Most Analysis of Spy Data is Done by Private Contractors

Friday, June 14, 2013
(graphic: Democracy Now)

The controversy involving Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency (NSA) leaks has drawn attention to the fact that most analysis of the government’s intelligence data is performed by private contractors, not government employees.


When it comes to examining and deciphering the enormous volumes of communications collected by the NSA, it’s companies like SAIC, CSC and Booz Allen Hamilton that do much of the work.


Snowden was just one of thousands of private contractor employees helping operate the NSA’s vast operation of finding threats before they manifest.


Tim Shorrock, author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, estimates that about 70% of the federal government’s intelligence budgets are spent on the private sector.


Shorrock says if the 70% figure is applied to the NSA’s estimated budget (the official figure is classified) of $8 billion a year (the largest in the intelligence community), NSA could be spending as much as $6 billion on contractors.


Michael V. Hayden, former director of both the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency, has said that “the largest concentration of cyber power on the planet” is located just down the street from NSA headquarters in Maryland. More specifically, he meant at the intersection of the Baltimore Parkway and Maryland Route 32, which is where all of NSA’s major contractors, from Booz to Northrop Grumman, carry out their surveillance and intelligence work for the agency.


With so many companies taking part in America’s spying activity, it is no wonder that private sector workers hold about 22% of all U.S. government security clearances and about 29% of top secret security clearances.


The Obama administration promised four years ago to substantially reduce this figure and put more of this highly sensitive work back in the hands of federal employees.


That hasn’t happened yet.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Meet the Contractors Analyzing your Private Data (by Tim Shorrock, Salon)

Security Lapse Provokes New Criticism of Huge Role Played by Costly Intelligence Contractors (by Richard H. P. Sia, Center for Public Integrity)

2012 Report on Security Clearance Determinations (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) (pdf)

Military Clashes with U.S. Spies over Outsourcing of Satellite Surveillance (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Spying for Profit (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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