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Types of top-secret work

The Post has divided top-secret work into 23 different categories. This company's work for the government falls under the types below.

Air and satellite operations

Warfare- and combat-related air and space activities and operations of the military services, intelligence agencies and federal government. The Air Force is the primary organization here, but the Navy and Marine Corps also fly large air wings, as do Customs and Border Patrol and the FBI. The NRO is the national organization responsible for the development and operation of reconnaissance satellites.

Border control

Homeland security functions associated with maintaining U.S. borders, including customs and immigration; port security; and surveillance of American airspace. The Department of Homeland Security and its sub-agencies (e.g., Coast Guard and Custom and Border Protection) is the dominant border control organization, but many military and law enforcement organizations also are deeply involved in the mission of border control.

Building and personal security

Personnel and physical security, including the security clearance system; the "special access program" (SAP) system; operations security (OPSEC); critical infrastructure protection (CIP); and physical security measures (not including construction) including guard forces and various surveillance and authentication methods, including biometrics.

Counter-drug operations

All aspects of the "war on drugs" worldwide, including intelligence, law enforcement, and operations; sometimes also called counternarcoterrorism since 9/11. Though the DEA is the lead counter-drug organization, the Department of Defense, particularly in Afghanistan and Latin America, is also deeply involved in both intelligence and interdiction of narcotics.

Counter-IED explosives operations

Programs, including research and development, associated with efforts to counter terrorist and adversary use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including intelligence and operations efforts associated with identifying and attacking individual IEDs and the networks of fighters who employ them; as well as the forensics associated with gathering information after explosive incidents.


Efforts undertaken to prevent hostile intelligence organizations from gathering and collecting intelligence, whether against the United States, commercial and industrial activities, or information associated with national security. These tasks have been greatly complicated since 9/11 as emphasis has shifted from threats involving nation states to terrorist and extremist individuals and organizations.

Cyber operations

Offensive and defensive "cyber" (or digital) warfare, including the fields of computer network attack, computer network exploitation, and computer network defense; as well as traditional electronic warfare (e.g., jamming) intended to deny an adversary use of their electronically-dependent equipment through what is called "non-kinetic" means, that is, by fighting with electrons rather than explosives.

Disaster preparedness

Planning, training, preparations, and operations relating to responding to the human and environmental effects of a large scale terrorist attack or the use of weapons of mass destruction by any party, including nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological weapons; as well as governmental programs and preparations for continuity of operations (COOP) and continuity of government (COG) in the event of an attack or a disaster.


Leasing and realty; design, construction, and renovation; management and maintenance of government occupied facilities and military bases; and specialty construction associated with securing Top Secret facilities, both internally and externally, including everything from fencing and barriers to Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs).

Ground force operations

Conventional military ground operations -- not including special operations -- primarily the activities of the Army and Marine Corps.

Human intelligence

Human intelligence, often called HUMINT, involves the use of human beings as sources of intelligence information; including traditional spies; detainees; or the elicitation of information from unwitting persons.
Information technology
The backbone infrastructure of communications and computing, including common user information and communications networks; computer hardware and software; and data processing and preservation (i.e., data warehousing).

Intelligence analysis

The analysis of information, from open sources (news media or the Internet) to the most sensitive information collected or gleaned from human and technical sources. Since 9/11, there has been an explosion of the amount of information obtained via technical means, particularly imagery and communications intercepts, necessitating new analytic methods of sorting, exploiting and mining incoming information.

Law enforcement

Work associated with the enforcement of laws, from investigation to arrest to prosecution. The primary law enforcement organizations of the U.S. government (i.e., the FBI, DEA, ATF, U.S. Marshals Service) are assigned to the Department of Justice, while the Secret Service is assigned to the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Defense, including each of its agencies and services, also has law enforcement arms, as do each of the major intelligence agencies.

Management and administration

Generalized administrative and management functions associated with the day-to-day operations of an organization, including record keeping, audit, efficiency, budgeting and financial management; contracting, support for general policy-making and program analysis; modeling and simulations; as well as support for exercises.

Naval operations

Conventional naval operations, both surface and subsurface, not including special operations, and primarily conducted by the Navy; but also the Coast Guard when under Department of Defense jurisdiction.

Nuclear operations

Work relating to U.S. nuclear weapons and operations; nuclear-specific communications and codes related to Presidential control of the use of nuclear weapons; research, production, maintenance, movement, and retirement of nuclear warheads and nuclear materials; ballistic missile defense programs at the national level; and counter weapons of mass destruction (WMD) operations.

Psychological operations

Traditional psychological operations, including the creation and delivery of messages via leaflet, loudspeaker, radio or television; the newer "influence operations" associated with the creation of websites and the use of social media to extend U.S. influence, both overtly and covertly; and the separate clandestine and covert activities associated with influence, deception, and perception management.

Special operations

Unconventional warfare or "SWAT" like non-military operations, including Air Force special tactics, Army special forces (Green Berets) and Rangers, Marine Corps special operations, Navy special warfare, including SEALs (sea-air-land); combat search and rescue; the specialized military-like organizations of the CIA, DEA, FBI, ICE, and other civil agencies; and the clandestine units and functions of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

Staffing and personnel

The work of managing civilian, military, and contractor personnel, including recruitment and placement; "staff augmentation" (particularly of Top Secret-cleared information technology specialists) for short-term or surge projects; the normal administrative human resource functions; linguist programs associated with the war on terror; and special functions associated with facilitating highly cleared and undercover work.

Technical intelligence

Non-human intelligence collection from all domains (i.e., space, air, ground, sea, undersea) from all platforms, including satellites, aircraft and helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), ground sensors and stations, ships and submarines; and including the intelligence disciplines of signals intelligence (SIGINT) and measurements and signature intelligence (MASINT).


Specialty training at the Top Secret level, including general courses of instruction held at government run military and intelligence higher education institutions (e.g., colleges and universities); formal training courses for units and organizations to teach and practice specific tasks or missions; individual job training; and training conducted for coalition and foreign military, intelligence, and police organizations.

Weapons technology

Research, development, test, evaluation, production and maintenance of weapons and non-communications or intelligence-related hardware.

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This project was last updated in September 2010. Data is accurate as of that date.
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The reporters

Dana Priest

Investigative reporter Dana Priest has been The Washington Post's intelligence, Pentagon and health-care reporter. She has won numerous awards, including the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for public service for "The Other Walter Reed" and the 2006 Pulitzer for beat reporting for her work on CIA secret prisons and counterterrorism operations overseas. She is author of the 2003 book, "The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace With America's Military, (W.W. Norton).

William M. Arkin

William M. Arkin has been a columnist and reporter with The Washington Post and since 1998. He has worked on the subject of government secrecy and national security affairs for more than 30 years. He has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books about the U.S. military and national security.

Project Credits

Stephanie Clark, Ben de la Cruz, Kat Downs, Dan Drinkard, Anne Ferguson-Rohrer, Justin Ferrell, David Finkel, Jennifer Jenkins, Robert Kaiser, Laris Karklis, Jacqueline Kazil, Lauren Keane, Todd Lindeman, Greg Manifold, Jennifer Morehead, Bonnie Jo Mount, Larry Nista, Ryan O’Neil, Sarah Sampsel, Whitney Shefte, Laura Stanton, Julie Tate, Doris Truong, Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso, Michael Williamson, Karen Yourish, Amanda Zamora.

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