SPIES FOR HIRE reviewed in New Zealand

My book, SPIES FOR HIRE: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, was just reviewed in Converge, the publication of the Anti-Bases Campaign, the largest peace group in New Zealand. That country is home to several important U.S. intelligence installations that have been the target of dozens of protests over the years. Jeremy Agar, the reviewer, really “gets it” about my book, particularly my analysis of the ideology of intelligence privatization – something that has been missed and overlooked by most reviewers in the United States. I appreciate his insight and the work done by ABC to bring peace to our world.


By Jeremy Agar

by Tim Shorrock, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2008

It used to be so simple. In the crude formulations of Joseph McCarthy, spies betrayed America by hiding rolls of film in pumpkins and phone booths for Russians to deliver to Stalin, while the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI and its founding Director J Edgar Hoover shadowed them. Now it’s a different game. Spying is being privatised and contracted out, and so treason has been redefined as opposition to corporate America.

After an earthquake or a flood the looters come out. For corporate looters 9/11 was a perfect storm, the chance for the perfect heist. Motive: get what you can while you can. Opportunity: a moment when the world tolerated American power; and advances in computer technology. Alibi: Mix legitimate and opportunistic motives and hide behind a lexicon of soothing platitudes to do with partnership, security, innovation and intelligence; when in doubt, bang on about “terrorists”.  America spends around $US60 billion a year on intelligence gathering, $US45 billion of which is going to private contractors. “Spies For Hire” tells the story. It’s a fascinating account, detailed and scholarly. Although it’s comparatively long, it never goes off topic, which is the privatisation of spying and how it came about. Shorrock, a journalist, knows his subject well.

It started with the ideological bias of the 1980s’ Reagan presidency, when the President told his people that the Government he had been elected to guide was the “problem” – a languishing economy and society – that America had to solve. President Bill Clinton was more centrist, but his terms coincided with the end of the Cold War, when it became harder to justify a huge military budget and, caught short by Iraq and Afghanistan, the Government had to contract out. This misleadingly plausible explanation for the privatisation of spying has commonly been noted, but Shorrock, while he doesn’t necessarily disagree, has much more to say.

GIG, Netcentricity, C3I, TIA

Something called The Global Information Grid (GIG) was the brainchild of Donald Rumsfeld (President George Bush’s first Secretary of Defense. Ed.), “the man who forced the armed services to embrace the revolutionary, information technology-driven concept of network centric warfare. The road to military domination, he believed, was to create a global, network-based communications system for all information and intelligence on military operations; transformation and ‘netcentricity’ were the keys to future American power”.

Eccentricity we understand, but just what is “netcentricity”? Shorrock quotes one official sounding definition, which explains that it’s to do with “communications infrastructure that supports intelligence missions, and enhances information sharing … from military bases in the United States to tactical mobile platforms”. Still confused? Shorrock couldn’t make sense of it either so he asked an intelligence expert. He too was “having a little difficulty figuring out whether the GIG is a piece of hardware, a programme or a slogan”. The expert thought GIG was an aspect of C3I. And C3I is command, control, communications, and intelligence. So that’s cleared that up. The vagueness helps the power elites, who are themselves all about C3I. Money for the military and the spies has always sloshed about in budgets hidden from public view and the new dispensation allows for even less accountability. For potential watchdogs GIG creates a shifting and often invisible target.

It might sound as new as tomorrow, but the hope of total knowledge in order to exercise total power has been around a long time, and not just in science fiction. Way back in President Eisenhower’s day, in the 1950s, the US military worked on a Single Integrated Operational Plan. More recently Reaganites hatched a Total Information Awareness scheme [TIA], a misnomer in that Congress was kept in the dark. After Congress found out about it, TIA was scrapped. The politicians aren’t too happy about “netcentricity” either, perhaps seeing that once outsourcing is added to secrecy, their shelf life might be short (for another discussion of TIA see my review of “Spies, Lies And The War On Terror”, in Peace Researcher 38, July, 2009).

Intelligence Industrial Complex

Shorrock has come up with his own acronym. He calls this new world order the “Intelligence Industrial Complex”. He’s alluding to Eisenhower’s warning of an emerging “military industrial complex”. Fifty years ago, as he left office, the popular Ike, who had been commander of the Allied Forces in World War 2, was emboldened to point out what he felt unable to express as President: that the combined interests of the military and the corporations who served them were effectively running the country. Progressive, democratic opinion had long been making this point, but Eisenhower’s conservative credentials and his mana within Washington circles gave the phrase authority in polite circles – even if it did nothing to curb the growth of corporate power – and the existence of the military-industrial complex is the day before yesterday’s news.

Shorrock is updating the story. The power elites change in degree, he’s implying, but not in kind. He has interesting things to say about 9/11, a day which George Bush immediately exploited to project American power around the place. Shorrock doesn’t pause here either to belabour the obvious. His focus is always sharply on the business of spying.  9/11 was in 2001. The next year, Bush announced a public and private “partnership” which would defeat the terrorist enemy. An influential commentator, one of the legion of academics and journalists who grow rich and famous by telling America that the needs of the “Intelligence Industrial Complex” are the needs of Americans, noted that private corporations controlled 90% of US communications, energy and transport, so citizens should butt out. The business of spying, which depended on corporate expertise, was “too important to be left to the Government alone”. A spokesman from Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the fattest of the all the pigs at the public trough, elaborated:  “All of our critical infrastructure we’re depending on”, was privately owned, he explained, so “our moral responsibility is to understand the change and have firms engaged in a public-private partnership to protect their businesses and the citizens of this country”.

