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The Washington Post's press release

Washington Post Investigates the Intelligence World Responsible for America’s Safety

Two-Year Long Review Explores Redundancy, Unwieldiness in Top Secret Government Agencies

WASHINGTON--July 19, 2010--The Washington Post today published the first story in a new series exploring the Top Secret world created in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The series titled "Top Secret America” (, describes and analyzes a defense and intelligence structure that has become so large, so unwieldy, and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, or whether it is making the United States safer.

Among the highlights:
-Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on Top Secret programs related to counter-terrorism, homeland security, and intelligence at over 10,000 locations across the country. Over 850,000 Americans have Top Secret clearances.
-Redundancy and overlap are major problems and a symptom of the ongoing lack of coordination between agencies.
-In the Washington area alone, 33 building complexes for Top Secret work are under construction or have been built since September 2001.

This is the first and most comprehensive examination of the complex system. It was reported by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Dana Priest and author, researcher, and military expert William M. Arkin. The findings are based on hundreds of interviews with current and former military and intelligence officials and public records. Nearly two dozen journalists worked on the investigation, including investigative reporters, cartography experts, database reporters, video journalists, researchers, interactive graphic designers, digital designers, graphic designers, and graphics editors at The Washington Post.

“This country’s top-secret national-security enterprise is both enormous and opaque,” Marcus Brauchli, The Post’s executive editor said. “We have sought through this long-term investigative project to describe it and enable our readers— including citizens, taxpayers, policymakers and
legislators—to understand the scale and effectiveness of what has been created. The Post remains firmly committed to this kind of accountability journalism.”

In addition to the stories in the series, a blog will anchor the Top Secret America site providing updates on Top Secret America coverage, original journalism and insight around related national security matters. The Top Secret America blog will serve as an online destination for further reporting, discussion, analysis, and interaction. Priest and Arkin will host this continuing conversation throughout the rest of the year, working alongside readers to lead inquiries about dimensions of Top Secret America that remain unexplored.

Other multimedia features include:
-A searchable database illustrates information about government organizations that contract out Top Secret work, companies they contract to, the types of work they do, and the places where they do it.
-A map displays locations of all the clusters of Top Secret activity and some basic information about those areas.
-Each of nearly 2,000 companies and 45 government organizations has a profile page with basic information about its role in Top Secret America, and readers can filter searches by companies doing a specific kind of work, all companies mentioned in the story, or all companies with more than $750 million in revenue.
-A video guide to Top Secret America provides a concise, 90-second visual overview of the project’s major findings and implications.
-A video produced by PBS Frontline previews the series and illuminates the process of reporting. From the high-tech barn where Arkin worked to Priest’s guided-tour outside the NSA campus to a photographer’s experience shooting, the video captures how the information was gathered and evolved into the final series.

A second story to be published Tuesday takes an in-depth look at the government's dependence on private contractors and how it may be degrading the quality of the federal workforce. Managers of the intelligence agencies do not necessarily know how many contractors work for them. The Post estimates the number of contractors who work on Top Secret programs to be 265,000.

A third story to be published Wednesday focuses on the economic and cultural impact of a high concentration of Top Secret work within a community located around the National Security Agency. While the rest of the country struggles with an economic recession, in the clusters of Top Secret America, expansion continues and the unemployment rate is low. The NSA plans to expand by two-thirds its current size over the next 15 years.

The first installment of the series is available now online at, as well as at

Dana Priest is an investigative reporter for The Washington Post. She was the Post's intelligence reporter for three years and its Pentagon correspondent for seven years before that. She has traveled widely with Army Special Forces, Army infantry troops on peacekeeping missions and the Pentagon’s four-star regional commanders. Priest received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for “The Other Walter Reed” and the 2006 Pulitzer for Beat Reporting for her work on CIA secret prisons and counterterrorism operations overseas. She authored the 2003 book, “THE MISSION: Waging War and Keeping Peace With America’s Military” about the military’s expanding influence over U.S. foreign affairs.

William Arkin is a reporter for The Washington Post and has been a columnist since 1998. He has been working on the subject of government secrecy and national security affairs for over 30 years and has visited war zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the former Yugoslavia. He has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books about the U.S. military and national security including seven basic reference works. He has been a consultant for Natural Resources Defense Council, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and the U.S. Air Force.

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This project was last updated in September 2010. Data is accurate as of that date.
"Top Secret America" is a project nearly two years in the making that describes the huge national security buildup in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. | Read More »

More than a dozen Washington Post journalists spent two years developing Top Secret America. | See the details »


Top Secret America on Frontline

A short video from PBS’s FRONTLINE on The Post’s two-year investigation. An hour-long documentary film is forthcoming. Watch the trailer »

The reporters

Dana Priest

Investigative reporter Dana Priest has been The Washington Post's intelligence, Pentagon and health-care reporter. She has won numerous awards, including the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for public service for "The Other Walter Reed" and the 2006 Pulitzer for beat reporting for her work on CIA secret prisons and counterterrorism operations overseas. She is author of the 2003 book, "The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace With America's Military, (W.W. Norton).

William M. Arkin

William M. Arkin has been a columnist and reporter with The Washington Post and since 1998. He has worked on the subject of government secrecy and national security affairs for more than 30 years. He has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books about the U.S. military and national security.

Project Credits

Stephanie Clark, Ben de la Cruz, Kat Downs, Dan Drinkard, Anne Ferguson-Rohrer, Justin Ferrell, David Finkel, Jennifer Jenkins, Robert Kaiser, Laris Karklis, Jacqueline Kazil, Lauren Keane, Todd Lindeman, Greg Manifold, Jennifer Morehead, Bonnie Jo Mount, Larry Nista, Ryan O’Neil, Sarah Sampsel, Whitney Shefte, Laura Stanton, Julie Tate, Doris Truong, Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso, Michael Williamson, Karen Yourish, Amanda Zamora.

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