The Washington Post rolls out its significant “Top Secret America” project today, a public records-based investigation of America’s post-9/11 national security apparatus, focusing on its size, cost and, as co-author Dana Priest notes in the video intro, “lack of transparency.” The project is the work of a dozen reporters— including Priest and co-byliner William M. Arkin — over two years and is available on the Post’s Web site as

an immersive online reading experience that combines all of the elements of our two-year investigation together into a single frame. You can page horizontally through our stories and view photos, video and graphics without leaving the package. Browse all of our offerings using the top nav bar above the viewing pane or the archive section beneath it.

I’m still immersing myself in this vast experience, but for anyone who has not, yet, begun immersion, here’s a tiny taste:

Outside a gated subdivision of mansions in McLean, a line of cars idles every weekday morning as a new day in Top Secret America gets underway. The drivers wait patiently to turn left, then crawl up a hill and around a bend to a destination that is not on any public map and not announced by any street sign…

…to the two headquarters of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and its National Counterterrorism Center, a “mountain of cement and windows the size of five Wal-Mart stores stacked on top of one another,” complete with armed guards and “at least 1,700 federal employees and 1,200 private contractors,” and nicknamed “Liberty Crossing.”

“Top Secret America” includes, among many other things, a database of the 1,931 private-sector companies the Post identified as “engaged in top-secret work for the government.” Companies with spook-y names like Anonymizer, Inc. and Espy Corp, and robust names like ManTech International Corporation. (How is it that our national security system is “redundan[t] and waste[ful],” per the Post, when it employs companies with names like Proven Inc, Trenchant Analytics LLC, and, um, Get-U-Started W/NT Solutions, Inc.?)

One more taste from today’s text:

Every day across the United States, 854,000 civil servants, military personnel and private contractors with top-secret security clearances are scanned into offices protected by electromagnetic locks, retinal cameras and fortified walls that eavesdropping equipment cannot penetrate…

… in order to, judging by the accompanying photo (below)….watch cable news.



Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.