Top Secret America

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87 Ratings

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5 out of 5 stars
By Toombs on 18-10-11

Excellent, detailed account of a secret world

This book is a fascinating look at the reality and the dangers of the U.S. government's decision since 9/11 to become overly concerned with secrecy and classifying information. The government has become so concerned about protecting secrets that it now classifies too much information, impeding the ability of law enforcement operations to work efficiently and effectively.

On top of that, the government is now relentless spying on not just foreigners but American citizens as well with little oversight, citing the most baseless of suspicions and all in the name of fighting terrorism. The massive intelligence and spying system is guaranteed (if isn't already) to be abused in the future by administrations who want to target political enemies, as Nixon did when he ordered the FBI and CIA to harass anti-Vietnam activist groups and political enemies such as Daniel Ellsberg.

The end result, as Priest and Arkin expertly document, is that this giant system that we are literally spending tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars a year on is actually making us less safe. There is no reliable way to measure its effectiveness, and as Priest writes, many functions are wastefully duplicated by various govt organizations (CIA, FBI, NSA, etc.) across the country. The information needed to make sense of the whole mess and to put the pieces together to improve the efficiency is classified and accessible only to select few top people in government with the high access to classified information. Yet the system is so complex and sprawling in size that no one person would ever have the time to make sense of the entire thing. It has taken Priest and Arkin years to get some sort of grip on what's going on, and that's working full time on this project.

The end result is a vastly bloated system that enriches the private companies that make up Top Secret America all while hurting the ability of the law enforcement to stop possible terrorist plots. The government must sort through 1.7 billion pieces of communication it stores a day to find the 1 or 2 pieces that might give them clues to actual terrorist plots. There is far too much noise in the system, but the answer in Top Secret America to any problem, as Priest and Arkin write, is more not less. More departments, more organizations, more technology, more classification.

When we live in times where budget deficits are giving politicians excuses to cut important programs that help Americans, such as Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, it's increasingly unsustainable to continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on Top Secret America, especially when, as Priest and Arkin expertly layout, the U.S. taxpayer is likely not getting their money's worth for all the spending.

Full disclosure: I read many articles and books on national security every year and was previously familiar with a lot of what Priest and Arkin write about in this book (much from the articles they write in the Washington Post). I can see how it's easier for me to follow along in the audio recording given I know a lot of the acronyms already and understand what she's talking about. If you are new to this world, it might be a bit more challenging to follow along. But the book is well written and Priest does a decent job narrating her own book (though, she talks in her typical monotone voice which may turn some people off).

I recommend reading this book, whether through Audible or through a hard copy. It's very important information that every American should take the time to understand, because like I mentioned above, Congress is cutting social programs but continuing to expand spending on national security and intelligence. Should they really be doing that?

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9 of 9 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars
By Richard on 29-09-11


Could have been more interesting with a different speaker, less monotone. Far too much time & detail on the abbreviations of all the various agencies, like it is an important fact we are to remember?
The premise of the book is excellent, the paranoia of security, privacy and control and how out of control
the body of our overall security is. I certainly don't feel any safer knowing what I just read and would not be surprised if we experienced another catastrophic event. The finger pointing would certainly be interesting and equally disgusting. Have a problem, throw more money at it.

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Abi Hassen on 18-09-11

good book, bad reader

great book. not very experienced reader. the content overcomes the amateur narration. the narrator is not terrible, but she is often too slow and clearly not an professional reader. bad narration can ruin audio books.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Julie on 27-01-12

Fascinating and maddening

What did you love best about Top Secret America?

The information Dana Priest reveals through her relentless journalistic efforts is not found elsewhere (at least compiled so completely).

What was one of the most memorable moments of Top Secret America?

Learning about the addition of 30+ new and specific intelligence agencies within months of 9/11, and scores more in the decade since, and how this information is barely known by anyone, including the taxpayers paying for them.

Have you listened to any of Dana Priest’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I've heard Dana Priest being interviewed before (on The Diane Rehm Show, for example), so her delivery of her own material was consistent with her style and fine with me. She speaks slowly and deliberately, which apparently bothered other listeners, but it didn't bother me much.

Any additional comments?

I found this book intersting from beginning to end. The material Dana Priest uncovered is also profoundly frustrating. There's got to be a better way for America to stay safe.

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4 out of 5 stars
By Tadish Durbin on 22-12-11

Read by the author. You would think that's good

What made the experience of listening to Top Secret America the most enjoyable?

The subject is fascinating, the research well-done and careful. The national security industry is, as we all had the sneaking suspicion, a gigantic scam, the details of which no-one without a security clearance will ever know. This includes your elected representatives in government.The sheer magnitude of this new industrial complex will make you laugh. Nervously.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Dana Priest?

My hound dog. A high-school student. A recent immigrant in their second week of ESL class. Any one of a number of well-qualifed narrators. Dana Priest's rendition of her own work is flat and dull. She often misses the punctuation and cadence of her own sentences. I'm not sure what it says about a book when the author cannot be bothered to read it so that it is expressive and engaging. She sounds like she's reading someone else's work for the first time.

If you could give Top Secret America a new subtitle, what would it be?

Why the United States is spending billions of dollars on

Any additional comments?

Great subject, great book, lousy narration.

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1 of 2 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars
By Steven on 21-09-11

Important info revealed - Poor literature

Dana Priest has an important story to reveal here: Spending on the war on terror is out of control, there is duplication of services, no one is keeping track of this.

However this is poor literature. The book jumps around in what appears to be a random fashion. The book is loaded with buzzwords, initials of govn't services, almost impossible to keep up with. I still can't remember what a skiff is. Dana Priest's narration is terrible. She speaks in a monotone. Next time pay for a narrator, Dana you cheapskate.

The book which is based on some Washington Post articles appears to be a hurried attempt to monetize the articles. I guess Dana Priest's appearances on Washington Week don't pay all of her bills. Priest should have used The Great American Stickup as a guide on how to make disparate information interesting and accessible. It's a shame this book should have been much better

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2 of 6 people found this review helpful

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