Edward Snowden worked for the security contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, this is a high-powered private agency that the government subcontracts much of its intelligence work to, often at much higher costs than it would have taken for the government to have its own in-house people doing the same work. It is the intelligence equivalent of military contractors that the state department hires as mercenaries (again at much higher cost) in its various wars and whose atrocious behavior in places like Iraq have done so much to poison the Iraqi people’s attitudes towards the US.
The point of having private contractors do the work that the US government could do at lower cost is partly to provide a taxpayer-funded financial subsidy to private businesses, partly to be able to enable the government to wash its hands of any responsibility if anything goes wrong, and partly to keep down the official count of casualties and the numbers and cost of direct personnel.
Booz Allen Hamilton gets especially favorable treatment from the government. In many ways, it is to the intelligence establishment what Goldman Sachs is to the Treasury Department. In both cases, people revolve in and out between the firm and the government, and its high-level personnel shuffles are quite revealing about the incestuous relationships that exist.
The current of director of national intelligence (DNI), James Clapper, who issued a stinging attack on the intelligence leaks this weekend, is a former Booz Allen executive. The firm’s current vice-chairman, Mike McConnell, was DNI under the George W Bush administration. He worked for the Virginia-based company before taking the job, and returned to the firm after leaving it. The company website says McConnell is responsible for its “rapidly expanding cyber business”.
James Woolsey, a former CIA director was also a Booz Allen vice-president, and Melissa Hathaway, another former company executive also once worked as the top aide on cybersecurity to McConnell when he was DNI. The company headquarters in the leafy Washington suburb of McLean in northern Virginia, close to CIA headquarters and home to former and current intelligence officers.
Booz Allen is a for-profit that has a cushy gig. Its main client is the government that does not seem to mind paying high prices for things it could do in-house much more cheaply.
In its most recently concluded fiscal year, it collected $5.76 billion in revenues and reported a healthy operating profit of $446 million. After paying $149 million in income taxes, it was left with net income of $219 million.
Essentially, Booz Allen is a conduit for taxpayer money to contractors, shareholders, and employees, many of whom, like Snowden, are highly paid. The Guardian pegged his salary at $200,000. According to the company’s proxy filing, CEO Ralph Shrader earned a $1,162,500 salary last year, plus nearly $2 million in stock awards and other compensation.
In the case of Snowden, $200,000 is not bad for a 29-year old junior level employee, leaving aside the bonus of living in Hawaii. If he had been doing the same job as a government employee, he would have been lucky to get even half that. Walking away from such a cushy job, leaving behind his family and friends, and risking long-term imprisonment (or even worse) makes the government’s task of discrediting Snowden even harder.
Not that they, and their defenders of an out-of-control national security state, are not going to try.