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Washington Post
Cover of Spies for Hire

The Outsourcing of America’s Spies

July 29, 2008 08:56 AM
by Liz Colville
A new book and other data on private intelligence contracts reveal an increasingly privatized industry augmenting U.S. intelligence agencies.

30-Second Summary

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Investigative journalist Tim Shorrock analyzes the growing amount of espionage work subcontracted by the U.S. government to private firms in his new book, “Spies for Hire.”

The book comes just months after a “procurement executive from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence gave a PowerPoint presentation at a conference in Colorado and let slip a staggering statistic”: around 70 percent of the U.S. Intelligence Community budget is allotted to private companies.

This trend is decades-old, Chalmers Johnson says on AlterNet, but the acceleration following September 11, 2001, is causing “the loss of the most valuable asset any intelligence organization possesses—its institutional memory.”

The House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee recommended in 1996 and in 2000 that the Intelligence Community, particularly the National Security Agency, look to private contracts to help bolster its intelligence. Its 2000 report criticized the NSA for lagging behind in technological capability.

The fear for many, Johnson explains, is that foreign spy organizations could “simply to get its agents jobs at any of the large intelligence-oriented private companies on which the government has become remarkably dependent.”

In a 2007 New York Times article, Patrick Radden Keefe noted that “there is nothing inherently wrong” with this kind of contracting. “We want our spies to have access to the best technology and expertise, and if that means they have to look outside the building—and pay top dollar—then so be it. The problem is that the ‘symbiotic relationship’ has turned decidedly dysfunctional, if not downright exploitative.”

Former CIA private spy division chief and senior analyst Melvin Goodman told The Nation in June that he fears the industry is “out of control.”

Headline Link: ‘The Vast and Dangerous Transfer of American Spying to Mercenary Companies’

Background: The rise of public spies in the U.S.

Opinions & Analysis: Outsourcing America’s spies

Related Topic: Military contracts in Iraq

Reference: House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Reports

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