As Tim Shorrock pointed out as long ago as 2007 (and reminded us in light of the NSA leaks) “about 70 percent of our national intelligence budgets being spent on the private sector.” The AP reported Tuesday that nearly 500,000 contractors — employees like whistleblower Edward Snowden — have access to the government’s top secret programs.
Of the 4.9 million people with clearance to access “confidential and secret” government information, 1.1 million, or 21 percent, work for outside contractors, according to a report from Clapper’s office. Of the 1.4 million who have the higher “top secret” access, 483,000, or 34 percent, work for contractors.
A number of writers like Shorrock have highlighted in the past week the vast government contracts and huge sums that play a formative part in expanding state surveillance. That point has been well made. What I want to stress here is simply that 500,000 employees is a lot of people — a lot of people with a lot of access. A lot of people, unlike Snowden, who have chosen to march in step.
For ideologues like David Brooks (whose depiction this week of Ed Snowden as a lonesome, fragile basement-dweller, lacking regard for the apparently necessary hierarchies of “family, neighborhood, religious group, state,” is as offensive as it is fatuous) all these thousands of employees do their jobs and, for Brooks, their patriotic duty by acting as “servants.” The more troubling aspect of the fact that 500,000 private employees have access to programs like the NSA’s PRISM and Blarney is that within those masses — the mid-level overseers of our top-down cyberpower nexus — only Snowden chose to step out of line and speak out as the surveillance state creeped.