Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Private companies receive 70% of intelligence money

In keeping with the defense contractors theme, about a week ago I heard an interview on NPR with Tim Shorrock, author of the book Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing. In it, he cites a fantastic figure as the percentage of intelligence spending that's doled out to the "private" sector (as if state intelligence and espionage could be considered a market-driven industry):

What happened at Abu Ghraib, and CACI's refusal to discuss it, stands as a kind of high-water mark for intelligence contracting. In 2006, the year Humphrey delivered his comments, the cost of America's spying and surveillance activities outsourced to contractors reached $42 billion, or about 70 percent of the estimated $60 billion the government spends every year on foreign and domestic intelligence. Unfortunately, we cannot know the true extent of outsourcing, for two reasons. First, in 2007, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) refused to release an internal report on contracting out of fear that its disclosure would harm U.S. national security interests. Second, most intelligence contracts are classified, allowing companies like CACI to hide their activities behind a veil of secrecy.

What this actually is is a sort of retirement plan for intelligence officers: working in the private sector requires a security clearance, which is easiest to have if you've already worked for the government and already posses one – it's a revolving door between government and industry, and of course the private sector pays more. According to the interview, most of the contractors are former government employees. I did a little more research, and apparently this isn't even a new revelation – Salon published an article citing the 70% figure a year ago. I'm just surprised that the figure doesn't get more play in the media.

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