The Complex

Booz brags: our workers can do 'grave damage' to U.S. security

Booz Allen Hamilton is the place where NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden worked just before he called it quits in dramatic style last month. So maybe it's shouldn't be a surprise that the giant intelligence contractor was only recently boasting about how many of its employees could do "exceptionally grave damage to national security" if they ever spilled the beans.

While it might be impossible to suss-out exact numbers, the Carlyle Group-owned beltway bandit, has mountains of staff working throughout the U.S. Intelligence Community.  Just like battlefield contractors played a massive role in the Iraq war and continue to do so in Afghanistan, private spooks play a huge role in the intelligence world doing everything from secret aviation missions to turning reams of raw data into actionable intelligence.

"They're in almost every office, they're all over the place," a former Booz Allen employee who worked at NSA told Killer Apps about the role of private contractors in the U.S. Intelligence Community.

"In my office, there were probably three Booz Allen [employees] to every one civil servant," said the former private spy who also served several tours in Iraq and the Pentagon as a U.S. military intelligence officer.

"They can get clearances for everything," he added.

In fact, 22-percent of U.S. security clearance holders were contractors in 2012.

These clearances are vital to Booz Allen's business with 76-percent of the company's nearly 25,000 employees possessing security clearances, according to this May 2013 SEC filing by the firm.  ("Persons with the highest security clearance, Top Secret, have access to information that would cause ‘exceptionally grave damage' to national security if disclosed to the public" the company brags about the caliber of its people in a beautiful piece of irony.)

Still, the fact that each office at a place like NSA is compartmentalized, meaning only the people in a particular office know what that office is working on, makes it difficult to figure out just how many staff are private contractors versus government spies.

However, the presence of a nice suit at a place full of nerds like the NSA can sometimes be a giveaway that someone is a contract spy, according to the former spy who also served several tours in Iraq and the Pentagon as a U.S. military intelligence officer.

"The Boozers tended to dress nicer" than civil servants, he said (though he pointed out that this hardly a scientific way of measuring who works directly for Uncle Sam and who doesn't). "The Booz Allen people have to wear suits."

While the intelligence community is full of contractors from a ton of different firms, from PC-maker Dell (who Edward Snowden worked for before going to Booz Allen) to Lockheed Martin and Boeing to lesser known giants like SAIC and CACI, Booz Allen seems to some to have larger proportion than other firms.

"Booz Allen seemed to run the show in the group where I worked," he said.

In fact, former Navy admiral Mike McConnell, who served as U.S. Director of National Intelligence from 2007 to 2009 and director of the NSA from 1992 to 1996, is now the company's vice chairman. Jim Woolsey, CIA director from 1993 to 1995 serves as a senior vice president at the firm. In the In fact, it's ties to the intelligence establishment go way back to include Miles Axe Copeland Jr. (yes, Stewart Copeland's dad) who worked at Booz Allen in the 1950s while also working undercover for the CIA. Copeland Jr. one of the original members of the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA's World War II forerunner.

Military, intelligence and government security work has been key to Booz Allen since 2008 when the firm split its government and corporate contracting firms into two separate businesses. Since then, Booz Allen's government division has focused on garnering federal security contracts; doing billions in work for the U.S. military involving everything from top secret intelligence analysis and collection to cyber operations, secret air operations, counter IED work and even providing cloud computing services.

As this Wall Street Journal article points out, the firm makes 55-percent of its revenues from DOD contracts, 23-percent from intelligence agency contracts and 22-percent from contracts with other government agencies.

In April, Booz Allen created a special business unit dedicated to fielding "predictive" intelligence services for "cyber threat solutions, protection, and detection capabilities and the application of social media analytics designed to provide early identification of trends that would otherwise not be possible using after-the-fact analysis of traditional data sources."

To get a sense of how all-encompassing the work Booz Allen does in the secret world, take a look at the following contracts from this past year. (Click here to sift through the 42,000-plus search results you get after typing "Booz Allen" into the DOD's contract award database.)

