The Spies Next Door: The top 10 Beltway intel centers hiding in plain sight.
September 24, 2012
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.
The same was true of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which the GSA report showed was operating from over a dozen sites in the Washington area. Among the more interesting FBI sites referred to in the GSA report was the Art Barn at 2401 Tilden Street in Northwest D.C., whose attic was filled with eavesdropping equipment during the Cold War so that the FBI could listen to the telephone calls of the Hungarian and Czech embassies across the street. The Art Barn’s clandestine work became a matter of public record in the 1980s when the attic’s floorboards collapsed, sending hundreds of pounds of the FBI’s wiretapping equipment crashing down into the art gallery on the ground floor.
The facilities may have changed, but the intelligence community plays as big a role as ever in Washington, with many of its most important offices hiding in plain sight. Meet the spies next door:
Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), McLean, Virginia
Activated in April 2005, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is responsible for managing and coordinating the efforts of all the other 16 agencies and the 200,000 personnel that today comprise the U.S. intelligence community.
Since 2008, the DNI’s headquarters have been located in the 51-acre Liberty Crossing office complex in McLean, Virginia, on the north side of Highway 267 across from the Tysons Corner shopping mall. In the middle of the complex sit two office buildings that house 1,700 DNI staffers and 1,200 private contractors. The newest building, a six-story edifice called LX-2, is the home of the 700-person DNI staff. Just to the west of it sits a seven-story “X”-shaped building called LX-1, which housed the offices of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and the National Counterproliferation Center (NCPC).
Special Collection Service Headquarters, Beltsville, Maryland
One of the most secretive of the dozens of U.S. intelligence facilities in the Washington area is located about 16 miles northeast of Langley on the northern edge of the National Agriculture Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland. Here resides the headquarters of the joint CIA-National Security Agency (NSA) clandestine signals intelligence (SIGINT) unit called the Special Collection Service (SCS). Known colloquially by CIA and NSA SIGINTers as the “Maryland Field Site,” the SCS is arguably one of the U.S. intelligence community’s most important collection organizations, operating over 40 clandestine listening posts hidden away inside U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world that have provided some of the best intelligence information available since the organization was created in 1979.
Located across the street from the campus of Capitol College, the 233-acre SCS complex is set well back from the road behind a heavily sensored perimeter fence. The complex consists of a multistory headquarters and operations building; a smaller two-story building containing the visitor control center, auditorium, and cafeteria; and a large warehouse and laboratory facility. The complex’s four parking lots can hold approximately 400 to 450 cars at any time. The SCS headquarters are located next to the State Department’s Beltsville Communications Center, which consists of two large parabolic satellite dishes. Satellite imagery from the 1990s shows that buried fiber optic cables linked the SCS headquarters complex with the Beltsville Communications Center, clearly indicating that the communications facility services the communications needs of the SCS next door.
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Headquarters, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling
Created in October 1961, the DIA is the intelligence arm of the Defense Department, producing tailored foreign military intelligence reporting for the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and American military commanders in the United States and overseas. Although the number of personnel under its command is classified, sources estimate that the DIA currently employs 16,500 military and civilian personnel in the United States and overseas, 6,000 of whom work at its Washington headquarters.
Since 1987, the DIA’s headquarters have been located in a six-story office complex called the Defense Intelligence Analysis Center (DIAC), located on the grounds of Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (formerly known as Bolling Air Force Base) in southeast Washington. In 2005, the DIAC was expanded by the construction of a more modern annex, which is connected to the older DIAC building by an ultramodern atrium. Together, these two buildings now contain approximately 860,000 square feet of office space for the DIA. The Anacostia neighborhood just outside the base’s main gate is a notorious high-crime area. DIA employees tell stories about how on hot summer nights, the crackle of gunfire can clearly be heard inside the base’s high-security perimeter….