NEW YORK - September 26 - The role of the consulting and engineering firm Booz Allen Hamilton,
Inc. in providing oversight for the SWIFT surveillance program, much touted by
the program’s defenders, was called into significant question today by the
American Civil Liberties Union and Privacy International, which released a memo
that they prepared at the request of European regulators, documenting the
consulting firm’s close ties to the U.S. Government.
The New York Times reported today that the regulators were planning to issue
a report this week concluding that Booz Allen did not constitute independent
supervision of the SWIFT monitoring program, and that the program is of dubious
legality under European law.
“It is bad enough that the administration is trying to hold out a private
company as a substitute for genuine checks and balances on its surveillance
activities,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and
Liberty Project. “But of all companies to perform audits on a secret
surveillance program, it would be difficult to find one less objective and more
intertwined with the U.S. government security establishment.”
After it was revealed in June that the Bush Administration was sifting
through the records of financial transactions carried out by a financial
cooperative, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or
SWIFT, an uproar ensued over the lack of legal basis or oversight. In
response, the government claimed that the searches were audited by Booz Allen
(though the details of that process were never made clear).
Among the research findings contained in the memo is that Booz Allen is not
only one of the largest government contractors, with hundreds of millions of
dollars in contracts awarded each year, and therefore heavily dependent on the
very agencies it is supposedly overseeing, but also that:
- its staff includes many former members of the military and
intelligence community, including a former director of the CIA and a former
director of the NSA.
- it has a history of working closely with security
agencies on electronic surveillance, including the now-defunct Total Information
Awareness program run by Admiral John Poindexter.
- it has been at the
forefront of a push to increase information collection from the private sector
by the government. Several Booz Allen vice presidents, for example, have
publicly called for sweeping efforts in that direction, even if it means
sacrifice by and regulation of private industry.
“We knew that Booz Allen was a large contractor, but even so the results of
this research are quite startling,” said Steinhardt.
The ACLU/PI research memo was prepared at the request of the European Article
29 Working Group, an advisory body to the European Commission made up of
national data protection authorities from throughout the European Union.
The ACLU and Privacy International have both testified before the Article 29
Working Group. In June, Privacy International sent a letter to European
privacy commissioners calling upon them to launch investigations of the SWIFT
Steinhardt said that the ACLU and PI were sharing the results of its research
with data protection officials around the world, many of whom were conducting
their own investigations into the SWIFT scandal. “We and Privacy International
are working to make sure that extensive ties between Booz Allen and the
government they are supposed to be monitoring are well known to the authorities
charged with enforcing their nations’ privacy laws,” he said.
“Even the weak reed of oversight that the Bush Administration has been
leaning upon – Booz Allen – is highly suspect,” said Steinhardt. “If
nothing else, Booz Allen is a prime example of a government-industry ‘revolving
door’ of shared personnel.”
The research memo is available at: www.aclu.org/pdfs/safefree/boozallen20060914.pdf