Frontline: Season 29, Episode 19

Top Secret America (2011)

TV Episode  -   -  Documentary
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In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, FRONTLINE and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dana Priest ask how more than a decade of fighting terrorism has reshaped the country and whether it has made us safer.


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Episode credited cast:
William Arkin ...
Himself - Reporter
John Ashcroft ...
Daniel Benjamin ...
Gary Berntsen ...
J. Cofer Black ...
Kit Bond ...
John O. Brennan ...
Himself (as John Brennan)
Himself (archive footage)
Vincent Cannistraro ...
Dick Cheney ...
Himself (archive footage)
Richard Clarke ...
Michael Delong ...
Jim Gilmore ...
Himself - Reporter
Melvin Goodman ...
Michael Hayden ...


From PBS and Frontline - In the years after September 11th, FRONTLINE produced more than 45 hours of award-winning films documenting the 9/11 attacks and America's response to them. Now on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, FRONTLINE Producer Michael Kirk-Bush's War, The Torture Question, and Cheney's Law-teams up with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dana Priest, to investigate the dramatic changes that have reshaped America in the last decade. Written by Anonymous

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2011 (USA)  »

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16:9 HD
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Featured in Menschen & Mächte: Amerika - Streng geheim (2011) See more »

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The world of American surveillance
8 October 2013 | by (Singapore) – See all my reviews

The September 11 attacks in 2001 has always been a defining moment in modern American history. The day when Osama bin Laden, the mastermind for the attacks, was killed a decade on was also another defining moment in American history as well. But in between the decade, what had actually happened in what would become known as 'America's war on terror'?

Dana Priest, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Washington Post, would come to team up with her fellow colleague William Arkin where they would come to uncover that the government had been waging a secret war on surveillance. It is far from prying eyes, hidden in plain sight in what looked like seemingly ordinary-looking office buildings in the surrounding area near the capital Washington D.C. and around the country. In between Priest and Arkin's investigations, they would come to encounter people who were willing to recount what happened in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the George W. Bush's administration in terms of how they reacted.

Based on those who used to work for the Bush administration in the aftermath of the attacks, there was a sense of panic over what happened, but it was not long the reaction came in when it comes to how the United States would do so as to not have another 9/11. What would come to surface in recent times in terms of the methods used to catch potential terrorists in terms of the surveillance and interrogation methods used, Priest and Arkin would come to find out in the course of their investigation that there has been a very different America in operation after the September 11 attacks and it continued into the presidency of Barack Obama. But even on the inauguration day for Obama, security was not let up for the man who had made history by being the first African- American president.

What has been discussed in recent times on the role of surveillance on ordinary American lives, the documentary had already showed at the time of the first airing that it was already in operation in terms of how much was spent and the effort spent doing so. The documentary did also the highlight the high-profile security scares the United States had experienced post-September 11 in the shoe bomber case on 22 December 2001, the arrest of the Christmas Day bomber of 2009, and the Times Square attack of 2010. But a common pattern has emerged in these cases where it is the ordinary citizens who alerted the authorities, and not through government contractors tasked to do the surveillance.

At the end of it, it is the level of government surveillance which is something Priest is trying to grapple with in a post-September 11 America, in terms of how big it can get. What she and her colleague Arkin had experienced in covering and reporting along with another of their photographer colleague from the Washington Post does make one ponder how big is the other America, where its purpose is on protecting American citizens.

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