Top Secret America on the Post-9/11 Cycle of Fear and Funding

I’m reading Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin. Both work for The Washington Post. The book talks about the rise of the security-industrial complex in post 9/11 America. This short quote is from Chapter 3:

Such dread was a large part of the post-9/11 decade. A culture of fear had created a culture of spending to control it, which, in turn, had led to a belief that the government had to be able to stop every single plot before it took place, regardless of whether it involved one network of twenty terrorists or one single deranged person. This expectation propelled more spending and even more zero-defect expectations. There were tens of thousands of unsolved murders in the United States by 2010, but few newspapers ever blared this across their front pages or even tried to investigate how their police departments had to failed to solve them all over the years. But when it came to terrorism, newspaper and other media outlets amplified each mistake, which amplified the threat, which amplified the fear, which prompted more spending, and on and on and on.

It’s a really good book so far. I recommend it.

EDITED TO ADD (7/13): The project’s website has a lot of interesting information as well.

Posted on June 27, 2012 at 6:35 AM18 Comments


Gweihir June 27, 2012 7:13 AM

I like the term “zero-defect expectations”. It shows nicely how stupid and unrealistic the whole thing is.

Clive Robinson June 27, 2012 7:29 AM

The quote about unsolved murders shows just how wrong this whole boondongle of 9/11 fud is.

In the past murder and high value crimes were the key targets for LEO’s as these carried the most significant political risk which many LEO’s superiors had a dreed of due to lossing the vots that got them their jobs.

Murder rates are a key indicator of a societies success or failure to effectivly give them a “by” gives a very clear indicator as to what is happening in US society.

And I don’t know about the average reader here but I find that quite disconcerting.

Tomputer June 27, 2012 7:49 AM

And so hence the question rises: “Who controls the media?”
Could it be a politician? Or is it the other way around? What would Rupert Murdoch say?

QnJ1Y2U June 27, 2012 8:39 AM

I saw Dana Priest speak on this book at the Texas Book Festival. It’s an impressive piece of research / investigative reporting.

One of the takeaways: we now have huge armies of intelligence analysts creating reports for other armies of analysts to consume. Meanwhile, the skilled and experienced analysts are getting lost in the shuffle. We’re trying to connect so many dots that the lines are just becoming scribbles.

Frontline aired a report on her work back in September.

Figureitout June 27, 2012 10:10 AM

I liked the black half-circle on top of the book cover, it’s symbolic of what’s taking place in many places here: schools, parks, stores, building tops, parking lots; you cannot escape the black half-circle.

A shiver went up my spine when I saw one on top of a flagpole with the American flag. That is desecration of the flag in my view, but still symbolic…we’re turning into a police state, pure and simple.

Terry Hall June 27, 2012 12:24 PM

Culture of fear…. some music for you on this theme, think you’ll dig it. Thievery Corportation, Culture of Fear:

  • Terry

Robert June 27, 2012 2:25 PM

The press has gone on and on about how the 9/11 attack changed everything. In fact, its minor by any standard.

From the CDC,

A total of 2,726 death certificates related to the WTC attacks had been filed.

More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.
443,000 deaths annually (including deaths from secondhand smoke)

No One June 27, 2012 2:56 PM

@Figureitout: I wish you’d taken a picture. Then again, you’d probably be arrested if you had.

nycman June 27, 2012 3:10 PM

@Figureitout: Camera on top of a flagpole with the American flag…hearing that really makes me sad. I wonder if all the police/terror dramas we see on TV, with all the surveillance and monitoring technology they show, is in part sponsored by the surveillance/monitoring industry. The shows always end well and the public is being desensitized to being always monitored. Why are you locking your door and closing your bedroom curtain? If you’re not doing anything wrong you shouldn’t have anything to hide, after all. Seems like the common position of many people.

david shayer June 27, 2012 5:04 PM

I’m waiting for all the Republicans who claim “government is the problem, not the solution”, and who promise “smaller government” to reign in the security industrial complex.

skype June 27, 2012 6:32 PM

off topic :

I’m almost sure this is a honeypot running as a Tor hidden service, but if it’s not, I’d appreciate it were some authorities to look into it.

This is a tinyurl shortcut to the Tor hidden service, you must have Tor installed to visit it:

It’s a discussion forum.

There’s a LOT of chatter on that hidden service about CC’s and more. Please, someone in a TLA/LEA investigate the site.

