Seventy percent of America’s intelligence budget now flows to private contractors. Going by this year’s estimated budget of about $80 billion, that makes private intelligence a $56 billion-a-year industry. [...]There are contractors working on the intelligence used to track and kill suspected terrorists, "secret and highly sensitive operations that by law are reserved for government operatives." Contractors are involved in deciding who our government kills.
First, it is dangerous to have half a million people—the number of private contractors holding top-secret security clearances—peering into the lives of their fellow citizens. Contractors aren’t part of the chain of command at the N.S.A. or other agencies and aren’t subject to Congressional oversight. Officially, their only loyalty is to their company and its shareholders.
Second, with billions of dollars of government money sloshing around, and with contractors providing advice on how to spend it, conflicts of interest and corruption are inevitable. Contractors simply shouldn’t be in the business of managing large projects and providing procurement advice to intelligence agencies. Thomas A. Drake, one of the N.S.A. whistle-blowers who exposed the waste and fraud in the N.S.A.’s Trailblazer program—Mr. Hayden’s disastrous attempt to privatize the N.S.A.’s analysis of intercepted signals intelligence—estimates that the project cost taxpayers as much as $7 billion (it was canceled in 2006). Yet the contracts kept rolling in, and Mr. Hayden went on to head the C.I.A.
Third, we’ve allowed contractors to conduct our most secret and sensitive operations with virtually no oversight. This is true not only at the N.S.A. Contractors now work alongside the C.I.A. in covert operations (two of the Americans killed in Benghazi were C.I.A. contractors; we still don’t know who their employer was).
And there's the revolving door.
The poster boy is Michael McConnell, who served as N.S.A. director during Bill Clinton’s first term, then went to Booz Allen for a 10-year stint, became director of national intelligence for George W. Bush from 2007 to 2009, and is back at Booz Allen today.That's what it's really all about—who's profiting, and profiting obscenely. How many of the contracts do you suppose Booz Allen is operating under today that were first awarded while McConnell was the guy in charge of awarding them? As much as this story is about protecting civil liberties, this story is about grift.