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The Ruling Class of U.S. Intelligence

Published: April 12, 2012
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Source: Tim Shorrock

On April 4, 2012, I spoke on a panel discussion on National Security, Secrecy and Surveillance in New York City. The event was sponsored by the Open Society Foundations and the Government Accountability Project, and moderated by Steven Aftergood, the renowned editor of Secrecy News for the Federation of American Scientists. Besides myself, the speakers were Thomas Drake, the courageous former intelligence officer who blew the whistle on National Security Agency/contractor corruption during the Bush administration and was wrongly prosecuted by the Obama administration as a result; his equally courageous attorney, Jessylyn Radek , who is a whistle-blower herself for exposing the barbaric treatment of the so-called “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh in the days after 9/11; and Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU, who has participated in some of the most important national security litigation of the past ten years.

The format was informal; Aftergood posed a series of questions to each panelist, giving us a few minutes to respond, and then posed a series of follow-up queries. After that, the audience got to ask its own questions, and at the end we all gave some final thoughts. The entire event will soon be available on video at the OSF and GAP websites, and I will post it here as soon as I get it.

For me, it was a tremendous honor to speak about my special area of expertise, intelligence contracting, with people who have spent much of the last decade fighting the threat to democracy posed by our national surveillance state. I had prepared a five-minute talk, but what I had written didn’t fit into the Q&A format. So I thought readers of my book SPIES FOR HIRE and my many followers on Twitter would be interested in the notes I made in preparation, and I present them below. I started by talking about the NSA’s Trailblazer program, a $4 billion corporate boondoggle that Tom Drake, as an NSA whistle-blower, had sought to expose as a massive waste of resources and a threat to our democratic rights. Here’s what I said:

Trailblazer is highly symbolic of the folly of contracting. It was an enormous, wasteful project that made a lot of people rich while doing nothing to protect Americans and actually helping them lose a little more of their freedom. The culprit was SAIC, one of the nation’s largest defense and intelligence contractors. New Yorkers may know SAIC because it just pled guilty to massive fraud involving the city’s payroll systems and paid a $500 million fine to basically avoid being blacklisted by the government.

In the case of Trailblazer, the company paid zero fines and kept winning new contracts. But it wasn’t only SAIC – the Trailblazer “team” included Northrop Grumman and Booz Allen Hamilton, both longtime NSA contractors, and literally dozens of subcontractors. The entire project was symptomatic of the way the privatized intelligence community operates, without oversight or accountability, and basically in the shadows.

As Tom and Jesslyn have argued, Tom didn’t leak anything secret about Trailblazer: he was merely passing on unclassified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter about one of the worst contract failures – and scandals – in US intelligence history.

So it was interesting to read in Jane Mayer’s excellent New Yorker piece on Tom a quote about this from Jack Goldsmith, one of the Justice Department lawyers who justified Bush’s programs. Instead of prosecuting Tom Drake, he said, the government should have gone after the leakers who talked to Bob Woodward for his four books on Bush’s wars, which he said were “filled with classified information that he could only have received from the top of government.”


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