The title of Gordon Campbell’s post on PRISM, the GCSB etc is Why everyone has a stake in surveillance reduction. But to me, one of the interesting revelations in the whole Snowden, NSA, PRISM story is that Snowden didn’t work for the National Security Agency, he worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting company who does contract work for the US government. Via the New York Times:
Over the last decade, much of the company’s growth has come from selling expertise, technology and manpower to the National Security Agency and other federal intelligence agencies. Booz Allen earned $1.3 billion, 23 percent of the company’s total revenue, from intelligence work during its most recent fiscal year.
The government has sharply increased spending on high-tech intelligence gathering since 2001, and both the Bush and Obama administrations have chosen to rely on private contractors like Booz Allen for much of the resulting work.
We all know the ACT/National Party drill: the private sector is more awesome than the public sector so it’s better value for the taxpayers to outsource government functions to private companies. This never works in reality, because private companies can lobby and donate money to political parties to encourage them to increase government spending on whatever function they happen to provide, so the taxpayer ends up spending far more than they would have for a public sector solution.
Which is why the stories about Palantir and their advertisement for an ‘embedded analyst‘ to work in the New Zealand government intelligence apparatus are a little alarming. There are all sorts of privacy issues, sure – but it’s also a sign that we’re probably going to start hemorrhaging even more public money on intelligence infrastructure that doesn’t seem to deliver any value to the taxpayer.
(Meanwhile, I found this New Yorker piece on what ‘we’ currently know about PRISM et al to be a useful summary.)