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Tim Shorrock Asks Why It Took the Washington Post So Long to Investigate the US Intelligence System

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“With all due respect to the Washington Post — and Dana Priest and Bill Arkin are very good reporters — we have to ask, why did it take them seven years to do this story?” says Tim Shorrock, an investigative journalist and author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing. “Anyone who’s been covering intelligence or national security in Washington knows that intelligence has been privatized to an incredible extent.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Tim Shorrock, an investigative journalist and the author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of [Intelligence Outsourcing].

Tim, as you go through the first of the series of pieces in the Washington Post — you’ve been looking at these issues for a long time — what are you — what do you think is most important?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, first of all, let me say that, with all due respect to the Washington Post — and Dana Priest and Bill Arkin are very good reporters — we have to ask, why did it take them seven years to do this story? Anyone who’s been covering intelligence or national security in Washington knows that intelligence has been privatized to an incredible extent and national security has been privatized to an incredible extent.

I broke the first stories on the intelligence-industrial complex. The first one appeared in Mother Jones in 2005. In 2007 I wrote a major story for Salon and a whole series in Salon. I disclosed that 70 percent of the US intelligence budget is spent on private-sector contractors. And then, of course, I wrote this book, which has a lot of this information that’s in the Post series. So, I find it rather amazing that it took them this long to actually do this kind of piece, because the information has been there.

And the American people have been ill-served by the Washington Post, whose coverage of these companies has been basically rah-rah journalism — rah-rah Lockheed Martin, rah-rah Booz Allen, look at the profits they’re making. There has not been this kind of careful look at what’s actually happening. So, that’s the first point I’d like to make. And I think, you know, people should look at the work of myself, Jeremy Scahill, other journalists that have covered this sector and put out the word of how much intelligence is controlled and gathered by private-sector corporations.

AMY GOODMAN: What should most be understood by these private companies? And what is your major concern? One of the things Bill Arkin was saying, you know, he was surprised — well, they’ve done the series now for — they were researching the series for two years, that maybe there were 200 firms. There are 2,000, he says, now.

TIM SHORROCK: Well, a lot of the — yeah, there’s about — I would say there’s about 200 firms that really control most of the business with the intelligence community, as well as the national security community. There are hundreds of companies in this area. As you know, there’s a Beltway around Washington. They’re called Beltway bandits. They start up. They develop a specific kind of technology, some kind of special apparatus that’s used by a certain intelligence agency. They get money from the agency. They develop it. And then, pretty soon, a bigger company looks at them and says, “Hey, we’d like to get their contracts. We’d like to buy them.” And that’s what they do. And that’s how these companies, like Lockheed Martin, Booz Allen and others, have grown so large, is that they’ve picked up a lot of these smaller companies. Northrop Grumman is another one, BAE Systems. So there’s literally, you know, hundreds and hundreds of companies.

And I think one of the things about the first day of this piece that’s quite amazing, if you look at the national map, and you see all these offices of both, you know, private contractors as well as government agencies, basically, you know, doing intelligence on the world and the American people. You know, it’s an enormous spy apparatus. You know, you can drive, say, from — you know, just pick a random state, New Mexico, where I’ve spent some time. You drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, you pass the big building on the right side, which used to be National Guard headquarters, and that’s one of these — you know, one of these centers where they integrate all the intelligence with — you know, and pass it on to local police and local law enforcement. These kind of buildings are all over the United States, and I think if readers look at this, they’ll see, you know, what an incredible secret police state we’ve really built here.

AMY GOODMAN: You have written a piece, “The Corporate Intelligence Community: A Photo Exclusive.” Talk about how this has grown and both what you’re doing, what the Washington Post has done — those that raise the question of are you putting the nation’s intelligence community at risk by locating where it is, by naming it all.

