Top-Secret Janitors: Inside America's Clandestine Workfare Program

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July 19 2010 3:41 PM

Top-Secret Janitors: Inside America's Clandestine Workfare Program

The Washington Post 's investigation into the nation's ever-expanding national-security apparatus depicts a mysterious and immense network of government agencies, one that burns money and sends out impenetrable smoke. Nobody knows what it's all doing, or why it's doing it, or how it's supposed to all work together.

But the report raises another question: Where would the country be without it? Remember the coverage of the temporary Census jobs, as that bulge passed through the digestive tract of our starving python economy? In June, 225,000 Census jobs went off the books.

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Meanwhile, according to the Post , here are some highlights of this sprawling and unaccountable top-secret bureaucracy:

—Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

—An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

—In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings—about 17 million square feet of space.

And to keep all this running requires:

phone operators, secretaries, librarians, architects, carpenters, construction workers, air-conditioning mechanics and, because of where they work, even janitors with top-secret clearances.

Sure, this system is wasteful and pernicious and intrusive ("1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications" are intercepted each day by the NSA). But what if the paranoid bureaucracy turns out to be the country's only healthy sector?

Tom Scocca is the managing editor of Deadspin and the author of Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.

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