Well, to report that, Priest and Arkin would have had to quote me, because I broke that story back in 2007, when I obtained and published an unclassified ODNI document in Salon showing that 70 percent of the intelligence budget was spent on private contractors. That figure has become the norm in describing the privatized intelligence community. But the Post didn't mention it at all (even though they quote from the ODNI press conference where my figure was finally confirmed). That's a pity: by applying that 70 percent figure to today's intelligence budget of $75 billion, Priest and Arkin could have informed readers that spying for hire is now a $53-billion industry. And -- to use the kind of comparison they like -- they could have said $53 billion is about the size of India's huge outsourcing industry. A missed opportunity, shall we say.
Other areas where the Post's findings fall short are in its roundup of contracting at the key agencies. For example, the National Reconnaissance Office, we're told, "cannot produce, launch or maintain its large satellite surveillance systems ... without the four major contractors it works with." OK. But again, the obvious question is, so how much work do the contractors do?
The answer's in my book, where I quote Donald Kerr, a former director of the NRO, saying that "ninety-five percent of the resources over which we have stewardship in fact go out on a contract to our industrial base" -- a stunning figure by any stretch. The NSA, the Post reports, "hires private firms to come up with most of its technological innovations." But, specifically, what? Wasn't the Post interested in informing the American public, which learned in 2005 that the NSA was eavesdropping on domestic calls without warrants, about the companies that are collaborating on these tasks that many citizens and lawmakers believe violate the law? Apparently not. Again, you have to go elsewhere for this story.
What's most disappointing about this project is the lack of specific anecdotes that illustrate the corrupting side of contracting. At the top of its story on Tuesday, the Post states: "What started as a temporary fix in response to the terrorist attacks has turned into a dependency that calls into question whether the federal workforce includes too many people obligated to shareholders rather than the public interest." But the story never documents any instances in which shareholders -- and dollars -- trump the national interest.
The only mention of misconduct is that of the contractor MZM's bribes that sent a congressman to prison and the scandal over the ArmorGroup's security detail at the Kabul Embassy -- stories that were reported by other outlets and organizations. Despite Priest's amazing work on the CIA's rendition program, which won her her first Pulitzer (for public service) in 2006, she shockingly failed to develop the contractor side of this sordid tale. Bits of that story were told by New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer in the magazine and in her brilliant book The Dark Side. Boeing, it turns out, has a subsidiary that arranged the flights and was deeply involved in the program; and recently, Boeing has greatly expanded its reach in intelligence by buying Narus, Inc. and Argon ST, two important NSA contractors. There's a story there, I suspect.