The Public Sphere's Private Intelligence

By Peter Gruskin
Cornell International Affairs Review
2010, Vol. 4 No. 1 | pg. 2/2 |

The Nationalization Debate

Hopefully there is a middle ground compromise which both deregulators and regulators can accept in the spirit of political compromise: reconsideration of the role of contractors in interrogation and in-field operations. To this end, the Obama administration should reexamine the domestic wiretap legislation to determine its efficacy and also the role of telecommunications companies. Is investing in them the most efficient use of federal funds? Should they continue the work that immunity had to be granted for in the first place—work that was perhaps illegal?

Or could the government start incubating technologies for future use, more by itself and less via private capital, and in the process build its capacities? Any changes may necessitate a massive structural change, foisted upon the DNI and agency directors by the Executive. At least, this is how it will probably be framed. While opponents may not complain of “nationalization” per say, they may highlight the government’s “ineptitude” and undue “interference” with the efficiency of the market—charges that critics of intelligence contractors will have to answer.

There have been numerous reports the Presidential Daily Briefing is shaped by companies operating from within the ODNI, such as Lockheed, Raytheon, Booz Allen Hamilton and SAIC, and that they have the ability to affect policy making at the highest of levels, given their prowess and proximity.38 Indeed, the ODNI revealed in May 2007 that 70% of the intelligence budget goes to outside contractors.39 Unfortunately, to address problems with contractors—which are not always separate from problems with governmental employees—it is necessary to affect change in the management structures and budgets of multiple intelligence agencies that are overseen by the ODNI, Congress, and the media. This is no doubt difficult.

However, with a recent interest by Henry Waxman’s House Oversight Committee, and a public outcry over the atrocities at Abu Grahib (committed by the military command and contractors alike), many consider the political atmosphere ripe for consensus on intelligence reform which addresses governmental and military contractors. Full “nationalization” may not be required, but some heavy hitting may be inevitable.

Still, it is easy to be pessimistic about the weakening of U.S. intelligence capacities, by saying that it is too difficult to hire, manage, and maintain new federal recruits. Cleared persons have too many incentives to leave for private sector jobs after just a few years in government service. In a sense, this dynamic becomes cyclical and therefore further bureaucratically ingrained: the “revolving door” phenomenon kicks in and the government serves as a de facto training force for private sector labor, a situation that the ODNI has complained about.40

While instances of security breaches by contractors are generally believed to be minimal, the presence of green-badgers nonetheless remains a “bureaucratic security threat” in the sense that the government is becoming increasingly dependent on the private sector for the core functions of government—a backward situation, according to the “inherently governmental” clause which prohibits some outsourcing.

This problem not only runs against the spirit of the law but also leads to a weakening of the nation’s defense mechanisms. Pro-free market politicians and the spirit of libertarianism (which upheld many of the privatization reforms of the past 30 years) are responsible for transferring many critical governmental functions into the private sector; but ironically, even such conservatives believe that the government’s most legitimate venture is in national defense. Conservatives should thus be natural allies in this intelligence reform effort.

Conclusion

It is difficult to tell if the domestic intelligence program, or “black sites” staffed by contractors abroad, will continue under Obama, given the telecommunication industry’s immunity bestowed by Congress and the President’s campaign pledges. Nevertheless, it is possible for the Executive and Legislative branches to regulate the use of contractors so that they are primarily a back-up force: available at a moments notice, and working on critical support tasks, but not interfering in the daily command and control of the federal government’s core intelligence mission: to collect, analyze, and store secret information.

Certainly President Obama has numerous challenges ahead, many of which revolve around the intelligence question. Undoubtedly interwoven into the intelligence community’s activities in the War on Terror is the issue of corporate contractors. One can argue, for better or worse, their monetary and battle effectiveness. But one cannot claim they are not a majority force, in many respects and in many agencies.


