Why Outsourcing National Security Is A Bad Idea

The biggest issue in the NSA story beyond the fact of the scope of the eavesdropping is that we've outsourced national security to for-profit firms like Booz Allen Hamilton and others. There's a good reason why government should be doing this with government employees and government procedures if they're going to do it at all.

Booz Allen Hamilton's hiring process were at the very least, sloppy. They hired a guy for his IT skills without any apparent thought to whether those skills could turn on them at some point. If they had bothered to run through all of the background checks properly, perhaps Edward Snowden would not have the access he received. Worse yet, it seems that security violators don't get the kind of consequences they should get. Outsourcing places a barrier between the government and accountability. Worse yet, it enables these for-profit concerns to turn their technology and knowledge onto Americans for hire as electronic mercenaries.

Josh Glasstetter elaborates for TechPresident:

The N.S.A. turns to an array of contractors to help it make sense of the vast amounts of informationit harvests each day. A good example is Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley data-mining company that works with the military, government and intelligence community. I first learned of Palantir in a rather different context. In February 2011, emails were leaked by Anonymous that revealed a series of proposals by Palantir and its partners to virtually surveil and undermine labor unions, progressive advocacy groups, Wikileaks, and journalist Glenn Greenwald.

I was working for the Service Employees International Union at the time, which was one of the chief targets. Reading the emails back and forth between Palantir and two other contractors, Berico Technologies and HBGary Federal, I pieced the plot together. Initially, Palantir engineer Matthew Steckman reached out to the others about “offering a complete intelligence solution to a law firm that approached us.” That firm was Hunton & Williams, a well-connected corporate law firm that recently brought the F.B.I.’s cybersecurity counsel on board.


The cybersecurity firms got to work on a plan for using military-grade technology to undermine the union. At Palantir, which was launched with backing from the CIA’s venture fund, Steckman and his colleague Eli Bingham got sign-off from company leaders to “exclusively partner with Berico in conjunction with Hunton to license this product to law firms for corporate campaign work.” By November 2010, the three contractors had a plan, dubbed the “Corporate Information Reconnaissance Cell,” and a name -- Team Themis.

Themis boasted in its proposal that it was “ideally suited” for the job based on its “extensive experience in providing game-changing results across the Intelligence Community and defense/government sector.” Themis would provide Hunton with a “full spectrum capability set to collect, analyze, and affect adversarial entities and networks of interest” and “utilize the powerful Palantir platform as the centerpiece.” Berico would manage the project, and HBGary Federal would, in Steckman’s words, focus on “digital intelligence collection” and “social media exploitation.”

Read the rest of the article for the outcome, but I think if you search recent memory you'll not come up with some small recollection that anyone was prosecuted for this, despite the fact that they used technology the government paid for and contracted for in order to do harm to private citizens who were doing battle with behemoths like the US Chamber of Commerce.

I am far more outraged at the idea that surveillance technology developed for national security and against outside forces is being auctioned to the highest corporate bidder possible in order to target people who are exercising their right to free speech. That mention of social media exploitation? That's all about gaming and infiltrating social media in order to shift the focus and message over to one that serves corporations. They do it every day. Every single day, with technology the government paid them to develop.

Let's have a look at what they do with this technology when they're not constrained by a FISA court and statutory restraints. I'm betting there's plenty more to be outraged about in that arena than whether your metadata is in a database somewhere.

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