‘Top Secret America’ - A Washington Post investigation


The series titled "Top Secret America," describes and analyzes a defense and intelligence structure that has become so large, so unwieldy, and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, or whether it is making the United States safer.

Among the highlights:

  • Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on Top Secret programs related to counter-terrorism, homeland security, and intelligence at over 10,000 locations across the country. Over 850,000 Americans have Top Secret clearances.
  • Redundancy and overlap are major problems and a symptom of the ongoing lack of coordination between agencies.
  • In the Washington area alone, 33 building complexes for Top Secret work are under construction or have been built since September 2001.

This is the first and most comprehensive examination of the complex system. It was reported by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Dana Priest and author, researcher, and military expert William M. Arkin. The findings are based on hundreds of interviews with current and former military and intelligence officials and public records. Nearly two dozen journalists worked on the investigation, including investigative reporters, cartography experts, database reporters, video journalists, researchers, interactive graphic designers, digital designers, graphic designers, and graphics editors at The Washington Post.

“This country’s top-secret national-security enterprise is both enormous and opaque,” Marcus Brauchli, The Post’s executive editor said. “We have sought through this long-term investigative project to describe it and enable our readers— including citizens, taxpayers, policymakers and legislators—to understand the scale and effectiveness of what has been created. The Post remains firmly committed to this kind of accountability journalism.”

In addition to the stories in the series, a blog anchors the Top Secret America site providing updates on Top Secret America coverage, original journalism and insight around related national security matters. The Top Secret America blog serves as an online destination for further reporting, discussion, analysis, and interaction. 



A graphic from The Washington Post’s investigative project “Top Secret America” that allows readers to explore the connections between government agencies and companies doing top secret work (photo: atwar.blogs.nytimes.com)


Other multimedia features include:

  • A searchable database illustrates information about government organizations that contract out Top Secret work, companies they contract to, the types of work they do, and the places where they do it.
  • A map displays locations of all the clusters of Top Secret activity and some basic information about those areas.
  • Each of nearly 2,000 companies and 45 government organizations has a profile page with basic information about its role in Top Secret America, and readers can filter searches by companies doing a specific kind of work, all companies mentioned in the story, or all companies with more than $750 million in revenue.
  • A video guide to Top Secret America provides a concise, 90-second visual overview of the project’s major findings and implications.
  • A video produced by PBS Frontline previews the series and illuminates the process of reporting. From the high-tech barn where Arkin worked to Priest’s guided-tour outside the NSA campus to a photographer’s experience shooting, the video captures how the information was gathered and evolved into the final series.

Read more about the Top Secret America investigation on the Washington Post's dedicated website, where you can also explore the data and the interactive maps, and join live Q&A sessions. 

Source: Washington Post press release