Now that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has outed himself as an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a contractor which receives 99 percent of its revenue from the federal government (23 percent from intelligence work), the company’s stock has predictably begun to fall.
The company has released a statement condemning Snowden’s actions as a “grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm.”
To put it politely, their homepage at the moment lacks a certain self-awareness:
It’s been pointed out that the bigger issue illustrated by Snowden’s disclosures is the degree to which we’ve outsourced important intelligence-gathering functions to private contractors. From today’s Post:
Snowden was among tens of thousands of private intelligence contractors hired in the unprecedented push to “connect the dots” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They work side by side with civil servants as analysts, technical support specialists and mission managers. An unknown number have access to secret and top-secret material. Several years ago, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence estimated that almost one in four intelligence workers were employed by contractors.
The growing reliance on contractors reflects a massive shift toward outsourcing over the past 15 years, in part because of cutbacks in the government agencies. It has dramatically increased the risk of waste and contracting abuses, government auditors have found, in part because the government has repeatedly acknowledged that it does not have a sufficient workforce to oversee the contractors.
The Times’ story along the same lines points out Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s—who has blasted the disclosures as “reckless” and dangerous to national security—connection to the firm:
As evidence of the company’s close relationship with government, the Obama administration’s chief intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., is a former Booz Allen executive. The official who held that post in the Bush administration, John M. McConnell, now works for Booz Allen.
“The national security apparatus has been more and more privatized and turned over to contractors,” said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group that studies federal government contracting. “This is something the public is largely unaware of, how more than a million private contractors are cleared to handle highly sensitive matters.”
Indeed, one of the strangest things about this disclosure is how a 29 year-old high school dropout working in IT had access to some of the NSA’s most sensitive intelligence information. But the thing is, as Farhad Manjoo points out, any effort to discredit Snowden reflects poorly on the government, which cleared him to handle this stuff, and the company that hired him.
Look, I despise the explosion of contractors and new agency headquarters that’s shielded the DC region’s real estate market from economic downturn and destroyed Virginia’s electoral politics as much as the next patriotic American, but here are two things worth keeping in mind:
1. There are many problems with the contracting system, but anyone claiming Snowden’s disclosures argue for enlarging the federal workforce is missing something important.
2. As Matt Frost points out on Twitter, whatever Snowden was doing was at the government’s explicit request, and being on the outside possibly made him more likely to leak. And as we’ve learned from Lois Lerner, government employees can be very difficult to fire.