Meet the Contractors: America’s “Digital Blackwater”

The acronyms are seemingly endless.  From SAIC and CACI to CSC, there are many companies you’ve probably never heard of making billions of dollars spying on you and your friends and family.  As I mentioned yesterday when I highlighted how Booz Allen Hamilton earns 99% of its revenue from the U.S. government and that a substantial number of its contracts are “secret,” this entire thing is simply a gigantic racket and a very dangerous one at that.  It’d be one thing if these so-called “private” contractors were merely funneling billions of dollars of taxpayer money to themselves like the bankers and their allies at the Federal Reserve do each day, but these contractors are also destroying the Bill of Rights and Constitution at the same time.

Tim Shorrock has written an excellent article on all this for Salon.  Below are some excerpts:

Amid the torrent of stories about the shocking new revelations about the National Security Agency, few have bothered to ask a central question. Who’s actually doing the work of analyzing all the data, metadata and personal information pouring into the agency from Verizon and nine key Internet service providers for its ever-expanding surveillance of American citizens?

The revelation is not that surprising. With about 70 percent of our national intelligence budgets being spent on the private sector  – a discovery I made in 2007 and first reported in Salon – contractors have become essential to the spying and surveillance operations of the NSA.

From Narus, the Israeli-born Boeing subsidiary that makes NSA’s high-speed interception software, to CSC, the “systems integrator” that runs NSA’s internal IT system, defense and intelligence, contractors are making millions of dollars selling technology and services that help the world’s largest surveillance system spy on you. If the 70 percent figure is applied to the NSA’s estimated budget of $8 billion a year (the largest in the intelligence community), NSA contracting could reach as high as $6 billion every year.

But it’s probably much more than that.

With many of these contractors now focused on cyber-security, Hayden has even coined a new term — “Digital Blackwater” – for the industry. “I use that for the concept of the private sector in cyber,” he told a recent conference in Washington, in an odd reference to the notorious mercenary army. “I saw this in government and saw it a lot over the last four years. The private sector has really moved forward in terms of providing security,” he said. Hayden himself has cashed out too: He is now a principal with the Chertoff Group, the intelligence advisory company led by Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of Homeland Security.

So Hayden actually used the term “Digital Blackwater” in a positive sense.  What more do you need to know?

One of NSA’s most important contractors may be Narus, a subsidiary of Boeing that makes a key telecommunications software that allows government agencies and corporations to monitor huge amounts of data flowing over fiber-optic cables. According to Bill Binney, one of four NSA whistle-blowers who’ve been warning about NSA’s immense powers, one Narus device can analyze 1,250,000 1,000-character emails every second. That comes to over 100 billion emails a day.

“Narus is the one thing that makes it all possible,” Binney told me over the weekend, of the Verizon surveillance program unveiled by the Guardian. “They probably pick up 60 to 80 percent of the data going over the [U.S.] network.” The Narus technology, he added, “reconstructs everything on the line and then passes it off to NSA for storage” and later analysis. That includes everything, he said, including email, cellphone calls, and voice over Internet protocol calls such as those made on Skype.

NSA’s use of the Narus technology first came to attention in 2006. That was when an AT&T technician named Mark Klein went public with his discovery that NSA had hooked Narus devices to AT&T’s incoming telecom stream in San Francisco and set up a secret room that allowed NSA to divert AT&T’s entire stream to its own databases. Binney believes the equipment was hooked up to as many as 15 sites around the country.

Booz Allen Hamilton is one of the NSA’s most important and trusted contractors. It’s involved in virtually every aspect of intelligence and surveillance, from advising top officials on how to integrate the 16 U.S. spy agencies to detailed analysis of signals intelligence, imagery and other critical collections technologies. I first introduced Booz’s intelligence business in a 2007 profile in Salon when President Bush appointed Michael McConnell, a Booz veteran and former NSA director, to be director of national intelligence (he’s now back at Booz).

Among other secret projects, Booz was deeply involved in “Total Information Awareness,” the controversial data-mining project run for the Bush administration by former National Security Adviser John Poindexter that was outlawed by Congress in 2003.

Just a friendly reminder, this was the symbol for the Total Information Awareness program:


In one fell swoop, hundreds of longtime NSA employees left their government jobs one day and walked in the next morning wearing their green badges from CSC and its many subcontractors.

Despite the scandals and massive amount of money spent on private intelligence contractors, however, the mainstream media has been slow to report on the topic. It took until 2010, years after the spending spree began, for the Washington Post to highlight intelligence outsourcing in its famous series on “Top Secret America.” The paper, despite its work on the PRISM story, is still behind the curve.

For those that aren’t familiar with whistleblower hero Bill Binney mentioned in this article, click here to get up to speed.

Full Salon article here.

In Liberty,

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 Add your comment
  1. Be nice to see some law enforcement and some folks doing time, like those who used to work at Blackwater……and now behind bars.

  2. “Despite the scandals and massive amount of money spent on private intelligence contractors, however, the mainstream media has been slow to report on the topic. ”

    Compared to other scandals that were hardly mentioned by the US MSM, it’s curious that Snowden is receiving the widespread coverage that he is. I wonder if we’re being played.

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