The Spies Next Door: The Top 10 Beltway Intel Centers Hiding in Plain Sight
The U.S. economy is stuck in the doldrums, but the intelligence business in America is booming. The 17 organizations that today comprise the U.S. intelligence community are all, to one degree or another, building new multimillion-dollar headquarters buildings and operational facilities all over the greater Washington metropolitan area despite recent budget cuts.
For example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began construction last year on a brand-new headquarters complex on the grounds of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Anacostia, which formerly was a federally run psychiatric facility. When completed sometime in 2017, DHS intends to consolidate 40 of its offices that are currently spread throughout the Washington region in the new complex, including its own intelligence component and those of its subordinate agencies, like the intelligence staff of the U.S. Coast Guard.
On a per capita basis, there are more spies working in and around the Beltway than anywhere else in the world. Almost half of the 200,000 men and women who belong to the U.S. intelligence community work in Washington, as do several thousand foreign intelligence officers who operate openly from dozens of embassies and international organizations in the U.S. capital, trawling the landscape for secrets.
According to a 2001 report prepared by the General Services Administration (GSA), which owns or leases all U.S. government facilities, as of 9/11 the CIA had offices in 29 facilities spread throughout the District of Columbia, northern Virginia, and southern Maryland.* This did not include over a dozen covert safe houses, training facilities, and communications centers, as well as several large heavily guarded warehouses inside the GSA Stores Depot in Franconia, Virginia, where the agency stored its classified files, equipment, and supplies. And that was before the terrorist attacks that dramatically increased the intelligence community’s post-Cold War role.