The federal intelligence system's dependency on private contractors to run the nation's most secret and sensitive operations raises the question of whether the government is fully in command of its intelligence efforts, according to Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin in the second installment of their bombshell series on the nation's sprawling intelligence system.
The 30 percent of the nation's intelligence workers who are private contractors are accountable to their shareholders, not to the public interest, and their presence adds to the lack of oversight that keeps "Top Secret America" out of view and accountable to no one, they say.
The federal government denies the charges of redundancy, inefficiency, and lack of transparency and accountability raised so far in the blockbuster series (read our cheat sheet on the 5 blockbuster revelations from the first piece).
"What may appear to be unnecessary redundancy in analysis and analytic products is, in many instances, intentional overlap," reads a five-page statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
We recommend you read the whole story, but here's the top five revelations from today's piece:
1. Contractors are not supposed to perform what federal rules define as "inherently government functions," but they do. In every single intelligence agency, contractors are performing the same functions as federal employees, and often for higher pay. Contractors for the CIA "have recruited spies in Iraq, paid bribes for information in Afghanistan and protected CIA directors visiting world capitals."
2. Out of the 854,000 people who have top-secret clearances, 265,000 are contractors. That's about a third of the total workforce in the nation's intelligence agencies. About 2,000 small to midsize private companies do top-secret work.
3. The booming corporate intelligence industry is siphoning off the most skilled workers from the government with better pay and shiny bonuses. Contractors can offer twice as much money to experienced federal employees as the government can, and at least one corporate executive was spotted recruiting in the CIA's cafeteria during working hours.
4. Hiring contractors is also really expensive for the government, despite the Bush administration's hopes it would be cheaper than hiring more federal employees. "Contractors made up 29 percent of the workforce in the intelligence agencies but cost the equivalent of 49 percent of their personnel budgets," the Post says. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that federal workers are 25 percent cheaper than contractors.
5. The federal government doesn't know how many contractors are on the payroll, making it tough for them to scale down their numbers. "This is a terrible confession," Gates told the Post. "I can't get a number on how many contractors work for the Office of the Secretary of Defense."