Among these contributing companies reportedly is Palantir Technologies, the Palo Alto, Calif., company that several news outlets have identified as a close
associate of the NSA's. Another is Eagle Alliance, a joint venture of Computer Sciences Corp. and Northrup Grumman that runs the NSA's IT program and
describes itself on its website as "the Intelligence Community's premier Information Technology Managed Services provider." ("We made them part of the
team," says Hayden.) Another is Booz Allen Hamilton, the international consultancy for which the reported whistleblower in the NSA stories, contractor
Edward Snowden, began working three months ago. In 2002, Booz Allen Hamilton won a $63 million contract for an early and controversial version of the
current data-mining program, called Total Information Awareness, which was later cancelled after congressional Democrats raised questions about invasion of
privacy in the early 2000s. The firm's current vice-chairman, Mike McConnell, was DNI in the George W. Bush administration and, before that, director of
the NSA. Clapper is also a former Booz Allen executive.
In its outreach to private industry, the NSA occasionally overreached. The most notorious example was the $1.2 billion "Trailblazer" program developed in
the early-to-mid-2000s by SAIC and other companies, which led to the notorious attempted prosecution of another whistleblower, an NSA career employee, who
sought to expose the program as a wasteful failure. "One of the things we tried to do with Trailblazer was to hire out a solution to our problems," Hayden
says. "It was kind of a moonshot."
Afterwards, Hayden said, "we began to do this in increments," still employing private-sector firms. "It's the companies responding to your requests... You
look for a Palantir, and you make them part of our team."
It's questionable whether any of the nine major U.S. Internet companies named in the PRISM stories were, like some of these contractors, also willing parts
of the NSA "team." For the tech industry, especially the social-media companies, the controversy over the extent of the NSA's domestic data gathering has
become an acute embarrassment. The NSA is said to have tapped into servers of the nine companies, but the heads of two of the biggest, Facebook founder
Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Larry Page, issued near-identical statements late last week saying neither of them had ever heard "of a program
called PRISM" until the press reports.
Yet for Hayden, who was one of the longest-serving NSA directors ever, remaking the stodgy Cold War spy agency into a private-tech-sector enterprise was a
logical outgrowth of dramatic changes in the nature of both threats and technology.
Well before 9/11, he says, he realized that as the Internet era was taking off, the NSA was failing in its mission to collect signals intelligence, or
sigint, and effectively "going deaf," in the critique of the time. Hayden admitted this, surprisingly, in an open session of the House Permanent Select
Committee on Intelligence in 2000, telling the members what he thought needed to happen if the NSA was going to get in front of the data. "This agency grew
up in the Cold War. We came from the world of ENIGMA [the Nazi encryption device whose code was broken by the allies], for God's sakes. There were no
privacy concerns in intercepting German communications to their submarines, or Russian microwave transmissions to missile bases," he says. "But now, I told
them, all the data you want to go for is coexisting with your stuff. And the trick then, the only way NSA succeeds, is to get enough power to be able to
reach that new data but with enough trust to know enough not to grab your stuff even though it's whizzing right by."