Investigate Booz Allen Hamilton, not Edward Snowden
Photo Credit: Flickr (cc) / AlterNet
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Military contractor Booz Allen Hamilton of McLean, Virginia, has shot into the news recently over two of its former employees: Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who has just revealed the extent of US global spying on electronic data of ordinary citizens around the world, and James Clapper, US director of national intelligence.
Clapper has come out vocally to condemn Snowden as a traitor to the public interest and the country, yet a review of Booz Allen's own history suggests that the government should be investigating his former employer, rather than the whistleblower.
Clapper worked as vice-president at Booz Allen from 1997 to 1998, while Snowden did a three-month stint at their offices in Hawaii in spring 2013 as a low-level contract employee. Both worked on intelligence contracts, which are estimated to make up almost a quarter of the company's $5.86bn in annual income. This past weekend, Clapper condemned Snowden's leak about US government surveillance, telling NBC News's Andrea Mitchell:
"For me, it is literally – not figuratively – literally gut-wrenching to see this happen because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities. This is someone who, for whatever reason, has chosen to violate a sacred trust for this country. I think we all feel profoundly offended by that."
The following day Snowden replied from a hotel in Hong Kong, in an interview with Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian:
"The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good."
Booz Allen reacted with anger in a press statement released hours later:
"News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm."
Core values? Let's examine Booz Allen Hamilton's track record.
In February 2012, the US air force suspended Booz Allen from seeking government contracts after it discovered that Joselito Meneses, a former deputy chief of information technology for the air force, had given Booz Allen a hard drive with confidential information about a competitor's contracting on the first day that he went to work for the company in San Antonio, Texas. US air force legal counsel concluded (pdf):
"Booz Allen did not uncover indications and signals of broader systemic ethical issues within the firm. These events caused the air force to have serious concerns regarding the responsibility of Booz Allen, specifically, its San Antonio office, including its business integrity and honesty, compliance with government contracting requirements, and the adequacy of its ethics program."
It should be noted that Booz Allen reacted swiftly to the government investigation of the conflict of interest. In April that year, the air force lifted the suspension – but only after Booz Allen had accepted responsibility for the incident and fired Meneses, as well as agreeing to pay the air force $65,000 and reinforce the firm's ethics policy.
Not everybody was convinced about the new regime. "Unethical behavior brought on by the revolving door created problems for Booz Allen, but now the revolving door may have come to the rescue," wrote Scott Amey of the Project on Government Oversight, noting that Meneses was not the only former air force officer who had subsequently become an executive in Booz Allen's San Antonio office.
"It couldn't hurt having [former AF people]. Booz is likely exhaling a sigh of relief as it has received billions of dollars in air force contracts over the years."