Why subscribe?

Because you want to know, sure. But because you need to know.

We’re going to tell you.

Secrecy has vitiated our sense that the American national security state functions as it should.

There are now more than 600 clandestine government organizations, offices and groups that you can’t Google because they’re so secret.

The reason you can’t Google them is because no one, anywhere, has ever written about them before.

Since September 11, the number of Americans who’ve been formally enjoined to keep secrets from their families and neighbors has exploded into the many millions. Over sixty thousand military and government workers operate under false identities, even online. Every state in the union hosts federal government facilities and contractors involved in above-Top Secret work. The actual number of secrets the government keeps has grown almost tenfold in the past two decades. The number of special access programs, the most secret of secrets, has exploded. And the number of classified contracts awarded defense and intelligence contractors, even the existence of the contracts, is in the thousands. There are hundreds of programs that are not regularly shared with Congress. There have been legal decisions, kept secret, that pertain to everything from actually torturing people to killing American citizens by fiat to collecting logs of every phone call made by Americans, to other Americans. 

To what end? Is America safer? Have we actually been successful in our many wars or transient conflicts? Why does no one do anything tangible about the new and modern surveillance state, one that is changing every aspect of our lives? Why are the secrets more often measured by profit over results? Are government policy and procedures understood by anyone? What does the near trillion dollars spent on the military and intelligence community actually buy when we are purchasing fewer tanks, aircraft and ships than ever before? Does anyone have confidence that the government itself has any real clue? Does anyone trust the Pentagon, the CIA, or the FBI to tell the truth about a cascade of crises and screw-ups, and about the stuff that’s being done in our name?

There are no good answers, no satisfying ones, and few that are accessible to the public or the people’s representatives.

We are two people who have made it our life’s work trying to answer these questions and uncover government secrets, secrets that over and over again have been shown to protect the government’s autonomy, even from presidents.

It’s not just that we just like to figure out secrets.

It’s because we believe in the evolving idea of America and its messy realities; we cherish the freedoms that give us the right, as mere citizens, to figure out the wiring diagram of the national security secrets machine — how it all works — and to explain it to others.

We see deranging trends that have twisted and distorted politics and policy and society – bad information, conspiracies, censorship, the contempt for government and other institutions; the Secrets Machine, as we call it, has added to this endemic mistrust.

Secrecy shoves us around. Now, we’re going to shove back.

We’re going to use this platform to tell you what you need to know.

We’ve been urged to leave it alone: to ignore the mini-bureaucracies that create the code names that secure the compartments that swallow the secrets. We’ve been told that revealing this or that is dangerous to the national defense. We heard “no comment” too often and watched the government scramble to obfuscate and pull itself into deeper cover. We’ve been lied to, over or over, by officials — often because they, themselves, were lied to by superiors.

We’ve worked on secrets – as analysts and book writers and reporters — for 65 years, between the two of us. We've cultivated sources and pried into the documents, we’ve written articles and books, and we’ve been the subject of government investigations and official black-balling.

We’ve done more than many in journalism and in the world of national security to set the record straight.

But we now have access to a fragile, unique and continuing source of information that will help us do more.

This is new. No one has done it before. We are basing our work on something – several things, actually, that nobody in the world of national security reporting has ever had access to. We’re calling it The Secrets Machine.

In each post, through these sources of material and with our backgrounds and knowledge, we will discuss a new secret, or give a new cast to an old one.

Ideally, each post will try to explain what purpose the secret serves, and ask questions about what the secret in question is designed to obscure — that is, what the secrets actually do.

You might ask: why give the good stuff away for free?

Well, it’s not even a question for us.

We think these secrets are things that people have a genuine need to know.

We will then take these secrets and work on the supply side, revealing them and then explaining why things are falsely secret, why what is “secret” is really not a secret at all – that it is merely knowledge that the government obscures to avoid too much public involvement and Congressional oversight.

Our method is not theory, nor is it some naive plea for bipartisanship or for better oversight, or for more rules. It is grounded in the secrets themselves – the codewords, the secret organizations and programs, the mundane and fantastic hidden behind classification. And we will show how, when and why the secret world does not serve the people’s interests.

And though we will reveal secrets, working from our accumulated stockpile of over 20,000 codewords and secret programs and organizations, we also want to state that we admit, and we respect, that there are actual secrets that are military capabilities or intelligence sources and methods that deserve to be kept secret from our adversaries. They protect something that the government considers precious.

But what the government too often also protects is:


Illegal and questionable activities;

Relationships that Washington wants to hide;

Secret roadmaps to our future;

Big gambles and bad bets;

The implications of its endless activities;

Cognitive distortions in the way Washington operates;

The meager-rate of-return for billion dollar programs.

And each little secrets is a building block to understanding that we never have enough “security”, why we aren’t “winning” our many wars, that we don’t and never have the right intelligence, and that hundreds of billions of dollars are wasted while the real problems are never solved. Secret programs often move us closer to the very wars we purport to be working to avoid, and to a society that is more polarized, more under federal government control, with less privacy and less of a say for the public.

Subscribe to get full access to the newsletter and website.

Never miss an update.

Stay up-to-date

You won’t have to worry about missing anything. Every new edition of the newsletter goes directly to your inbox.

Join the crew

Be part of a community of people who share your interests.

To find out more about the company that provides the tech for this newsletter, visit Substack.com.

Subscribe to The Secrets Machine from William Arkin and Marc Ambinder

Official secrecy protects, conceals, conspires, confuses and confounds. The Secrets Machine is a brand new way to examine the attrition of trust in government and to explore the physiology and pathologies of the modern national security state.


The Secrets Machine

From William Arkin and Marc Ambinder, two of the foremost archeologists of the national security state, a new way to investigate government secrets.