'Spies for Hire' Help Sift Through Reams of Data

Monday, 10 Jun 2013 10:46 PM

By Matthew Auerbach

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When Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program of gathering phone records of millions of Verizon customers, he also brought attention to the thousands of workers who are employed by government contractors in an effort to deal with the huge amount of intelligence data currently being gathered, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence says that in 2012, 22 percent of people holding security clearances were so-called spies for hire.

Private employees like Snowden have clearance to directly access NSA systems.

This unprecedented access to highly classified documents is the apparent price paid in the attempt to bring U.S. intelligence agencies together to share information that could reveal the next terrorist attack.

Ronald Marks, a former CIA officer who has also been employed as a contractor, says the goal of ultimate security is compromised because of the vastness of the data being gathered.

“There is no guarantee of 100% security," said Marks.

“The problem you have now is that the amount of material that can be gotten out at one time is huge.”

Slightly more than one million Americans are in possession of top-secret clearances, the Director of National Intelligence reported this year, with 38 percent being private contractors.

Peter Singer, director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution, says the level at which private contracting is involved in intelligence gathering goes “well beyond the scope of anything the public is aware of or even imagines.”

“It's hard to think of a single thing the intelligence community can do on its own anymore without a contractor being involved in some way, from the most mundane of data crunching to the pointy end of the black ops side,” Singer said.

The boom in the hiring of private contractors began in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when the need to expand the collection of data became an everyday reality.

With the entire government focused on preventing the next attack, intelligence agencies sought workers with security clearances who could start working as quickly as possible.

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