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Washington Post series: How many security secrets did it spill?

While the newspaper's two-year investigation into the massive post-9/11 security buildup was constructed largely from public records, taken together it presents a picture that some US officials say may endanger national security.

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Did The Washington Post's “Top Secret America” series reveal any top secrets? Not many, literally speaking.

The Post’s two-year investigation into the nation’s massive post-9/11 security buildup was constructed almost entirely from public records, according to the paper. But in a larger sense the project may have produced an overall picture that the US government would consider classified, had it produced such a report itself.

In recent years the US has consistently pushed a “mosaic theory” of intelligence gathering. This holds that individually harmless pieces of information, when combined with other pieces, can produce a composite picture that reveals national security vulnerabilities.

“Under the mosaic theory, even if the individual pieces are part of the public domain, a particular aggregation of data, or method by which the data was compiled, could in fact be classified,” says Stephen Vladeck, a professor and expert in national security law at American University’s Washington College of Law.

In “Top Secret America,” Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin revealed that since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the US has built up a top-secret infrastructure so large and secretive that, according to the paper, “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."

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