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As the NSA Follows You, We Follow the Money

Emily Masters

Since the 9/11 attacks, the United States has witnessed the rapid growth of an intelligence-industrial complex that fuses government and corporate power. According to the Project on Government Oversight, $300 billion a year is now spent on a “shadow government of private contractors.” At the center of this arrangement is an interlocking web of current and former high-level government officials, major corporations, D.C. think tanks and other inside-the-Beltway operators who have benefitted from the rise of the surveillance state. Here are a few of the most notable:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Richard C. Blum: The Intelligence Power Couple

Life must be good when you are deciding on government cyber-intelligence spending. But it must be even better if your husband is profiting handsomely off those decisions.

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is married to Richard C. Blum, who was substantially invested in URS Corp, which owns EG&G, a leading government technical provider that has been awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in security-related contracts. Feinstein never abstained from voting when it affected her husband’s wallet and Blum made $100 million when he sold his shares, as investigative reporter Peter Byrne exposed in his 2007 series the “Feinstein Files.”

Rep. Mike Rogers: Taking Care of His Backers

“These narrowly targeted programs are legal, do not invade Americans’ privacy, and are essential to detecting and disrupting future terrorist attacks,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R. - Mich.) wrote in a USA Today editorial. As chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he was asked to respond to the NSA leaks.

What did his editorial leave out? That, of his top 20 contributors, Rogers received campaign financing from eight of the major private intelligence contractors along with over $100,000 from defense industry Political Action Committees (PACs) in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Rogers recently introduced legislation for the “improvement and reauthorization” of the USA PATRIOT Act, the post-9/11 law that has been used to greatly expand the surveillance state.

John M. “Mike” McConnell: Making the Revolving Door Spin

Mike McConnell’s résumé reads like an advertisement for Washington’s revolving door. In 1996, after four years as the NSA Director, he moved to Booz Allen Hamilton, a leading private intelligence contractor. McConnell was the Senior Vice President at Booz until 2006, when President George W. Bush added him to the cabinet as Director of National Intelligence. McConnell returned to Booz in 2009, becoming vice chairman and earning between $2 to $4 million a year, according to The New York Times. In a 2012 interview with the Times, he dismissed groups calling for greater privacy protections as “special interests.”

Michael Chertoff: In Search of Opportunity

Michael Chertoff certainly gets around. In 2001, he helped craft the PATRIOT Act while serving as Assistant Attorney General in the Bush Justice Department. After a stint as Secretary of Homeland Security (2005-2009), Chertoff co-founded the Chertoff Group, a consulting firm that, according to its website, “helps our clients identify new opportunities around the world to grow and invest in the security industry.” One of those “new opportunities” turned out to be a multi-million dollar government contract for the controversial full-body airport scanners which were produced by OSI Systems, a client of the Chertoff Group.

The Intelligence and National Security Alliance: Trade Association for Spooks

Washington, D.C. is rife with trade associations lobbying the government to shower favors on their member companies. For the intelligence industry, INSA is the go-to group that has played a key role in facilitating the outsourcing of government intelligence work to private companies. Past chairs of INSA’s Board of Directors include Mike McConnell, former Director of National Intelligence (2006–2009) and CIA Director John Brennan, a key architect of the Obama administration’s expanded use of drones.

Northrop Grumman: Investing in Its Future

Northrop Grumman has made a pretty penny for its work focused on homeland security, as well as drones and naval vessels. According to Business Insider, the company made a total profit of $2 billion in 2012.

The United States’ third largest military contractor, Northrop Grumman spent $17.5 million on lobbying in 2012. It also dished out an additional $4 million in campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, bestowing donations of $10,000 or more on 98 members of Congress, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who received a $20,800 contribution.

Booz Allen Hamilton: Connections Pay Off

As the privatization of U.S. intelligence advances, industry leaders like Booz Allen Hamilton are engaged directly in information gathering and providing analysis and advice to government officials, according to The New York Times. A-list names with ties to Booz Allen include James Clapper, the current Director of National Intelligence and a former Booz executive, and Mike McConnell, a former Director of National Intelligence and the company’s current vice-chairman. It’s quite a business model. In June, the Times reported, “Booz Allen earned $1.3 billion, 23 percent of the company’s total revenue, from intelligence work during its most recent fiscal year.”

The Heritage Foundation: Champion of Privatization

“Efficiently tapping the private sector for national security can be an enormous competitive advantage for the U.S.,” James Carafano, Heritage VP, said on the foundation’s blog.

That’s hardly shocking since this leading conservative foundation receives funding from five major military contractors, including Northrop Grumman, according to Heritage’s 2011 annual report.

Think tanks, often cited in the media, have the ear of both politicians and the public, which is why their funders take such a keen interest in their work.

Brookings Institute: Promoting Bipartisan Consensus

“There is little reason for all but a handful of Americans to lose sleep over [PRISM], and those most likely to lose sleep are also most likely to pose security threats.” No, that wasn’t the Heritage Foundation. That was a guest scholar at the Brookings Institute, a venerable D.C. think tank with deep ties to the Democratic Party and extensive corporate funding. Major donors to Brookings include Booz Allen Hamilton, which donated more than $1 million, according to the 2012 Brookings Annual Report. Brookings received $250,000 from Richard C. Blum and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Contributions of $25,000 to $100,000 each rolled in from Northrop Grumman and four other defense contractors. Blum also serves on the Board of Trustees with Vice Chair David M. Rubenstein, the Managing Director of The Carlyle Group, which owns Booz Allen.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Emily Masters

Emily Masters is a student at the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and a staff contributor for the Indypendent.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

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