This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Engelhardt discusses drone warfare and the Obama administration, click here or download it to your iPod here.
When my daughter was little and I read to her regularly, one illustrated book was a favorite of ours. In a series of scenes, it described frustrating incidents in the life of a young girl, each ending with the line—which my tiny daughter would boom out with remarkable force, “That makes me mad!” It was the book’s title and a repetitively cathartic moment in our reading lives. And it came to mind recently as, in my daily reading, I stumbled across repetitively mind-boggling numbers from the everyday life of our National Security Complex.
For our present national security moment, however, I might amend the book’s punch line slightly to: That makes no sense!
Now, think of something you learned about the Complex that fried your brain, try the line yourself… and we’ll get started.
Are you, for instance, worried about the safety of America’s “secrets”? Then you should breathe a sigh of relief and consider this headline from a recent article on the inside pages of my hometown paper: “Cost to Protect U.S. Secrets Doubles to Over $11 Billion.”
A government outfit few of us knew existed, the Information Security Oversight Office or ISOO, just released its “Report on Cost Estimates for Security Classification Activities for Fiscal Year 2011” (no price tag given, however, on producing the report or maintaining ISOO). Unclassified portions, written in classic bureaucratese, offer this precise figure for protecting our secrets, vetting our secrets’ protectors (no leakers please), and ensuring the safety of the whole shebang: $11.37 billion in 2011.
That’s up (and get used to the word “up”) by 12 percent from 2010, and double the 2002 figure of $5.8 billion. For those willing to step back into what once seemed like a highly classified past but was clearly an age of innocence, it’s more than quadruple the 1995 figure of $2.7 billion.
And let me emphasize that we’re only talking about the unclassified part of what it costs for secrets protection in the National Security Complex. The bills from six agencies, monsters in the intelligence world—the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the Office of of the Director of National Intelligence—are classified. The New York Times estimates that the real cost lies in the range of $13 billion, but who knows?
To put things in perspective, the transmission letter from Director John P. Fitzpatrick that came with the report makes it utterly clear why your taxpayer dollars, all $13 billion of them, are being spent this way: “Sustaining and increasing investment in classification and security measures is both necessary to maintaining the classification system and fundamental to the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration.” It’s all to ensure transparency. George Orwell take that! Pow!
Now let’s try the line again, this time with more gusto: That makes no sense!
On the other hand, maybe it helps to think of this as the Complex’s version of inflation. Security protection, it turns out, only goes in one direction. And no wonder, since every year there’s so much more precious material written by people in an expanding Complex to protect from the prying eyes of spies, terrorists and, well, you.