At the heart of the Constitutional dispute over domestic spying between current Attorney General Gonzales and former Attorney General John Ashcroft is corporate America. Almost all of the government data mining has been outsourced to corporations. The data mining controversy isn’t about the US government spying on Americans. It’s about the government using big corporations as a Constitutional workarounds to spy on Americans. It’s not the government that actually sifts through our emails and phone records but companies such as Lockheed Marin, Raytheon, SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton and their subcontractors.
On Sunday, July 29th, 2007, the New York Times reported that the dispute between Gonzales and Ashcroft involved data mining and its threat to privacy and noted, “It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate.” The reason is most likely the growing use of corporations to perform critical intelligence functions and how these corporations can be used to circumvent legal restrictions upon the government. Outsourcing shifts the legalities or apparently that was what Gonzales was hoping.
In most cases, corporations are contracted to provide full traffic and pattern analysis services with the US government providing the targets. However, in some instances, contractors actually prepare the target list then conduct the data mining themselves. Not only can corporations be used to violate civil liberties where the government is prohibited, they also have the potential to spy on our email and phone records for their own corporate or client needs. The potential for abuse is tremendous, and, just like with corporate involvement in the President’s Daily Brief, there are no serious mechanisms to guard against this. And some of the very same tools they’re using for data mining could be adapted to monitor for misuse. Of course, abuse on the level of the Administration using corporations to conveniently ignore US law needs Congressional oversight.
Over the past five to ten years, most government intelligence functions have been outsourced to corporations, with seventy percent of the intelligence budget now going to contractors. As the Associate Director of National Intelligence recently admitted in the Washington Post in response to my article there, “we could not accomplish our intelligence missions without them [contractors].” The National Security Agency (NSA) which is responsible for monitoring communications has been at the forefront of intelligence outsourcing and has even handed over some of its own management and administrative structures to industrial contractors.
The Mainstream Media is missing the biggest part of the story, that systemic changes due to the outsourcing of critical intelligence functions open up new possibilities for circumventing the Constitution.