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Booz Allen Hamilton A Major Player In Intelligence Community

Jun 10, 2013
Originally published on June 11, 2013 6:11 am
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Back in the U.S., the leaks have put a spotlight on the company Edward Snowden worked for. Booz Allen Hamilton is one of the largest private contractors that does intelligence work for the government. Its share of the work keeps getting bigger, and as NPR's Laura Sullivan reports, that worries some government watchdogs.

LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: When you think of government cyber spying, it's easy to think of government employees of the CIA, FBI, NSA, the National Security Agency staring into computer screens, ferreting out foreign or domestic threats in nondescript office buildings. That's all actually true, except for the government employee part. These days, those employees are more likely than ever to work for government contractors.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: My name's Ed Snowden. I'm 29 years old. I worked for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for NSA.

SULLIVAN: Snowden threw the intelligence community into turmoil in recent days with his disclosure of sweeping government surveillance programs. He didn't work for the government; he worked for Booz Allen Hamilton.

SNOWDEN: I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president if I had a personal email.

SULLIVAN: Booz Allen Hamilton is one of the largest government contractors in the country. It has 25,000 employees, nearly six billion in annual revenue and, for the most part, one customer: the federal government. Top officials familiar with the company told NPR that almost two-thirds of its work is now focused on intelligence- and defense-related contracts.

JAY STANLEY: Booz Allen Hamilton is really an arm of the intelligence community.

SULLIVAN: Jay Stanley is a senior policy analyst for the ACLU who focuses on technology and government.

STANLEY: They live on substantial government contracts. They have been involved with some of the most controversial federal surveillance programs in recent years. They have actually lobbied for increased information sharing. And if you look at their leadership and their staff, they are heavily made up of former military and intelligence officers.

SULLIVAN: Stanley co-wrote a memo for the ACLU in 2006 looking into the company's oversight of another government surveillance program. It was called SWIFT. The program monitored banking transactions, and Booz Allen was hired to make sure the government wasn't overreaching into Americans' private financial information. Stanley says hiring a company like Booz Allen to do oversight on an intelligence program was dubious.

STANLEY: Booz Allen Hamilton in no way constituted an independent check and balance on this surveillance activity. We charted the ways in which Booz Allen Hamilton was very intimately intertwined with the intelligence community and was made up of former intelligence officials.

SULLIVAN: Booz Allen officials said today in a statement that they were cooperating with the investigation into the leak, but declined further comment. The company is considered one of the most trusted government contractors specializing in cybersecurity and technical support. Company records say 76 percent of employees have government security clearances. Scott Amey is the general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog organization.

SCOTT AMEY: In comparison to some of the other contractors in the top 20, they have very few instances of misconduct and actually have probably been a fairly beneficial contractor for the federal government.

SULLIVAN: Still, Amey says he has deep reservations about handing so much work over to a private contractor, especially for work that has very little public oversight to begin with. Booz Allen isn't making a product; it's providing employees to do secret government work.

AMEY: In the old days, we heard about the outrageously priced spare parts and the hammers and the toilet seats and the airplanes that are over budget and behind schedule. But now we're starting to purchase more services, and they're a lot harder to monitor, to administer, to make sure that you're really getting bang for your buck.

SULLIVAN: In the near future at least, the spotlight will be on Booz Allen Hamilton. Employees tell NPR they're embarrassed, but hope the good work they do will stand out, even if it's done in secret. Laura Sullivan, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.