Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Outsourcing the Source?

The Issue:

Should the United States government be soliciting contract work on international intelligence and national security from private consulting firms?

  • Should national security be the sole province of our government?
  • Can benefits exist when our government pays private corporations for assistance with espionage, intelligence and research on terrorist activities, and other functions involving our sovereign rights to protect ourselves?
  • What is the extent to which government officers, bureaucrats, and elected representatives benefit financially from their dealings with and for private security consulting firms?
  • Can dangerous conflicts of interests exist between our government and the private firms, and to what extent should any conflicts of interests be considered part of the price we pay for national security?

Background:

After the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day 2009, the Obama administration's deputy national security adviser, John Brennan, was appointed to head the executive branch's investigation into the incident. As reported in the New York Times on January 1, Brennan was given special clearance to perform this task because of his ties to Analysis Corporation, "an intelligence firm that provides services to the government." That sentence caught my eye, because up until now, I didn't realize our government outsourced our national security.

Discussion:

Why is our government purchasing intelligence (apart from the obvious jokes about our bureaucrats being bereft of any themselves)? Apparently, this is not a new phenomenon, because a book by Tim Shorrock entitled "Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing" (currently on backorder at Amazon.com), details the role companies like Brennan’s Analysis Corporation play in our national defense.

Apparently, Brennan has popped in and out of national security jobs throughout his career, and his resume is well-known on Capitol Hill. Nobody seems to be questioning Brennan’s qualifications to get the job done, and that’s not my point, either. I’m wondering how Brennan and operatives in his cohort can slide from public to private to public with such ease, authority, and presumed financial incentive, and still provide our nation the same quality of intelligence information as our own federal agents.

Is it just me, or do you smell a rat somewhere? Brennan's company, The Analysis Corporation, is actually a subsidiary of Global Strategies Group, whose major client is our government's National Counterterrorism Center. I’m just skeptical and cynical enough to believe that this little round-robin of shared interests isn’t the only profitable intelligence network chirping underneath the Pentagon’s rafters.

While I understand paying informants for secrets has been the stock in trade of government covert operations squads for millennia, the fact that the process has become incorporated gives me more unease than it does confidence. Is counterintelligence more valuable now than the old, altruistic loyalty to country? How reliable can information be when it’s being provided by a firm whose immediate stake in the equation is their own profit?

Die-hard conservatives roll their eyes when I say I never embraced the Bush administration’s push into Iraq under the guise of searching for WMDs. Hey, isn't it a fact that nobody ever produced the smoking gun to justify the invasion? We all know now about the unreliable informants, sketchy data, and outright hawkishness of illogical advisers that combined to either blatantly corrupt or obfuscate (depending on who's telling the story) the material upon which Bush decided to go after Saddam.

What role did our private intelligence industry play in this historic debacle? To what extent did our nation’s penchant for profits above honor create a blithe indifference to the source of our security information and processes for evaluating, corroborating, and acting upon it?

It simply never occurred to me that our government would outsource such a critical component of our national defense.

One last question – if nobody has a problem with the US getting too loose with what we allow to be outsourced, can we outsource the Presidency? Maybe Congress? Maybe have something like a call center in Pakistan...

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