Reflections on Intelligence Leaks and Contractors
Dr. Russell Ackoff (P)
Congressmen and others are suggesting that, because it was a contractor who leaked information about NSA’s surveillance activities, that the number of contractors in intelligence should be reduced. Is it true that reducing contractors will reduce leaks?
Leaks can be measured in several different ways — by number of leaks, importance of the material, by motivation, number of pages, signals versus other types, or weighted toward the present. Yet in all categories,
contractors have proven to be no more likely to leak compared to direct hires, including especially executives.
That’s not surprising because there is little difference between the two types of employees. In the latest census of those cleared at the Top Secret level, the employment status could not be determined for over 7% (or 100,000). Many contractors are former direct hires, and vice versa; a worker might change status without even changing his desk or assignment. Direct hires and contractors are vetted exactly the same way, except that contractors undergo even longer delays and more inconvenience. Contractors tend to change assignments more often – that is their main benefit – but the pace of reassignment has quickened among direct hires as well. Both types tend to remain employed within the intelligence community, often within one or two agencies.
Edward Snowden had been a CIA employee. He underwent extensive vetting, then extensive training and acculturation prior to stationing overseas. He was committed to a career in intelligence, as much as any 29-year-old unmarried techie can be said to be committed. Booz Allen, his employer for 3 months, was a convenient administrative apparatus for positioning him where his computer skills were needed within the NSA universe.
There is no evidence to suggest that contractors are more likely to leak, therefore an increase in the proportion of direct hires would not reduce leaks. One might claim instead that an overall reduction of the
intelligence workforce would reduce leaks. There is no evidence to substantiate that claim either, but the larger point is that we are creating a hash out of two separate issues. There are legitimate questions
about how to shape the intelligence workforce, and leaks have little to do with it. There are legitimate questions about how to prevent leaks, and shaping the workforce has little to do with it.
The case of Edward Snowden is well worth pondering for what is says about leaks, but not for what is says about contractors. Leaking is a very big discussion that should not be hijacked by another agenda that needs to stand on its own. If Congressmen want to reduce contracting, they need to make the case fairly and dispassionately. This is rarely attempted, including by the Post, perhaps because it is so much easier to excite
emotions and prejudices against contractors. Yet contractors are, for the most part, hardly different from direct hires. They are just doing the job that Congress asked for and paid for.