Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs "In the basement of a newly renovated building in Colorado, an army of people in uniform and shirtsleeves is working on a map of North America unlike any ever created. It is a multidimensional, multimedia, top secret compendium of very specific data accumulating at a dizzying rate. The ultimate dream of those behind it is to be able to point to any block in any city in the United States and gain instant access to the expanding universe of digitized information for that location, from speed cameras to wireless network signals, street level photography and video, property records, electricity consumption, floor plans and security layouts, even traffic light sequences. Also incoming would be ultra-high-resolution imagery that can peer into backyards, and other advanced technologies available to pinpoint activity inside the walls of an office building, power station, or, with proper approval, a private home, from the living room to the bathroom to the children's bedrooms.
"Some of the users of this unprecedented surveillance tool are based inside Northern Command, America's newest military command, and the first in modern times to be focused not on some distant outpost of the world but on America itself. Evidence of their focus can be seen in the poster mounted on one office wall, stark letters declaring their mission: One Nation, One Map."
That description of activity behind the walls of a "cluster of gleaming white buildings at Peterson Air Force Base, on the edge of Colorado Springs" is from "Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State" by Washington Post investigative reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin.
Published on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, "Top Secret America" is a book every American should read to gain a perspective of the explosion in national security spending and infrastructure — most of it hidden from the public — that has occurred over the past decade. The book also will give you an understanding of why "seven of the 10 counties with the highest household incomes in the nation" are in the Washington, D.C. area, as The Washington Post recently reported.
The book is even more relevant today given the bipartisan hysteria over the pending March 1 "sequestration" cuts that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has threatened will be "devastating" to the nation's security. Contrary to Panetta's Chicken Little pronouncements, Priest and Arkin prove that Panetta doesn't have a handle on the size, expense and waste of the department he commands.
As the book’s description on Amazon.com correctly summarizes, "The top-secret world that the government created in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks has become so enormous, so unwieldy, and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or exactly how many agencies duplicate work being done elsewhere." Priest and Arkin provide an "expose of a new, secret ‘Fourth Branch’ of American government."
A fourth branch of government so mismanaged it can't be audited.
In a Jan. 17 news release, the U.S. Government Accountability Office announced it "cannot render an opinion on the 2012 consolidated financial statements of the federal government because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations.
"As was the case in 2011, the main obstacles to a GAO opinion on the accrual-based consolidated financial statements were: Serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense that made its financial statements unauditable. … While the vast majority of the 24 CFO Act agencies received unqualified opinions, DOD and the Department of Homeland Security have consistently been unable to receive such audit opinions."
Strip away the Government Accountability Office’s bureaucratic accounting language and it's as Priest and Arkin detail in their book. The United States has become a security state so large, so pervasive, and so classified, that no one — not the president or anyone else in the chain of command — has a grasp of the inherent waste resulting from our bloated national security apparatus.
That's worth keeping in mind as the sequestration rhetoric heats up. Meanwhile, for an informative and fascinating look at the uncontrolled growth of our national security complex, pickup a copy of "Top Secret America."