Private industry deep in intelligence pockets

By Kim Sengupta

Edward Snowden. Photo / AP
Edward Snowden. Photo / AP

Revelations of snooping into private data and communications on a massive scale by the Obama Administration has shed a little daylight on the widespread and lucrative links between US intelligence agencies, industry and academia.

The Pentagon has long funded research into new technology, to the extent that it is claimed that Silicon Valley would not have developed without this revenue stream. The CIA formed its own non-profit private enterprise, In-Q-Tel, in 1999, specialising in advancing the development of technology for collecting and analysing information, which continues to back nearly 60 companies to this day.

The practice of the US government using business soared after the 9/11 attacks, with thousands like the whistleblower Edward Snowden recruited for George W. Bush's War on Terror. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in Washington estimated recently that almost one in four people working in the espionage field were in the pay of private concerns and no less than 70 per cent of the intelligence budget went to companies like Snowden's employer, Booz Allen Hamilton.

An ODNI briefing paper stated that the philosophy had become: "We Can't Spy ... If We Can't Buy!" By 2010 about 1930 private companies worked on programmes related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence.

Snowden's first job linked with the National Security Agency (NSA) was at Maryland University, as a security guard at a facility run by the agency.

Ira Hunt, the CIA's chief technology officer, told a conference in New York three months ago: "More is always better ... Since you can't connect the dots you don't have, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever. It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human-generated information."

Snowden was one of those brought in to "connect the dots" as the tempo of intelligence-gathering using new technology continued to grow. They work side by side with civil servants as analysts, technical support specialists and mission managers, often with access to secret material.

Stewart Baker, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, said the leak might lead to changes.

"I have no doubt this is going to produce some soul-searching about how many contractors the intelligence community has and what they have access to, and how much vetting is done on the employees."

- Independent

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