I wrote the second part of my discussion of Top Secret America over at the Columbia Journalism Review, where the critique seemed more appropriate. Overall, I give the series a “meh” and really wonder why it took two years to put together.
Priest and Arkin write that, near Ft. Meade, employees and contractors who work for the NSA can’t function in normal life: they walk around hunched over, unable to blend into a Borders book store, advertising their presence with drone-like haircuts and suits. In one particularly bizarre section, we learn that Jeanie Burns, the girlfriend of one long-time NSA employee, says her boyfriend won’t travel with her, doesn’t like to go out, and doesn’t do anything interesting. “I feel cheated,” she says.
Priest and Arkin never say why we should care. They don’t ask if we actually get good analysis from people so incapable of existing in normal social settings (we probably do for some things, like cryptology, but probably don’t for other things, like radicalizing cultural and social movements). Priest and Arkin said that, in bars near Ft. Meade, undercover agents circulate among the unwinding employees to make sure they don’t say anything untoward, but they don’t wonder why the NSA feels it necessary to flood bars with secret agents, or what possible effect it could have either on the analytic community—how could such severe paranoia not severely affect one’s quality of life?—or the broader residential community of Ft. Meade. They just say that it happens, and move on.
Comments, as always, are welcome.