How to Keep the Intelligence Community From Becoming Overly Dependent on a Few Big Five Intelligence Contractors
The CIA and other intelligence agencies are now relying on a slew of contractors for everything from analyzing signals to tracking suspected enemy fighters. These firms, known as “the Big Five,” have swollen their workforces by nearly 70 percent in the past five years, according to an investigation by The Washington Post.
But there are a few ways to make sure that the United States does not become overly dependent on private intelligence companies for its spying needs. For example, Congress must pass a law to ensure that agencies that use contractors must maintain control over their operations and mission when those contractors perform critical functions on behalf of the agency.
Another way to ensure that the federal government does not depend on a few large firms for intelligence work is to create more shared sensitive compartmented information facilities (SCIFs). These SCIFs would allow firms in other industries to provide services to the IC at lower costs, and they would also help bring new ideas and technologies into the community.
One of the most innovative ways to bring more shared SCIFs into the national intelligence community is through venture capital investment. Chevy Chase, Maryland-based Arlington Capital Partners LLC recently launched Eqlipse Technologies LLC, a company that will tackle cyber and signals intelligence engineering for the Department of Defense and other intelligence agencies.
It has a staff of 620 people, and it will have $200 million in annual revenue. The firm is made up of a merger of five legacy companies that already work with the intelligence community, the Chevy Chase firm said in a statement.
Those five firms — Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SAIC, General Dynamics and L-3 Communications ? are largely responsible for a booming economy of intelligence-related contracts, according to research by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Many of those contracts, however, are not disclosed in budgets and congressional records.
This allows contractors to lobby members of Congress for their interests and skew policy in their favor, particularly when it comes to appropriations for the intelligence community. Moreover, these contractors can be awarded contracts by lawmakers via so-called “earmarks” placed in legislation to benefit projects or companies in their district.
In some cases, these contracts pay for things that are not directly related to intelligence collection or analysis, such as janitorial services in intelligence community facilities or office supplies. But the work that these contractors do often requires security clearances, and some contractors have a vested interest in protecting sensitive information.
The IC should keep its number of core contractors small, and agencies should have the ability to track these personnel on a regular basis. The IC should also ensure that a certain percentage of the civilian personnel authorized for a particular element of the IC do not exceed a 3% ceiling for each fiscal year, as required by the Intelligence Authorization Act.
The IC must take all of these measures to prevent its reliance on contractors from hollowing out the IC and creating an underfunded, less effective agency. It must also ensure that its acquisition workforce has the capacity and expertise to oversee the many contractors and their employees performing intelligence work on the IC’s behalf.