The Number: 1.1 Million
How much are state secrets worth? For Booz Allen Hamilton, the consulting firm that employed Edward Snowden, the N.S.A. leaker who is now on the run, they add up to quite a bit. According to the A.P., ninety-eight per cent of the firm’s nearly six billion dollars of revenue last year came from government contracts.
The most sensitive of Booz Allen’s services—the intelligence work that earned the company $1.3 billion in 2012—has come into question since Snowden revealed details of classified programs that collected the private data of Americans and foreigners. As a contractor, Snowden was given access to information that, according to the Times, “would cause ‘exceptionally grave damage’ to national security if disclosed to the public.” And he wasn’t alone: 1.1 million private contractors, or more than a fifth of all cleared workers, have access to “confidential and secret” government information. Of those, about five hundred thousand contractors work with the most secure top-secret information.
The transfer of money and responsibility from the public sector to the private has also spawned secondary security industries. Staffing firms advertise cryptic opportunities for cleared personnel that government agencies are “prohibited from posting.” And the Defense Security Service relies in part on contractors to carry out background investigations for clearances. That means contractors could be clearing other contractors. And that’s a lot of public trust placed in private hands.
Illustration by Larry Buchanan.