The first installment of "Top Secret America," co-written by UC Santa Cruz alumna Dana Priest, sparked an atmosphere of anxious anticipation in Washington D.C. and across the country long before it appeared online and in the Washington Post Monday.

Priest and co-author William M. Arkin document a fourth branch of government, a top-secret world created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive, they write, that no one knows how much it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies duplicate work.

The series is the result of a two-year investigation by Priest, Arkin, and more than a dozen Post staffers. It is designed especially as an online experience and includes a searchable database of government organizations and corporate contractors that do top-secret work; details on what the work entails; and the cities and states where the work is done. It also included a live chat with Priest, a 1981 (Merrill College) graduate in politics, and Arkin.

Two weeks ago and again over the weekend, federal agencies including the State Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence sent e-mails to more than 10,000 people alerting them to the impending report, according to published reports. Those alerts prompted a flurry in the blogosphere that continues, including the New York Times, the Atlantic, Wired, Cato Institute, Huffington Post, and many others.

A Washington Post reporter since 1986, Priest won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for exposing CIA "black site" prisons and again in 2008 for her articles with two colleagues on the mistreatment of wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Priest, a former editor of UCSC's City on a Hill Press, received the 2008-09 UCSC Alumni Association Alumni Achievement Award at Founders Day in October 2008.

She's been closely involved with the campus recently, co-chairing the Global Advisory Board for the UCSC Global Information Internship Program (GIIP). In April, Priest spoke at the kick-off event in Washington, D.C. for the GIIP 2010 endowment campaign.