On May 8, the Navy gave the firm and bunch of other beltway bandits a piece of what's expected to amount to nearly $1 billion in open-ended contracts to provide "sustainable, secure, survivable, and interoperable command, control, communication, computers, combat systems, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, information operations, enterprise information services and space capabilities." In English, that means it's providing the Navy with just about every type of cyber-related system.

Then there's this July 2012 contract for $5.6 billion to provide the Defense Intelligence Agency with "professional support services to the intelligence analysis mission, war fighters, defense planners, and defense and national security policy makers." Again, in English, that means they're doing intelligence work for the DIA.

In January, the company announced that it won $95 million from three contracts with the Navy's space and naval warfare command. One of those contracts was for $22 million whereby the firm will provide $22 million multiple award to support "maritime Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Information Operations (ISR/IO), or any autonomous and non-autonomous systems or air system that could be used in ISR/IO operations." That's right, it sounds like Booz Allen is helping the Navy operate autonomous spy robots and cyber intelligence tools. Let's hope for their sake they don't have another Edward Snowden working on this program (though it would give us great stuff to write about.)

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The U.S. has 5,000 troops in Syria's backyard

The Pentagon totally pinky-swears that this has nothing to do with Syria. It just happens to have sent 5,000 troops to neighboring Jordan to participate in a nine-day air defense, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance exercise, dubbed Eager Lion.  

While the Pentagon says this round of the annual exercise -- involving thousands of participants from 19 countries -- has been in the works for years, the timing is awfully convenient. The fighting in Syria has started to spill over that nation's borders into Lebanon and Israel. Meanwhile, Congress is continuing to pressure the White House to do something to aid the Syrian rebels in their fight against the Assad regime who has been helped by a recent influx of fighters from Hezbollah.

Earlier this spring, the Pentagon sent several hundred "headquarters" troops from the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, to Jordan to assist U.S. and other NATO troops there in trying to figure out how to secure the Assad regime's stockpile of chemical and biological weapons should they fall out of the Syrian government's hands.

These headquarters troops are now joined in the desert by members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a host of U.S. Navy amphibious warfare ships, Patriot air defense missile batteries -- also from Fort Bliss -- and F-16 fighter jets from the Colorado Air National Guard.

All of these troops are in Jordan to demonstrate the U.S.'s commitment "to the Kingdom of Jordan and regional partners and the combined efforts to sustain regional security and stability," reads a Pentagon press release on the exercise.

"Eager Lion is an excellent example of teamwork that brings together military forces and inter-agency partners from around the world," said Maj. Gen. Robert Catalanotti, Director, USCENTCOM Exercises and Training in the announcement. "This exercise challenges the participants to respond to realistic, modern-day security scenarios by integrating a variety of disciplines in the air, on land and at sea. Our relationship with Jordan and the 19 partner nations involved in the exercise is built on a foundation of interoperability that brings us closer together and enhances regional stability."

So yeah, this exercise is focused on maintaining stability -- just what the war in Syria threatens.

This air defense and humanitarian relief exercise features units that could make life difficult for Assad's air force. The 2,200 Marine-strong 26th MEU, like the six other MEUs in the Marine Corps is basically a self-contained, seagoing crisis response force equipped with everything from an infantry battalion to MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotors and the support staff to back them up. Meanwhile, those F-16s from the Colorado Air Guard's 120th Fighter Squadron specialize in keeping enemy aircraft and missiles on the ground -- during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the 120th dropped hundreds of smart bombs knocking out Saddam Hussein's ballistic missiles.  While the Marines may simply be passing through Jordan, for the exercise that's suppessed to last from June 9 through the 20th, the Patriot missiles and fighters may stick around for a while, providing a hedge against increased aggression by the Syrian government's air force.

As Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy rmeinds Killer Apps:

"This is the most recent in a series of multinational exercises that started in 2011, and while I believe that a broad range of capabilities are tested during this protracted training exercise, it's hard not to conclude that at least some aspects of the exercise (particular those focusing on humanitarian assistance, chemical warfare mitigation, and missile defense) were written into the script because of ongoing developments in Syria."

U.S. Navy