Realist June 28, 2012 6:20 PM

The funny (sad) thing about all this is that the US is becoming more and more the same totalitarian police state it used to despise and rally against during the so called Cold War. In many ways, McArthy-ism is alive and well under the guise of a “war on (insert name of trendy FUD topic of the week)”

Wzrd1 June 30, 2012 5:53 PM

I noticed one common item in those hysterical headlines, “TERROR ATTACK (or PLOT)…”
Meanwhile, exactly how many effective terror attacks HAVE occurred in the US?
Well, there was the Oklahoma City bombing, but many will discard it, as the “evil” this week is Islamist terrorists.
OK, the WTC and Pentagon attacks.
And zip since. No buildings damaged, no buildings destroyed, no civilian deaths in the US that was caused by terrorist attacks. Indeed, there is a dearth of attacks.
Even BEFORE we had the almighty DHS, who have terrorized more Americans than any terrorist group in history.
But, the media hypes the “threat”, ignoring the dearth of effective attacks. The few attempts were either stopped by intelligence warning of them (printer bombs) or the ineptitude of the attack (shoe and underwear bombs), yet ALL utterly ignore that the US cannot screen people at all when they’re in another nation and inbound. ALL attacks WERE inbound, save the WTC/Pentagon attacks, where the hijackers were armed with items permitted by FAA directive onboard the aircraft (but, interestingly enough, the contracted security companies and workers were blamed for permitting onboard, yet they were penalized for NOT permitting permitted items onboard).
No, what we have today is George Orwell’s warning book being used as an instruction manual.

Anon July 2, 2012 12:45 AM


The whole point of counter-terrorism is not primarily to arrest people for crimes, but to prevent crimes from ever taking place. Solving murders is only more cost effective for prevention if you know something about the recidivism rate for the people who don’t get caught.

Ken July 2, 2012 3:17 PM

The Washington Post’s entire expose web site on “Top Secret America” did one thing…put the employees of all the companies listed on their web site on the radar for every foreign intelligence agency. Many contractors and their families are now at higher risk, especially when traveling overseas. Thanks for endangering their lives, Washington Post.

T B July 6, 2012 11:31 PM

I’d rather be anonymous on this post, because I flew today and honestly, I am afraid of the TSA–they can do more than ruin your whole day, they can cost you a lot in money for delayed travel.

I flew today from one really tranquil airport to another decent airport, and don’t want to say which ones because I like them, and don’t want to blame anyone there…or end up on the LIST.

BUT, going thru security on the departure end, I was scared witless by a vocal TSA agent about the possible “gels” or “liquids” I had not put into a baggy: neosporin, cold cream, lip gloss, hair products, and a bottle of $2.50 water I’d just purchased there and couldn’t bring myself to throw out. I was afraid they’d ruin my whole day. I felt like a criminal.

Having all that contraband, and being warned by TSA to display it or lose it or worse, and being told to put my tiny sandals in a separate bucket from my stuff, AND opting out of the body scan radiation machine, I was sure I was toast.

But NO! I did get my pat down, politely done, but none of my innocent contraband was questioned at all. And honestly, how many of us really want to bring anything onto a plane that will hurt us or our fellow passengers?

So all that scare, the rise in my BP, and nothing happened. I got my cosmetics and my water into security and amazingly nothing bad happened!

I understand fear, I understand risk, I understand the history. But if they make it one iota more miserable to fly I, being mainstream and normal, will quit flying altogether. It’s not fun anymore, and now it’s often not worth it anymore. I PAID for that treatment, once for the ticket, and every time I pay my taxes.

Ya’ll, help us all out here: carry as much forbidden gels in your carry on as you want, and don’t baggy it. They know they can’t mess with all of us or they’ll ruin air flight in America. I’m not advocating bad behavior, just normal behavior. Travel like a normal person.

Right now I’m feeling so much love for that guy that stripped naked at the check point, he had the guts to make the point.

Me, I’m a little more low radar passive, but I’m not baggy-ing my stuff or throwing out my water just because they can’t do their best.
Disgusted with flying, and with our cowardly reaction to this theater.

Otter July 7, 2012 12:13 PM

T B: boasting defiance but carefully evading detection.

Instead of despising T B, consider the impotent millions whom he represents. And the docile tens of millions whose resistance is limited to vaguely hoping they won’t be the one pulled out this time.

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