Private-Public Collusions in our Lives?

Just before leaving office as president over fifty years ago, Dwight D. Eisenhower cautioned against the potential power of the military-industrial complex, a formidable union of defense contractors and the armed forces.  In the 1950s, Eisenhower saw retired generals, heroes of WWII, moving into industry board of director slots: for example, Douglas MacArthur went to Remington Rand, Lucius Clay, Continental Can, and Jimmy Doolittle, Shell Oil. Eisenhower saw the potential corrupting influence and the lack of accountability private contracting brought to the military endeavor.

The world was vastly different in early 1961. Shared sacrifice had been common in the 1940s and 1950s, especially during WWII and the Korean War. Almost ten percent of Americans were in military uniform during WWII, rationing was common, weaponry and war materials had supplanted consumer goods, and many worked in war-goods-related factories. Shouldering hardship together for the sake of victory in war was a common theme.

The new millennium is a different story. Greed and self-interest are on a relative rampage. Wars have been fought on credit cards and less than one percent serve in the military. Leading up to the new millennium was the collapse of the Soviet Union. With declining military spending, thousands of CIA and NSA officers left government for defense contractor positions. As the military and intelligence agencies began hiring private companies for work traditionally done by government, the tie between government and private companies became cozier.

Private outsourcing exploded under the George W. Bush administration, especially with 9/11 and two subsequent wars. Retiring as CEO of Halliburton, Dick Cheney became Vice President and transferred Halliburton, with multiple no-bid contracts, into one of the world’s largest military contractors. The Obama administration followed in the Bush administration’s outsourcing footsteps.

The September 11 terrorist attacks were followed with many billions being poured into intelligence and surveillance, home and abroad. A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed soon after 9/11 charged with protecting US territory from terrorist attacks, man-made accidents and natural disasters.  DHS has 188,000 federal employees and 200,000 contractors in its ranks. It has a huge responsibility, including immigration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Coast Guard.  Its budget is over $61 billion.

The DHS is just one cog in the Cyberintelligence-Industrial Complex (CIC) which circles Washington, DC with Godzilla-size footprints. CIC is a new loose confederation, superseding the military-industrial complex with even greater scope and size. A huge part of it also includes the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA). INSA is an alliance formed in 2005 by companies working for the National Security Agency (NSA).  These private companies constitute the bulk of the NSA and government’s cyberintelligence function.

Unlike President Eisenhower’s concern for the military-industrial complex, no outgoing government leaders speak of a terror-intelligence complex, a union composed of connected contractors and cyber elites incestuously connected with government. Government Cyber security officials interchangeably leave and join – going to and from — these companies with leadership positions, along with their security clearances, contacts, and/or cyber knowledge.

The U.S. intelligence community can’t say for sure how many private contractors it employs or how much they cost the government, perhaps for two reasons: because the information is classified and because the 17 agencies just don’t know. It is known that seventy percent of the US intelligence budget goes to private contractors. In 2013 the estimated budget was about $80 billion, which makes private intelligence a $56 billion a-year industry. In light of the size of revenue components of private companies, like, for example, Booz Allen, that sounds low.

Booz Allen, the consulting company Edward Snowden worked for. Ninety-eight percent of its revenue of $5.9 billion comes from government contracts. Three-fourths of its 25,000 employees hold government security clearances. Half of its employees have top secret clearances. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, left Booz Allen to take his government position.

We mentioned that 200,000 of DHS’s 388,000 employees are contractors. Also big parts of the intelligence community — the FBI, the CIA, and NSA – have contractors. Mentioned above, the estimated budget percentage for private contractors was 70%, coming with near zero accountability. The following table gives some of the major private contractors, providing integral services to intelligence agencies, including the CIA, DHS, FBI and NSA while sharing personnel and secrets:

ContractorMain Service/ InfoCurrent or Ex: CEO/ Director/Founder/ExecCompromising Associations
SDL GovernmentSW to translate Twitter & Facebook data for military agenciesMelchior BaltazarNavy SEAL
IronNet CybersecurityDeter cyberattacksKeith AlexanderArmy general
SAICCyber services, including failed Trailblazer SWAustin BerglasFBI Special agent
Computer Services Corp.Owns NSA Communication  SystemMike LawrieCSC Over a billion in contracts
Wilmer HaleCyber LawRobert MuellerFBI Director (ret)
Chertoff GroupStrategic thinking & intelligence advisoryChertoff, Hayden, Sweet3 leaders were: DHS head/NSA Director/DHS chief of staff, former CIA
Natus – Israeli Spy CompanyTelecommunication SW analyzes 1.3 million emails per second for NSA at 15 sitesSupplied SW & HW used at AT&T wiretapping roomsPurchased by Boeing
Verint – Israeli Spy CompanyTook over Converse TechTapped communication lines of VerizonForeign influence?
Booz AllenAll aspects of intelligence and surveillanceMichael McConnellNSA Director/Booz executive

As we can see there is a cozy public/private relationship with private players dominating intelligence functions, having no direct accountability to taxpayers who hire the public bosses. Both public and private players are bound not to repeat even illegal actions like warrantless-surveillance which was rampant in the last two adminstrations. There is massive power and zero accountability, and mostly their security clearances, in effect, assure that no violation of rights will be reported.

We found that Edward Snowden, who seems to be on the side of the people as the victims, became a victim himself. And it is quite evident that the Snowden disclosures, the war on terror, the domestic toll of incarceration, or the conventional wars – none of it has revealed how private corporations have a dominant role in profiting from all forms of activities – military, terror, drugs, prisons, education, bombing, surveillance, and intelligence. They are embedded in our lives in a myriad of ways. Too many are not the nurturing kind.

Like an all-invasive cancer, privatization has grown, undetected or ignored by most conventional tools of exposure. Its corrosive form has infected all living elements of democracy.

Are its unhealthy cells too embedded in the tissue of democracy to excise it or dispatch it without destroying the whole organism?

James Hoover is a recently retired systems engineer. He has advanced degrees in Economics and English. Prior to his aerospace career, he taught high school, and he has also taught college courses. He recently published a science fiction novel called Extraordinary Visitors and writes political columns on several websites. Read other articles by James.