DC’s spy establishment in panic mode over Washington Post expose

By Daniel Tencer
Friday, July 16, 2010 17:59 EDT
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Washington’s intelligence establishment appears to be in panic mode over an upcoming Washington Post series about runaway growth in defense and intelligence spending.

A State Department email has accused the Post of planning to make public “top secret” information about defense and intelligence contractors working for the US, despite an admission in the same email that the Post‘s information came from “open sources.”

The series, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dana Priest, will include a TV partnership with PBS’s Frontline and is expected to consist of three articles and an online database of military and intelligence contractors and their projects.

It’s that database of contractors that seems to be worrying Washington the most. Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy reports that the State Department sent out an email Thursday warning all 14,574 Washington-area employees of the upcoming reports.

“On Monday July 19, the Washington Post plans to publish a website listing all agencies and contractors believed to conduct Top Secret work on behalf of the US Government,” the email stated. “The website provides a graphic representation pinpointing the location of firms conducting Top Secret work, describing the type of work they perform, and identifying many facilities where such work is done.”

However, the extent to which the Post‘s information will be “top secret” is debatable. The State Department email goes on to say that the information the Post has gathered came from “open sources,” suggesting the information published in the Post‘s database is already publicly available.

The email also tells employees they must “neither confirm nor deny” the claims made in the Post articles.

That line is echoed in a letter to “industry partners” from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In a blog posting entitled “Is Wash Post Harming Intelligence Work?”, the Washington Times reprints the letter from the ODNI, which asks contractors to “remind all cleared employees of their responsibility to protect classified information and relationships.”

Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic has obtained a memorandum from the ODNI’s communications chief, Art House, in which House lays out what he expects to see in the Post series, and his predictions paint a negative picture of defense and intelligence spending over the past decade. House said while he “can’t predict the content” of the piece, he expects it will draw several conclusions:

The intelligence enterprise has undergone exponential growth and has become unmanageable with overlapping authorities and a heavily outsourced contractor workforce.

The IC and the DoD have wasted significant time and resources, especially in the areas of counterterrorism and counterintelligence.

The intelligence enterprise has taken its eyes off its post-9/11 mission and is spending its energy on competitive and redundant programs.

House also lays out a strategy for an expected public-relations battle after the series’ publication:

It might be helpful as you prepare for publication to draw up a list of accomplishments and examples of success to offer in response to inquiries to balance the coverage and add points that deserve to be mentioned. In media discussions, we will seek to garner support for the Intelligence Community and its members by offering examples of agile, integrated activity that has enhanced performance. We will want to minimize damage caused by unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and classified information.

And Foreign Policy‘s Rogin reports that the Obama administration is already refuting the Post series, even though it won’t launch until Monday.

“A lot of this is explainable,” an unnamed administration official told Rogin. “You want some redundancy in the intelligence community and you’re going to have some waste. These are things we’ve been aware of and in some instances we agree are troubling. However, it’s something we’ve been working on for a year and a half. It’s something we’ve been on top of.”

The official went on to say that “there will be examples of money being wasted in the series that seem egregious and we are just as offended as the readers by those examples.”

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