Ken Silverstein / Harper’s Magazine – 2006-10-02 00:15:58
(September 19, 2006) — Last week I wrote about the steady flow of CIA employees to Blackwater USA, the private security contractor with major operations in Iraq. Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times took a broader look at the revolving door between intelligence agencies and the private sector, and found that “because of the demands of the war on terrorism and the drawn-out conflict in Iraq, US spy agencies have turned to unprecedented numbers of outside contractors to perform jobs once the domain of government-employed analysts and secret agents.”
For private contractors to hire intelligence officials is not a new phenomenon. Take a look at the board of directors of any major defense or homeland security contractor and you’re likely to come across some familiar names.
The board at San Diego-based Science Applications International Corporation, which receives billions annually in federal contracts, has included two former CIA directors (John Deutch and Robert Gates), a former head of the National Security Agency (Bobby Ray Inman), and two former defense secretaries (William Perry and Melvin Laird).
But the pace of the movement to private firms has recently reached alarming proportions. “At the CIA,” said the Los Angeles Times story, “poaching became such a problem that former Director Porter J. Goss had to warn several firms to stop recruiting employees in the agency cafeteria . … One recently retired case officer said he had been approached twice while in line for coffee.”
(As I noted in my recent post about Blackwater, that firm’s CEO, Erik Prince, has a “green badge” that allows him access to CIA installations, and he regularly meets with senior officials at the agency’s headquarters.)
Among the Times’ other interesting findings:
• More than half of all employees at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCC) are outside contractors, and the former head of the NCC, John Brennan, is now the CEO of Analysis Corp, which supplies contract analysts to the center. The use of contractors is especially heavy at the CIA.
• Abraxas Corp, a firm conveniently located near the agency in McLean, Virginia, and home to many former CIA veterans, creates false identities for an elite group of overseas case officers.
• Contractors have at times outnumbered CIA employees at key stations like Baghdad and Islamabad. In Baghdad, contractors aren’t simply performing bureaucratic functions; they recruit informants, manage relationships with the military, and “handle agents in support of frontline combat units.”
• Senior US intelligence officials told the Times that agencies have become so dependent on contractors that they could no longer function without them. “If you took away the contractor support, they’d have to put yellow tape around the building and close it down,” a former CIA official told the newspaper.
One former senior CIA official told me that the implications of the “enhanced revolving door” are being felt in a broad variety of ways. “There are many people inside who aspire to work for a private contractor because — overnight — they can at least double their earnings,” he said. “It undermines morale and doesn’t build a competent system.
But the bigger story is that this is symptomatic of a new ‘counterterrorism-industrial complex’ that’s popping up and that is starting to look a lot like Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex. It’s a multibillion dollar industry and it’s beginning to drive policy.”
Copyright 2006 Harper’s Magazine Foundation