Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dana Priest described her work to uncover the immense expansion—and secrecy-- of the U.S. government following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Tuesday at the Fluno Center.
The talk focused on findings from her latest book, co-authored with journalist William Arkin, “Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State.”
Just several days after the terrorist attacks, Congress distributed $8 billion to different government agencies.
The money was used to increase security, resulting in what became the largest secret action program in the government’s history, Priest said.
Priest said the government used the money to create a series of top-secret programs, whose main goals were to find, capture, interrogate and kill al- Qaeda.
By keeping the projects classified, Priest said the government is “basically saying ‘trust us.’ As a journalist who’s been in this field for 25 years, that never really works.”
Following her journalistic instinct, Priest started digging and found the government had created numerous new government organizations and expanded already existing organizations. Arkin also noticed an increase in strange codenames for top-secret jobs, including oddities such as “busy lobster.”
Sensing more to the story, the two began mapping the secret world of post-9/11 national intelligence by collecting addresses, registration forms and employee names.
Since the projects were even kept secret amongst government agencies themselves, Priest said the drastic government expansion led to project overlaps since the groups were all working toward the same goal: finding al Queda.
While researching, Priest said one national intelligence official even admitted the network was “so big that only god knows everything.”
Although Priest said she believes Americans today are safer than before the attacks, she does not entirely credit the new programs.
Perhaps officials are more prepared to respond to threats thanks to the increased focus on national security, but Priest said it is in fact the programs that existed before 9/11, such as the C.I.A. and F.B.I. that have captured the vast majority of terrorists.
When she opened the talk for questions, a few audience members asked Priest to explain the role they believe the U.S. government played in the Sept. 11 attacks. While the room echoed with whispers and groans as well as a few lone claps, Priest fervently denounced any connection between the U.S. government and 9/11.
Kayla Johnson contributed to this article.