Enemy bean counters had to be shocked to learn from the Post that the U.S. "intelligence system" budget is now more than $75 billion -- more than double what it was before the 9/11 attacks. America's allies and adversaries no doubt are stunned to realize that "more than 854,000 people have top-secret clearances" and that 265,000 of them are evil contractors. And those who intend to commit violence against us are no doubt comforted by the revelation that some of these nefarious characters help the National Security Agency "intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications" daily -- but there are too few interpreters or cryptologists to analyze all the data.
But wait. There's more. The Post piece isn't all cold, hard numbers and dollars. The paper evidently wanted to put a human face on its drawn-out story and help readers understand there are real people involved in these shadowy activities. In copy that reads like poorly written pulp fiction or the opening of a personal advice column, the authors describe meeting "a businesswoman" at a bar in Maryland near "super-secret" Fort Meade:
"She's been living with one of those secretive men for 20 years. He used to work at the NSA. Now he's one of its contractors. He's been to war. She doesn't know where. He does something important. She doesn't know what. ... She says she fell for him two decades ago and has had a life of adjustments ever since. ... 'I'm the interloper,' she says. 'It bothers me he never takes me traveling, never thinks of anything exciting to do. ... I feel cheated.'"
There's no information on how this deeply moving personal account tucked into the WaPo expose has affected Washington policymakers. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, must have read some of the story. On July 20, she told retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper -- the Obama administration's nominee to become the next director of national intelligence -- he had to rein in "the enormous growth" and eliminate "sprawl, overlap and duplication" in the 16 agencies of the U.S. intelligence community and the contractors supporting their work.
Unfortunately, neither Feinstein nor the "muckrakers" at the Post acknowledge why these problems continue to grow: We're in a war we can't fight without contractors. Clapper would be the fourth DNI in five years. In those same five years, Congress has failed to pass a single intelligence authorization Bill. Aside from the U.S. military, intelligence agencies largely are funded by annual supplemental appropriations that do not permit the hiring of new federal employees -- even if the government could recruit and retain adequate numbers of competent people. If the essential work of these agencies is going to get done, it has to be performed by "auxiliaries" on annual contracts.
Finally, what all involved seem to ignore is that many of these contractors or auxiliaries actually deliver. Their most pressing challenge -- particularly those involved in human intelligence collection -- is getting the information to those who can act on it.
Apparently, these facts weren't sensational enough to make the WaPo's "Top Secret America" headlines. For that reason, the names of those who authored it have been omitted from this column -- just in case they want to go into the witness protection program at a previously undisclosed location.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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