Tim Shorrock at Salon today has a must-read piece tracing ex-CIA director George Tenet's lucrative connections to private contractors doing intel work for the U.S. government. Among other juicy tidbits it reveals that many of Tenet's recent defenders are also industry insiders and that private contracting now eats up at least half the entire intelligence budget - but exactly how much is classified for reasons of national security.
When Tenet hit the talk-show circuit last week to defend his stewardship of the CIA and his role in the run-up to the war, he did not mention that he is a director and advisor to four corporations that earn millions of dollars in revenue from contracts with U.S. intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense. Nor is it ever mentioned in his book. But according to public records, Tenet has received at least $2.3 million from those corporations in stock and other compensation. Meanwhile, one of the CIA's largest contractors gave Tenet access to a highly secured room where he could work on classified material for his book.I've written before about the dangers of privatising the security apparatus of the U.S. It takes much of the machinery away from direct oversight and leaves open too many doors for corruption, cronyism and misuse of information. It also leaves a very real danger that people like Tenet and the current "Spymaster General" McConnell along with other fellow Bushevik travellers who came in from the boardroom, not the cold, will still effectively control America's intelligence apparatus long after Bush has retired to his ranch.
...By joining these companies, Tenet is following in the footsteps of thousands of other former intelligence officers who have left the CIA and other agencies and returned as contractors, often making two or three times what they made in their former jobs. Based on reporting I've done for an upcoming book, contractors are responsible for at least half of the estimated $48 billion a year the government now spends on intelligence. But exactly how much money will remain unknown: Four days before Tenet's book was published, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence decided not to release the results of a yearlong study of intelligence contracting, because disclosure of the figure, a DNI official told the New York Times, could damage national security.
That may be a real break for Tenet. Under his watch, according to former CIA officials and contractors I've interviewed, up to 60 percent of the CIA workforce has been outsourced. A spokesman for the CIA told me last week that that figure "is way off the mark," but wouldn't provide the actual figure, which he said is classified. But publication of that number could prove embarrassing to Tenet, particularly in light of his own deep involvement in the privatization of U.S. intelligence.
...Tenet's ties with contractors were underscored last week in a dispute between two groups of former CIA officials over Tenet's legacy. On April 28, six former intelligence officers wrote to Tenet, saying he shared culpability with President Bush and Vice President Cheney for "the debacle in Iraq," and suggesting he donate half the royalties from his book to Iraq war veterans and their families. All of the signatories had severed their ties to U.S. intelligence, although three of them, Phil Giraldi, Larry Johnson and Vince Cannistraro, work as consultants for news organizations, corporations and government agencies outside of intelligence.
A few days later, six recently retired officers responded. They called the first letter a "bitter, inaccurate and misleading attack" on Tenet and pointed out that it was drafted by officers who "had not served in the Agency for years." Tenet, his supporters said, "literally led the nation's counterterrorism fight." And three of its six signatories were directly involved in that fight -- as contractors. They included John Brennan of the Analysis Corp.; Cofer Black, Tenet's former counterterrorism director and vice chairman of Blackwater, the private military contractor; and Robert Richer, the former deputy director of the CIA's clandestine services. Richer recently left Blackwater to become the CEO of Total Intelligence, a new company formed with Black and other ex-CIA officials to provide intelligence services to corporations and government agencies.