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 ...

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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.

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.)

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

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