(Please welcome author Tim Shorrock in the comments — jh)

As I read Tim Shorrock’s Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, I kept wishing (as a blogger) that the whole thing was online. Want background on which companies–in addition to Mitch Wade’s bribery-assisted MZM–spied on Americans in the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) program? Go to Spies for Hire. Want background on CACI, the company whose interrogators directed torture at Abu Ghraib? Go to Spies for Hire. Want to learn how indicted Congressman Rick Renzi and his late father have been gaming intelligence contracts for years? Go to Spies for Hire.

In many ways, Shorrock’s book offers the untold background to a lot of the stories about corrupt politics that bloggers tell every day: he exposes the companies bloating themselves–and some politicians–by taking over our intelligence function.

That’s particularly true as we gear up for another fight on FISA. Bloggers have focused attention on Jello Jay’s big donations from telecom companies. We’ve talked about key Bush Administration figures with a long history of lobbying for telecoms. We’ve analyzed the records showing communications between Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Congress, and between the telecoms and McConnell.

But Shorrock tells the important story we’ve neglected by comparison, McConnell’s central role in making government and private intelligence organizations one seamless organization.

Shorrock describes, for example, McConnell’s key role in the formation of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA), a trade organization that serves as a bridge between large intelligence contractors (like Booz Allen, SAIC, Computer Sciences Corporation, and ManTech) and the officers from CIA, NSA, and DHS who join them on the board of the organization. "INSA," Shorrock explains, "is one of the only business associations in Washington that include current government officials on their board of directors." Shorrock describes how INSA worked with the DNI (back when John Negroponte was DNI and McConnell was head of INSA and a VP at Booz Allen) to foster information sharing in the intelligence community–including with contractors. He reports that, for the first time in 2006, INSA’s contractors were consulted on the DNI’s strategic plans for the next decade. And Shorrock describes one intelligence veteran wondering "if INSA has become a way for contractors and intelligence officials to create policy in secret, without oversight from Congress."

McConnell, after nurturing this enhanced relationship between contractors and government intelligence services, ascended to serve as DNI. He was, Shorrock points out, "the first contractor ever to be named to lead the Intelligence Community." Once confirmed, McConnell immediately buried a report assessing the practice of outsourcing intelligence. And he worked to further expand the ties between government spying and its contractors.

Is it any wonder telecom immunity has since become the Administration’s primary concern with regard to FISA? I’ve been covering FISA for a long time. But Shorrock’s book made me realize something I hadn’t before: that the push for immunity is not just about shielding Bush and Cheney’s legal wrong-doing, it’s also about ensuring the growing, and increasingly seamless, relationship between our intelligence services and its contractors remains opaque to citizens.

Shorrock’s book informs the ongoing FISA fight in other ways. It includes a general chapter on data mining in response to 9/11 (focusing especially on the contracts that made up Total Information Awareness) and one focused specifically on the warrantless wiretap program. He includes some new insights into that program, such as this comment from an industry insider.

I was told by a prominent industry consultant who founded one of the companies suspected of cooperating with NSA that the NSA’s ability to tap into these [telecom] databases was the most significant part of the NSA’s surveillance program. "These are the big market research databases," said the consultant, who asked not to be identified. "It’s the scale and the scope of this they don’t want to disclose. They’re looking at every single phone call record they can get their hands on for historical perspective, and looking for patterns and also in real time for intercepts."

And for those who haven’t been living and breathing the FISA fight, the chapter collects everything else we know in one place.

Just as importantly, though, he places that all in the larger context. It’s not just about Bush and Cheney ignoring laws and spying on citizens (though it is that). It’s that, in the name of fighting terrorism, the Bush Administration is creating a monstrous new Intelligence-Industrial Complex in which intelligence contractors and the government collaborate–with little oversight–to snoop at home and abroad.

This is not an easy book. As a book focusing on corporations, it often reads like a mind-numbing list of mergers and acquisitions, revolving doors, and interlocking boards. That, and when I contemplated the implications of the book, it made me sick to my stomach.

But it is an important book.



Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel is an American journalist whose reporting specializes in security and civil liberties.