Almost 14 years to the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks drove intelligence spending into the stratosphere, two of the largest business associations in the spying industry held a “summit” meeting to discuss the current state of national security. Two realities were immediately apparent.
First, US intelligence is more privatized than ever before, with for-profit corporations operating as an equal partner with the surveillance state at nearly every level. The situation was neatly summarized by James Clapper, the director of the Office of National Intelligence (ODNI) in his keynote address.
“If you can’t get a job in the IC, then sign on with one of our contractors,” he told the crowd of 500 people, 75 percent of whom came from the private sector. “Industry is absolutely crucial to our continued viability and success.” It was the first time in my memory I had heard a high-ranking official be so blatant about the stunning degree of contracting in US intelligence that I first exposed in 2007.
In an interesting twist, the former Air Force general even urged the 16 agencies he oversees to expand the revolving door as an incentive for a younger generation of people who “desire mobility” along with their government jobs “We must facilitate their ability to join the community, go to industry, get refreshed technologically, and then come back,” Clapper said. As most people in the room knew, this was the exact path he followed before jumping from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to take his job as President Obama’s intelligence chief.
But there was a second, more troubling theme that ran through the meeting. Americans are now more sensitive than ever before to the risks associated with contractors, from Edward Snowden’s leaking of NSA secrets to the recent hacking of a government database of 21 million federal workers that was supposedly protected by cybersecurity contractors.
Yet despite these failures, agencies and their congressional allies have ended any pretense of slowing contractor growth or increasing the government’s oversight—steps that were briefly considered when Snowden first revealed himself as a contractor in 2013. Instead, they have opted for self-policing through an internal security system that would make J. Edgar Hoover blush with shame.