TIM SHORROCK: Well, you know, if you fly into DC National Airport and drive, you know, up to — up the river and into DC, all you see on the Virginia side are buildings like Booz Allen Hamilton, Northrop Grumman, etc., etc. It’s very clear where these buildings are. You know, in my website, timshorrock.com, the top story, which I posted over the weekend, is a little tour, is a photo tour I did a few months ago of northern Virginia, just looking at some of these buildings, some of these colossal headquarters of contractors like Accenture Corporation, which most people just know as some kind of, you know, consulting, corporate consulting firm, but does a huge amount of work the intelligence agency. These are huge buildings. They’re all over the place, and you can’t but notice them. So I think it’s foolish of the intelligence community or intelligence agencies to accuse us of, you know, somehow compromising national security.

After all, if you want to keep the stuff secret, don’t contract it out to private companies who sell their stocks on the stock market. Half the information I got for my book, Spies for Hire, came from attending, you know, investor conferences, reading up on their SEC documents that they file, Securities and Exchange, looking at their press releases. Just take a look at a website such as the company called C-A-C-I International, CACI International, which is the company that sent the interrogators to Abu Ghraib under an IT contract, one of the IT contracts that Bill Arkin mentioned. Just take a look at their website and go through it, and you’ll see. You’ll learn a whole heck of a lot about national security and what’s going on in intelligence that you never would have been able to learn if this industry had not been privatized to the extent that it is. So I think that the IC’s concerns here are really ridiculous. They should probably, you know, ask all these corporations to cover up their logos, if they want to keep it secret.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Shorrock, the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to hold confirmation hearings Tuesday for General James Clapper, President Obama’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence. Tell us who he is.

TIM SHORROCK: James Clapper used to be the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was an Air Force general, came through the ranks. He took over the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the NGA, which you discussed a little bit there with Bill Arkin. He took over the NGA just after 9/11, a few days after 9/11, and ran it for four or five years. And actually, the NGA is a very interesting organization. It collects the imagery — it analyzes the imagery they pick up from satellites and overhead UAVs, and they merge that with intelligence that the National Security Agency picks up, and they can actually, you know, track individual people, track people in real time. And that’s how a lot of the assassinations that have taken place in Iraq and Pakistan have been done, with technology like that. But the NGA is a very important agency. It also does — conducts a lot of domestic surveillance. I actually wrote a story, and it’s in my book, as well, about how the NGA, for the first time, for the first time ever during Hurricane Katrina, flew U-2s over the Gulf Coast and collected imagery intelligence. So Clapper has a lot of experience in this area.

He also has close connections to contractors, which I write about. You can also find that article on my website, an article I wrote recently for Foreign Policy in Focus about the many contractors that he has been — either been a board member of or been an adviser to. And interestingly enough, in his written testimony to the Senate committee, he called this whole thing “the intelligence enterprise,” quote-unquote. And I think that’s a very interesting phrase for someone to use. It’s not accidental that they’re calling this the “enterprise,” because, after all, it is a combination of private-sector companies and US national intelligence agencies. But, you know, going back to the point I made earlier, 70 percent of our budget — excuse me — goes to these companies, so the vast majority of our funds in intelligence go to private-sector corporations.

And what we’ve got to ask is, what does it mean to have these companies, private-sector companies, making profits at the highest levels of our national security? Our last Director of National Intelligence, Michael McConnell, is now back at Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the largest intelligence contractors. Before he began his job as Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, he ran Booz Allen’s military intelligence. Before he went to Booz, he was the director of the National Security Agency during the Clinton administration. So you have these people going in and out, in and out of these companies, having top-level security clearances, yet they’re in the private sector making huge profits off of this. And I think we have to wonder — we have to take the intelligence that they gather and the advice that they give to our government agencies with a huge grain of salt, because when you get a contract, the important thing about that contract is you want to get the next contract. You want to get that contract renewed. You might get a five-year contract with one-year renewals. You want to get it renewed every year. So, do you think you’re going to downplay the threat? Do you think you’re going to say, “Oh, there’s no more, you know, problem over here in this area of the world, so we can just — you know, you can just pull our contract”? They’re not going to do that. And I think we really have to wonder about the quality of the intelligence you get from these private-sector companies.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Tim Shorrock, I want to thank you very much for being with us. His book is Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing. And we’ll link to your website at timshorrock.com.

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