The timing of the news cycle was brilliant. The media was in the final
stages of gearing up for the year's biggest spy non-event: the publication of
Tenet's CYA memoir, a tome destined to soon become doorstops throughout the
nation. At that juncture the office of the Director of National Intelligence chose to announce that
the year-long study on the use of industrial contractors by the intelligence
community was not going to be released. The number and use of industrial contractors was suddenly
a matter of national security.
I've been closely following the press and blogosphere's reaction. It's truly been a Maytag repairman's job. The Spy Who BIlled Me is the only blog that covered it and the only decent mainstream media coverage was by The New York Time's Scott Shane, who then went trench coat chasing after Tenet, though probably not by his own choice. USA Today lapped up what they were told and The Washington Post was strangely silent. (And given some of the Post's recent government-friendly reporting, the novelist in me wonder's if they've jumped on the contracting bandwagon and taken on an Agency PsyOps contract...)
So I've watched. I've waited. No leak. No media coverage. No legs to the
most important spy story of the year. (I'm sure this at least made for a relaxing weekend for the DNI.)
Tired of playing the Maytag repairman, I decided to dust off those old Kremlinology skills, analyze what I know from open sources about industrial
outsourcing and offer up a few
speculations. After all, reading the tea leaves of the Kremlin isn't all that
different from reading the coffee grounds at Langley. And at the moment, both seem to share a similar commitment to open government.
One background point needs to be made before we start. The study was commissioned by John Negroponte, the first Director of National Intelligence, a career diplomat and a rare leader in the intelligence community without ties to the industry. Judging from the time line when Negroponte commissioned it and from when McConnell became DNI, the study was probably nearing completion--too late to change its fundamentals--when McConnell took over the job.
First, let's look at the obvious who are the most powerful players and could they have any embarrassing past related to outsourcing in the intel community?
The two most powerful players in the non-industrial intel community are Michael Hayden, Director of the CIA, and John McConnell, Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the nation's (official) top spy and the guy who controlled the release of the study.
McConnell was the chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the lobbying group of the private intelligence industry, until he stepped down to become DNI. Concurrently, McConnell also a Senior VP for Booz, Allen, Hamilton, one of the biggest contractors to the intelligence community overall and the NSA in particular. McConnell also served as the head of the NSA from 1992-1996 before leaving to work at its largest contractor, Booz Allen.
Hayden was head of the NSA from 1999-2005 and we probably don't need to go much further down memory lane to figure this one out.
The key is tenure at the NSA for both of them. McConnell got the outsourcing trend seriously started there and Hayden took it full throttle. The old joke that an airplane is a bunch of spare parts flying in close formation best characterizes the NSA: the NSA is a bunch of contractors working in close formation.
It's an open secret the NSA's infrastructure is run by contractors and the NSA would collapse without them. I can't imagine how any serious study of outsourcing by the intelligence community could avoid examination of the extent that contractors control the support and operating structure of the NSA. Given that both the DNI and DCI--McConnell and Hayden--were both key to the outsourcing of the meat and bones of the NSA, I would suspect that it would be impossible to sanitize the study enough to keep them out of it.
Secondly, we can assume that the study was going to tell us what regular readers of this blog already know: a tectonic shift has occurred in the intel community toward wide-scale outsourcing to industrial firms, vs. the long established practice of outsourcing certain jobs to subject matter experts who were independently contracted directly to the government. So we should then ask the question, what are the outsourcing trends that they want to keep secret and what Agencies are they affecting?
We already know from open sources that the Pentagon's new spy shop, the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) is made up of over 70% of contractors. At one point, one of its main contractors was MZM, of the Duke Cunningham scandal fame. CIFA has also been implicated in domestic spying, so this raises a very thorny question: have contractors been used as a workaround to legal restrictions on US government agencies, restrictions intended to protect civil liberties?
Smart money says that CIFA got a serious mention.
But really smart money knows that at the heart of the controversy is the outsourcing of the CIA. I've been writing about it here for over six months and for a couple of years now in my soon-to-be released novel, OUTSOURCED. Whatever statistical games the Agency's HRM and Public Affairs Officers want to play aside, the heart, brains and soul of the Agency have been outsourced. The directorate at the CIA that matters most is the National Clandestine Service (the former Directorate of Operations, the DO.) Somewhere over 50% of it has been outsourced to industrial contractors.
To put the CIA outsourcing story into human terms, the really smart, powerful guys left and headhunted all the other smart guys, leaving the kids and the mediocre behind. Then they offered back their services at market price--which was significantly higher than they were being paid for the same services as US government employees. Even the dullards left behind at the Agency got it that they could contract back to their former bosses who knew how to do the job and do it right and how to make the lesser lights look good when it came time for promotion.
To make this a clearer, look around to the people you're working with--down the hall, into the next cubicle, whatever. How many of them would you want to take with you to run a new company in the exact same line of business? My guess is that there are probably 40-50% who you would be very happy to leave behind. What's left at the CIA is far from its best and brightest. The Agency has been dumbed down.
Judging from the numbers alone, it's very clear that the workforces of entire branches of the CIA are contracted out. I can't imagine any other organizational structure that would work other than giving effective day-to-day control of entire branches to contractors, contractors with their own supervisory structures and whose project manager reports to the branch chief. My best guess is that an outsourcing study would show an Agency barely in control of itself, with the de facto power to control its day-to-day activities in the hands of private corporations.
Thirdly, other than the extent of outsourcing and the question of control, what could be so controversial? The answer: whatever it is they're contracting out for. We know some of these things from open sources. Greg Miller's article last fall in the LA Times told us that Abraxas, a company founded by retired DO Senior Intelligence Service officers, creates the Agency's nonofficial cover alias identities. Bob Baer's essay last week in Time tells us that an unnamed company in Baghdad, "decides where CIA officers can go and whom they can see." We know from other sources that contractors recruit and run spies, serve as watch officers, etc.
Along this line of inquiry, I'd love to know the answers to a few questions, most of which probably never made it into the outsourcing study:
- Did industrial contractors work on the outsourcing study?
- Who has effective control of the de facto CIA workforce? Have the negative effects on performance of CIA staff morale issues that began with the appointment of John Deutsch as DCI during the Clinton administration been neutralized, perhaps brilliantly, by outsourcing a large part of the key workforce in a way that the brightest operators and analysts are rewarded with compensation and continued challenging assignments without being subjected to the politically correct policies of CIA’s HRM commissars?
- Has the function of a true name nonofficial cover officer been handed over to one or more industrial contractors? (A true NOC in Agency parlance, a deep cover spy to the rest of us.) From the perspective of senior DO professionals, would that not perhaps be a better solution than to make NOCs subject to some of the intelligence community-wide HR policies outlined in last October's Human Capital Report that would seem to give NOCs the choice of either “coming inside” or knocking them out of the running for career advancement into senior service?
- What's up with the SAD? Didn't the Clinton years severely downsize those guys? Seems like contractors could offer a very reasonable solution here.
- Has anyone considered farming out the Farm? It seems like a natural for a facilities management contract and some training contracts. Blackwater is well positioned to take over some aspects of training. And a Starbuck's franchise in the SRB could boost sagging morale.
- And, most importantly, who at the Agency is tasked with monitoring The Spy Who Billed Me--a government employee--or green badger? Bonus question: does he report his findings directly to his branch chief boss, or are they funneled and filtered up through his company’s own branch project manager, perhaps with a discreet drop copy to his company’s head office? And just how much does The Spy Who Monitors Me bill for this function?
Call me. I'm willing to subcontract.