“Top Secret America” Price Tag at Record High

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July 5, 2012

How much did it cost the government to guard America’s secrets in 2011?

At least $11.36 billion — up 12 percent from the year before and double the amount it cost to classify secrets a decade ago — according to the Information Security Oversight Office’s annual report to the president (PDF).

But those record high numbers don’t include costs from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Security Agency (NSA) and others, which are classified. The New York Times reports that adding in the cost of these agencies would put a more accurate total at about $13 billion.

Steven Aftergood, who heads the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, argues the cost growth is in part the result of “the failure to rein in classification and especially overclassification,” or classifying information that shouldn’t be secret.

The high price tag includes the cost of protecting secrets that date back to the Cold War, but much of it is also a result of the new secret bureaucracy that has emerged since 9/11.  In Top Secret America, embedded above, FRONTLINE, with the Washington Post‘s Dana Priest and William Arkin, investigated the vast maze of clandestine government and private agencies created in response to 9/11.

Top Secret America is “here to stay,” warned Priest in an interview for the film. “As far as Top Secret America goes and the structure that’s now firmly in place to do all this, this administration has only furthered that. They’ve done nothing to roll it back. They’ve done very little to look inside of it, to say: ‘What is it that works? What doesn’t work? What do we really need? And in this time of economic hardship, what don’t we need?'”

Dig Deeper: Has the Balance Tipped?

Even maps are classified in today’s Top Secret America, notes FRONTLINE Managing Editor Philip Bennett, who reflects on what the “new contest for secrecy” means for security and for democracy.


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