Dwight Eisenhower, after commanding Allied forces in World War II and serving eight years as U.S. President, came to appreciate the power of political and economic infrastructure, leading to his famous warning about the threat to the American Republic from a "military-industrial complex."
Yet, in the years since Eisenhower's Farewell Address in 1961, the U.S. political system has allowed the "military-industrial complex" to continue growing and, indeed, to evolve into a sophisticated organism that collaborates with a supportive propaganda arm of think tanks, political apologists and media outlets, further distorting American democracy.
This infrastructure expanded sharply in the early 1980s when President Ronald Reagan secured a massive military buildup (despite the fact that America's Soviet adversary was already crumbling) and pushed for a "pro-democracy" apparatus using both public and private funds.
Though Reagan's "democracy" promotion ostensibly worked to undermine anti-U.S. governments abroad, the apparatus ranging from the federal National Endowment for Democracy to the quasi-private Freedom House became, in effect, a jobs program for neoconservatives, giving them a base of income, access and respectability within Official Washington.
Also, coinciding with Reagan's presidency was the construction of a right-wing media machine that propagated Reagan's political philosophy and attacked public figures, both in politics and in journalism, who refused to get in line. In the three decades since Reagan came to power, this media machine has grown into one of the most feared forces in American political life.
Reagan's creation and expansion of these interlocking and self-interested institutions set the stage for the next explosive growth of the national security bureaucracy, after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Cheered on by influential neocons (and think tanks) and supported by the right-wing news media, President George W. Bush had no trouble erecting a new national security infrastructure that rose quickly from the already well-funded foundation of the U.S. intelligence community.
The expansion was dramatic. In less than a decade, the estimated $30 billion a year intelligence budget more than doubled to $75 billion, a figure that doesn't count many related military and counter-terrorism operations.
In a landmark investigative article, the Washington Post attempted to quantify this mind-numbing expansion. According to Post reporters Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, this "Top-Secret America" represents "an alternative geography of the United States" with clusters of highly classified government agencies scattered around the country though concentrated most heavily in the Washington area.
The first article, entitled "A hidden world, growing beyond control," highlighted the key findings:
"The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work. "
"After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.
"The investigation's other findings include:
"* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
"* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.