Infographic of the Day: The Hidden Side of the War on Terror

The Washington Post has released a stunning set of interactive infographics that show the meteoric growth of the spy industry.

Infographic of the Day: The Hidden Side of the War on Terror


The Washington Post has released a stunning set of interactive infographics on the shadowy machine of the War on Terror, which summarize an exhaustive two-year investigation.

The infographic supports a three-part series by reporters Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, in which they argue that since 9/11, the American government has built a top-secret security and intelligence network — a sort of fourth branch of government — so vast and labyrinthine, it’s become impossible to manage, casting doubt on whether it’s actually doing what it’s supposed to do: protect Americans from terrorism. The report is called Top Secret America.

The infographic starts out as a color wheel of 45 government organizations. From there, you can sort by what type of top-secret work agencies do, which ones work with the most companies, and which ones do the most work (shown below).

Here, we’ve sorted by who does what. Color codes tell us what type of jobs we’re looking at (intelligence: red; homeland security: yellow; weapons technology: blue, etc.)

You can home in on a individual agencies, too. These are the clandestine doings of the Department of Energy. Air ops? Cyber ops? Weapons tech? Is Steve Chu out there manning a Howitzer or something?

The most fascinating aspect of the infographic — and of the investigative package overall — is what it tells us about the private sector. Sept. 11 unleashed a spigot of funding for national security and intel, drawing on the services of almost 2,000 contractors. They were meant to be a temporary fix, but now, Priest and Arkin write, the government completely depends on them, calling into question “whether the federal workforce includes too many people obligated to shareholders rather than the public interest — and whether the government is still in control of its most sensitive activities.”


A tab on “Featured Companies” profiles some of the key corporations profiting off the War on Terror. Remember ol’ Blackwater? They’re still at it! Only now, as you might’ve heard, they like to be called Xe Services — because changing your name makes everyone forget all the crazy crap you did! Right?

The site also maps out the physical infrastructure of top-secret America. It can tell you who’s doing what where, and how many companies and agencies are operating in a given area. See here:

You could spend hours trolling the site, and that’s precisely the point. The Post has a rich tradition of crack investigative journalism, but it’s been slow to deepen its storytelling through digital tools. This is by far the most detailed, comprehensive online data visualization we’ve seen from a newspaper. Hat’s off to the Post for finally figuring out how to exploit, instead of feel exploited by, the Internet.

[Via the Washington Post]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.