Security sprawl hurts safety

Reading The Washington Post's "Top Secret America" series, the numbers grab you first:

■ Some 854,000 people, including an estimated 265,000 contractors from for-profit private companies, cleared for top-secret information

■ Intelligence reports spewing out at a rate of 50,000 a year

■ A list of code names for the Pentagon's highly secretive special access programs that runs to 300 pages, with the intelligence community having hundreds more of its own SAPs (hardly a confidence-building acronym)

■ 263 organizations that have been created or reorganized in response to 9/11.

■ A $75 billion annual budget for intelligence work that we know about (Who knows how much more is spent on off-the-books programs?)

■ 51 separate agencies that track the flow of money to terrorist organizations around the world.

Only after looking over your shoulder to see how many folks in trench coats are following you do you start to wonder, who's making sure everyone's reading from the same user's manual in putting this enormous amount of money, manpower and resources to work keeping Americans safe from further terrorist attacks?

What the Post series tells us is: no one.

Not the director of national intelligence, even though that office was created in 2004 with the stated intent of being the big boss person of the intelligence community. It seems the director's title didn't come with the legal or budgetary authority to do the job. Funny how Congress plays these little jokes from time to time.

Besides, even if the DNI had more authority, the Defense Department and the CIA play a great game of hidy-hole with money and information when someone threatens to invade their turf.

With no one in charge, we have myriad agencies, each occupying its own little square of America's crazy-quilt intelligence community, often duplicating each other's work but not so often sharing their work product.

So, even though sufficient bits and pieces of information were there, no one connected the dots that might have produced early intervention in cases involving the Army officer accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, and the Nigerian who attempted the Christmas Day airplane bombing.

Which begs the question: Has all this spending and disjointed effort made Americans safer today than they were on 9/11?

There, again, the Post found no answer.

"Because it lacks a synchronizing process, it inevitably results in message dissonance, reduced effectiveness and waste," retired Army Lt. Gen. John Vines told the Post. "We consequently can't effectively assess whether it is making us more safe."

With no on in charge of a vast, uncoordinated intelligence effort and no way of telling if it's working, it seems safe to say Americans have little reason to feel safer.