these structures there is, but that does not mean any of them want to be featured on a local Chamber of Commerce tourism map. Each of those facilities is spread out around the country for reasons of politics, duplicity, expertise and assignments. None of them has made it a policy of publicly waving a flag to say, “Hey look at me” to draw attention to themselves or the people who work there.

Maybe the Post forgot about the 1993 shootings outside of the CIA’s Langley Headquarters, when Mir Amal Khasi got out of his car with an assault rifle and fired away at CIA employees killing two and injuring three more.

Maybe they’ve forgotten about the numerous shootings that have occurred at the Pentagon over the years by those individuals, whatever their grievance, who decided to open fire or display some type of weapon.

While CIA HQ and the Pentagon are much more publicly known (and accessible structures) than many of those identified by the Post series, the fact remains that the people who work at these lesser known facilities are much more vulnerable for potential harm than they were before.  Lesser-known targets are easier to strike than the higher value and publicly recognizable ones.  Those structures often have their own security forces to safeguard the perimeter. Some of these others facilities may not. As this series continues to be shared by friend and foe alike, the security posture at those locations is certain to change as terrorists, lunatics and the disenfranchised have been given a hefty menu of targets of opportunity.

According to the Editor’s note, as well as the reporters’ public comments, the Post is not interested in causing any personal harm. Unfortunately, their actions speak louder than their words.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More
  • Atlhockeymom

    Very well put. Great read.