This photograph shows a copy of the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order requiring Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis,” to give the National Security Administration (NSA) information on all landline and mobile telephone calls of Verizon Business in its systems. (AP Photo)
When I first heard that the source for Glenn Greenwald’s blockbuster stories on the National Security Agency was a contractor working for Booz Allen Hamilton, I felt a surge of vindication. After all, I’ve been writing about the murky world of intelligence contracting for a decade, and here was finally a sign of how extensively the government has outsourced its most secretive operations. Plus at the center of the scandal was a company that I have long identified as one of the most important companies in the intelligence-industrial complex.
Edward Snowden, who is only 29, worked for Booz Allen at the NSA as an infrastructure analyst and telecommunications systems officer. His time there and at other private contractors included stints at NSA listening posts in Hawaii and Japan, and his job gave him access to some of the NSA’s most classified operations. They included a massive surveillance program called PRISM that monitors virtually all global Internet traffic on a real-time basis, and a telephone-monitoring program that gives the NSA access to millions of phone records of calls, including domestic ones, routed through telecom provider Verizon.
From his vantage point, he learned that the NSA monitors Americans “even if you’re not doing anything wrong.” From “just sitting at my desk,” Snowden said he had the “authority to wiretap anyone…” “If I wanted to see your e-mails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your e-mails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.” He also discovered that the NSA is “using the system to go back in time to discover everything you’ve done.”
All of this is terrifying stuff that confirms much of what has been revealed about NSA surveillance by Bill Binney and his fellow NSA whistleblowers Tom Drake and Kirk Wiebe, who I recently profiled in The Nation.
Some news reports have focused on how such a “low level” contract employee could possibly have access to such secret material. But to me the greater revelation is what he has said about his employer. Thanks to Snowden, we now know that Booz Allen operates at the highest levels of the world’s most powerful intelligence-gathering organization and is engaged in operations that many Americans believe are unconstitutional and dangerous. We can only assume that the other companies at these heights—a list that includes SAIC, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, CSC, CACI, ManTech and many others—are doing the same.
If that is so, then tens of thousands of Americans working for private intelligence contractors have access to the personal information of millions of their fellow citizens, including their phone and e-mail communications as well Internet chats on Yahoo, Google and other ISPs. Combine this private army of contractors with the outlandishly huge federal intelligence bureaucracy, and the term Stasi—the East German secret police frequently invoked by Bill Binney—doesn’t sound like an exaggeration. Except this is state surveillance plus capitalism: spying for profit.