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The Privatization of Intel

There’s an interesting and highly secret place – so secret that even I know where it is. It’s located in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, cheek-by-jowel with the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center and the Pentagoon’s Joint Intelligence Task Force-Combating terrorism Center. It’s name is the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) which opened in 2005 and churns out a singular product. Using HUMINT sources from the CIA, SIGINT from the NSA, info from the FBI and colour swatches from Homeland Security, it produces a daily briefing known as the Threat Matrix that is sent to the White House plus the heads of other national intelligence agencies. It also compiles lists of known and suspected terrorists and creates the briefing books for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and also the White House. Its control room was designed (I shit thee not) by Walt Disney Imagineering, a company usually in the business of designing theme parks. Yay! We’re going to Three Flags Over Intel! Don’t forget to pick up a Secret Decoder Ring!
The thing here is not simply that there’s yet another intelligence entity cranking out reams of paper, but the preponderance of people who work for it and others who don’t work for the government, but for private corporations. The intelligence community has been largely outsourced.
NCTC’s terrorist database, for instance, is maintained by The Analysis Corporation (TAC) which is run by a Mr. John O. Brennan out of Fairfax, Virginia. A former chief of staff for the CIA, he is one of thousands who have left the government intelligence community to return to it as private contractors for a hell of a lot more money. TAC has also spread the wealth around, subcontracting the collection of the database to CAIC International who also provided contract interrogators for Abu Ghraib in Iraq. That’s right – Bush and Cheney even outsourced torture…

In the intelligence community, we’re talking big bucks. Here’s what it costs each year to run sixteen different agencies:

The National Intelligence Program (NIP) gets about 80% of the overall intel budget. This breaks down to $8 billion for the National Reconnaissance Office, another $8 billion for the National Security Agency, around $3 billion for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, $6 billion for the CIA, $1.5 billion for the FBI, $60 million for the Treasury Department, another $60 million for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and a paltry $12 million for Homeland Security.

Then, we’ve got the Joint Military Program (MIP) which sucks up around $3.5 billion for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and roughly $2 billion for the Defense Intelligence Agency. The aforementioned NSA, NRO and NGA are also cross-referenced, for budgetary purposes, as combat support agencies and also receive money from MIP.

Finally, there are the military intelligence units for the Army, ($6 billion) Navy, ($4 billion) Air Force, ($8 billion) and Marines. ($2 billion – always on the shitty end of the funding stick are the Marines…)

So, that’s approximately $60 billion large a year (based on 2007 budget figures) that is absorbed by Spooks R Us, and we can’t even begin to estimate the full extent of off-book Black Budget expenditures. In point of fact, we can only look at the above figures as estimates themselves even though they’ve been ascribed monetary values because the actual amounts in the budget are often left blank and marked as Classified. For instance, a report by GlobalSecurity.org points to the CIA’s appropriations which are hidden in a section of the Air Force’s budget figures described as “other procurement aircraft.”

The bulk of the privatization of the intelligence community has been farmed out to around 100 companies. To give you an idea of how this impacts the budgets of the agencies in question, here are a few figures. Since the 9-11 attacks, the CIA has been spending roughly 50 to 60% of its annual budget on for-profit corporate contractors. The CIA now employs more private contractors than its entire full-time employees of 17,500. The NSA grew its private contractor base from 144 in 2001 to 5,400 by 2006. Approximately 35% of the staff of the Defense Intelligence Agency are private contractors. The Counterintelligence Field Activity agency of the Pentagon’s staff is 70% private hires. But the highest proportion of corporate contractors work in the National Reconnaissance Office which maintains the US’s photo reconnaissance and electronic surveillance satellites. The corporate share of the NRO’s pie is an amazing (or appalling) 95%.

It was thought least 50% of all monies spent on intelligence gathering and analysis in the US goes to outsourced corporate entities. But information that inadvertently came available in 2007 now puts that figure at 70%. Big Brother is also Big Biz.

The inherent problem here is not simply because we have “green carders” (the colour of security badges worn by non-government employees) getting access to highly sensitive, often critical intelligence data. These people are vetted very thoroughly. (or at least one might hope they are) The problem is that in many cases, you not only have private contractors being managed by other private contractors, you often have government employees being managed by private contractors. You also have these private contractors writing the draft budgets for government agencies, and writing the Statements of Work that describe and define the jobs that they themselves carry out for the government. In other words, private contractors are often becoming policy makers for the government agencies that hire them.

It’s also an issue of transparency. Scott Amey, the general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight stated “We have billions of dollars in spending going out that has little or no oversight. (by Congress) There is also the fact that budgetary information about all the US’s intelligence agencies is now available to private corporate contractors who can then use that information to lobby members of Congress on those very budget items. And, of course, it’s axiomatic that the more intelligence work is outsourced, the less effective any Congressional oversight will become. And when as that happens, so, as they say, does s__t. In 2006, Randy “Duke” Cunningham was sentenced to eight years in prison for taking bribes from the San Diego defense contractor MZM. For $2 million Randy used his influence on the House Appropriations and Intelligence Committees to kick tens of millions of dollars worth of defense contracts for the CIA and the Pentagon’s CIFA to MZM.

And, naturally, in order to perpetuate or increase their employment and to develop and sell new intelligence-gathering and military equipment, it’s not inconceivable that corporate employees of these agencies might not skew data to suggest a disproportionate danger in threats that are relatively minor or don’t exist at all. After all, that was the entire MO of the Bush administration from 9-12 to the end of its reign of terror. Does anyone believe that there is a slight possibility, in having such a large outsourced corporate workforce in the intelligence community, that some may find it profitable to drum up more work for their mother company?

I remember, years ago, someone saying to me “Welcome to the world of strategic analysis where we program weapons that don’t work to meet threats that don’t exist.” And that person worked for the government.

The more the Bush administration outsourced the intelligence communities, the more it cost, the less Congress had any control over it and the less you knew about it. Personally, I believe that some outsourcing is necessary simply due to the technologies involved and the volume of data many of these agencies require that they honestly can’t collect by themselves. But for some agencies to be outsource to corporations to the tune of 70 to 95% is not only absurd, it’s dangerous. Health care for profit. Mercenary armies operating beyond the scope of law in theatres of war. The outsourcing of interrogators. Where does it end? When do we say that corporate profit does not outweigh the security of a nation?

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