SINGAPORE – Among the stories and rumors prompted by Edward J. Snowden’s leaking of classified material – whistleblowing or treason, depending on where you stand – the revelations that may actually lead to a policy change concern the extent to which private companies now carry out intelligence gathering and analysis in the United States.
Around a third of the 1.4 million people with “top secret” US security clearances are contractors, according to the Office of the US Director of National Intelligence. We now know that this includes individuals like Snowden, whose hiring and firing by the technology consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton is itself the subject of an investigation.
Intelligence contracting is an industry worth tens of billions of dollars, and companies like Booz Allen have made it central to their business models, staffing their executive suites with former senior intelligence officials. Booz Allen’s current vice chairman, Mike McConnell, left the company to serve as Director of National Intelligence from 2007 to 2009, returning to the firm immediately after stepping down.
Though it has lagged behind the privatization of military services, the privatization of intelligence expanded dramatically with the growth in intelligence activities after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US. Direct spending on private contractors’ services now consumes roughly 70% of the annual US intelligence budget (estimated at around $70 billion).