Endnotes

  1. Sebastian Abbot, “The Outsourcing of U.S. Intelligence Analysis,” News21 Project, Columbia University, July 28, 2006, http://newsinitiative.org/story/2006/07/28/the_ outsourcing_of_u_s_intelligence.
  2. Lynda Hurst, “The privatization of Abu Ghraib,” Toronto Star, May 16, 2004, http://www.ftlcomm.com:16080/ensign/desantisArticles/2003_800/desantis896/Tstar_priv.pdf.
  3. Jeremy Scahill, “Blackwater’s Private Spies,” The Nation, June 5, 2008, http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080623/scahill.
  4. See Tim Shorrock’s chapter “Short History of Intelligence Outsourcing” in Spies for Hire, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), pps. 72-114.
  5. Lynda Hurst, “The privatization of Abu Ghraib,” Toronto Star, May 16, 2004, http://www.ftlcomm.com:16080/ensign/desantisArticles/2003_800/desantis896/Tstar_priv.pdf.
  6. Tim Shorrock, Spies for Hire, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), 73.
  7. http://republicanleader.house.gov/news/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=105133.
  8. “Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009,” 110-330, Senate Committee on intelligence Report, Section 305, http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2008_rpt/srpt110- 333.html.
  9. “Telecommunications Pioneer Rocco L. Flaminio Dies at 80,” TMC News, January 12, 2005, http://www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2005/jan/1107812.htm.
  10. “”Factsheets: U-2S/TU-2S” Air Force Link, US Airforce Library, September 2007, http://www.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?fsID=129.
  11. “Skunk Works,” Lockheed Martin, http://www.lockheedmartin.com/aeronautics/skunkworks/index.html.
  12. Tim Shorrock, Spies For Hire, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), 84.
  13. Sebastian Abbot, “The Outsourcing of U.S. Intelligence Analysis,” News21 Project, Columbia University, July 28, 2006, http://newsinitiative.org/story/2006/07/28/the_ outsourcing_of_u_s_intelligence.
  14. Pratap Chatterjee, “Intelligence, Inc.: Military Interrogation Training Gets Privatized,” CorpWatch, March 7, 2005, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=11940.
  15. Tim Shorrock, Spies for Hire, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), 113.
  16. “Outsourcing Intelligence in Iraq: A CorpWatch Report on L-3/Titan,” CorpWatch, April 29, 2008, http://s3.amazonaws.com/corpwatch.org/downloads/L-3TITANreport.pdf.
  17. “Outsourcing Intelligence in Iraq: A CorpWatch Report on L-3/Titan,” CorpWatch, April 29, 2008, http://s3.amazonaws.com/corpwatch.org/downloads/L-3TITANreport.pdf.
  18. Tim Shorrock, Spies For Hire, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), 248.
  19. Simon Chesterman, “’We Can’t Spy... If We Can’t Buy!’: The Privatization of Intelligence and the Limits of Outsourcing ‘Inherently Governmental Functions,’” New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers, No. 82, 2008, http://lsr.nellco.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1085&context=nyu/plltwp.
  20. Terri Everett, “Procuring the Future: 21st Century IC Acquisition,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence, May 2007, http://fas.org/irp/dni/everett.ppt.
  21. Tim Shorrock, “Domestic Spying, Inc.,” CorpWatch, November 27th, 2007, http://corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14821.
  22. Tim Shorrock, “Domestic Spying, Inc.,” CorpWatch, November 27th, 2007, http://corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14821.
  23. R.J. Hillhouse, “Outsourcing Intelligence: How Bush Gets His National Intelligence From Private Companies,” The Nation, July 24, 2007, http://www.thenation.com/ doc/20070730/hillhouse.
  24. Jeff Stein, “CIA’s Loss of Top Spies ‘Catastrophic,’ Says Agency Veteran,” CQ Politics, October, 17, 2008.
  25. Walter Pincus, “Defense Agency Proposes Outsourcing More Spying,” Washington Post, August 19, 2007, A03.
  26. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070730/hillhouse.
  27. Tim Shorrock, Spies for Hire, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), 173.
  28. Tim Shorrock, Spies for Hire, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), 175.
  29. Tim Shorrock, “The spy who came in from the boardroom,” Salon, January 8, 2007, http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/01/08/mcconnell.
  30. Simon Chesterman, “’We Can’t Spy... If We Can’t Buy!’: The Privatization of Intelligence and the Limits of Outsourcing ‘Inherently Governmental Functions,’” New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers, No. 82, 2008, http://lsr.nellco.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1085&context=nyu/plltwp.
  31. Simon Chesterman, “’We Can’t Spy... If We Can’t Buy!’: The Privatization of Intelligence and the Limits of Outsourcing ‘Inherently Governmental Functions,’” New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers, No. 82, 2008, http://lsr.nellco.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1085&context=nyu/plltwp.
  32. Tim Shorrock, “The spy who came in from the boardroom,” Salon, January 8, 2007, http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/01/08/mcconnell.
  33. Siobhan Gorman, “Computer ills hinder NSA,” The Baltimore Sun, February 26, 2006, http://www.globalsecurity.org/org/news/2006/060226-nsa-ills.htm.
  34. Tim Shorrock, “The spy who came in from the boardroom,” Salon, January 8, 2007, http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/01/08/mcconnell.
  35. Edwin H. Nowinski and Robert J. Kohler, “The Lost Art of Program Management in the Intelligence Community,” CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, Vol. 50, No. 2, April 2007, https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol50no2/html_files/Program_Management_4.htm.
  36. Dennis Fitzgerald, “Commentary on ‘The Decline of the National Reconnaissance Office,’” CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, April 2007, https://www.cia.gov/library/ center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol46no2/Fitzgerald.htm.
  37. Robert J. Kohler, “One Officer’s Perspective: The Decline of the National Reconnaissance Office,” CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, May 2007, https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/docs/v46i2a02p.htm.
  38. R.J. Hillhouse, “Outsourcing Intelligence: How Bush Gets His National Intelligence From Private Companies,” The Nation, July 24, 2007, http://www.thenation.com/ doc/20070730/hillhouse.
  39. R.J. Hillhouse, “Outsourcing Intelligence: How Bush Gets His National Intelligence From Private Companies,” The Nation, July 24, 2007, http://www.thenation.com/ doc/20070730/hillhouse.
  40. “Strategic Human Capital Planning,” An Annex to the US National Intelligence Strategy, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, June 22, 2006, http://www.odni.gov/ publications/DNIHumanCapitalStrategicPlan18October2006.pdf.

Photos courtesy of:

  • “Blackwater Casa212 over Afghanistan.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.
  • “Cia-lobby-seal.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.

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