WASHINGTON - Since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, top-secret intelligence gathering by the government has grown so unwieldy and expensive that no one really knows what it costs and how many people are involved, The Washington Post reported yesterday.
A two-year investigation by the newspaper uncovered what it termed a "Top Secret America" that's mostly hidden from public view and largely lacking in oversight.
In its first installment of a series of reports, the Post said there are more than 1,200 government organizations and more than 1,900 private companies working on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in some 10,000 locations across the United States.
Some 854,000 people - or nearly 1 1/2 times the number of people who live in Washington - have top-secret security clearance, the paper said.
Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday the issue of redundancy within the intelligence community is a "well known" problem.
"We've been fighting two wars since 9-11 and a lot of that growth in the intelligence community has come as a result of needed increases in intelligence collection and those types of activities to support two wars," Lapan said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates previously had ordered the services and defense agencies to find cost savings in the years to come.
"Nine years after 9/11, it makes sense to sort of take a look at this and say, 'OK, we've built tremendous capability, but do we have more than we need?' " Gates said.
The head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, said he knows that with the growing budget deficits the level of spending on intelligence will likely be reduced and he's at work on a five-year plan for the agency.
The White House released a memo from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence listing what it called eight "myths" and intended as a point-by-point answer to the charges the Post series was expected to raise.
Among them was that contractors represent the bulk of the intelligence workforce. The memo put the number at 28 percent, or less than a third.
The Post said its investigation also found that many intelligence agencies are doing the same work, wasting money and resources on redundancy, and that so many intelligence reports are published each year that many are routinely ignored.