You might have heard about the ambitious - and quite scary - investigative series from the Washington Post this week titled Top Secret America. Two years in the making, the package opened this way:
The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.
There's a lot to sort through, but the most interesting part of the report is a database that lays out the 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies that do work related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence. In the L.A. area, there are 169 company locations and 64 government locations. Many of the companies I found have Web sites, but good luck figuring out what any of them do for the government. As for the government locations, most appear to be connected with the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and FBI.
They're spread out pretty much throughout L.A., Orange and Ventura counties, with the South Bay having the biggest concentration of companies. That makes sense, given the area's long history as a base for the defense and aerospace industries. But as you can see from the map, activity in Southern California pales next to what's going on in the Washington suburbs. Frontline has a 7-minute clip (see below) that summarizes the work by Post reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin, and it's pretty chilling stuff - comparable to most anything you'd might read in Robert Ludlum thriller.
The last part of the series looks at the community of Fort Meade, just outside Washington, where there are all kinds of top-secret activities:
The existence of these clusters is so little known that most people don't realize when they're nearing the epicenter of Fort Meade's, even when the GPS on their car dashboard suddenly begins giving incorrect directions, trapping the driver in a series of U-turns, because the government is jamming all nearby signals. Once this happens, it means that ground zero - the National Security Agency - is close by. But it's not easy to tell where. Trees, walls and a sloping landscape obscure the NSA's presence from most vantage points, and concrete barriers, fortified guard posts and warning signs stop those without authorization from entering the grounds of the largest intelligence agency in the United States.