Corporate intellectuals can always be relied on to stitch the package together and wrap with bright ribbons. A 2003 offering from the Roundtable summed up the new netcentricity, the world of The Global Information Grid: “Many old paradigms that dominated the American pysche before 9/11 have been set aside since the events of that tragic day, [to allow an] anti-terror joint venture” between corporate America and its junior partner, the US government. “So also must the historic Government-business relationships of the past be redefined in a new era of cooperation and collaboration ….Historical suspicions and adversarial relationships between Government-as-regulator and business-as-regulated have traditionally made cooperation difficult. In the current security climate, this could prove disastrous to the common objective of enhancing homeland security”.

Perhaps junior partner is misleadingly overstating the planned role for the Federal government. Procurer would be closer. Roundtable has an NZ branch, where one of the jolly rogers has long lectured us about the perils of public policy being “captured” by the self-interested. Roundtable’s NZ flunkey, Roger Kerr, has spent decades lecturing us about “moral hazard”. The inconsistency is blatant. If there’s one solution for what ails us that you can rely on hearing about from the Complexes and their mates around the Roundtable it’s that governments and taxes need to shrink. How has the American version of “Government-as-regulator and business-as-regulated” gone? Bush’s immediate 9/11 response was to set up a Department of Homeland Security to coordinate intelligence, so this is an agency that closely reflects the new ideology. Shorrock says that within three years the new spy bureaucracy was spending an annual $US16 billion on goods and services tendered to private interests.

Dubya was following a lead from Booz Allen, whose advice was that governments needed to create “new types” of partnerships and “new types of market incentives”. The Chief Executive Officer attempted to spin a claim of a public service motivation. “Business leaders”, he managed, “cannot opt out of geopolitics and leave the job of security solely to Government and the military”. As Booz Allen’s Global Security Unit head sees it, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) exist “to reduce risk and help ensure resilience in corporations, government agencies and critical infrastructures”. They ensure resilience in corporations all right, but that’s because the risk that’s being reduced is private risk.

Where are all the conspiracy theorists now that we need them? Instead of inventing silly stories about moon landings or 9/11 they could look at the real conspiracies hatched in the weeks after 9/12. They’re called “partnerships”. According to Roundtable scripture, about the worst thing governments can do is to grant subsidies. Never mind that the entire new Complex is nothing but a subsidy to private corporations. The old-style (public) intelligence arm of the Government, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has joined in. It now has a venture capital firm that provides information technology for the PPPs. Shorrock argues that this is really a Government subsidy that allows companies to hire lobbyists to expand their market share.

As the definition of “terror” gets vaguer, the gap between public and private responsibility narrows and the web of corporate power widens. Shorrock took notes at a 2004 conference when a Booz Allen executive was criticising the US Freedom of Information Act because it let public interest groups obtain environmental information about corporations. America, the suit worried, needed PPPs “that work together so that industry can feel confident that when it discloses something it’s not disclosing something in such a way it can be used in litigation against it or more disasters that terrorists could find out about”. Parts of that sound close to the definition of terrorism that we’ve been told about in New Zealand.


NZ gets a mention here. That’s because of Echelon and its listening posts. Horrock reminds us that this Clinton-era eavesdropping was revealed by a UK engineer in 1997. Harried by European politicians, CIA chief George Tenet went into denial mode. “The notion that we collect intelligence to promote American business interests is simply wrong”, he told Congress. Yet he did concede that signals intelligence (SIGINT) “has provided information about the intentions of foreign businesses, some operated by governments, to violate US laws or sanctions or to deny US businesses a level playing field”. Nicky Hager’s 1996 book “Secret Power” is the definitive work on Echelon and NZ’s role in it, namely the Waihopai spybase. Ed.

A former CIA chief felt freer to write accurately about Echelon. Because he is always disciplined, his topic being the spy industry’s presence within the US political economy, Shorrock relegates to a footnote one of the most revealing of all his citations. For a general interest readership in NZ, home of the twin domes at Waihopai, the ex-spook’s opinion about Europe merits space:  “Yes, my Continental friends, we have spied on you. We have spied on you because you bribe. Your companies’ products are often more costly, less technically advanced or both, than your American competitors’. As a result, you bribe a lot. Your governments largely still dominate your economies, so you have much greater difficulty than we in innovating, encouraging labour mobility, reducing costs, attracting capital to fast moving young businesses and adapting quickly to changing economic circumstances…. Get serious, Europeans. Stop blaming us and reform your own statist economic policies…. Then we won’t need to spy on you”.

This series of slogans reads as though the spook has gone to a Roundtable seminar and scribbled cribnotes on his sleeve for the test. But in doing so, he’s shuffled his notes, and forgotten that, to appease domestic wimps and liberals, Arabs and the terrorists shouldn’t be publicly whipped in the same speech in which you bash North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) European allies. Was this clown, a person known as a “subject-matter expert” on terrorism, the one who first complained about France being the land of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”? Jim Woolsey once directed the CIA. A mate of Dick Cheney, Bush’s Vice President, Woolsey “retired” to the boards of some big defence contractors, and chaired a federal think tank, the decisions of which direct the course of millions of public dollars. Woolsey was an adviser on US Iraq policy, one of the usually anonymous members of the private government, where he called for war contracts in Iraq to go only to US firms.* Inevitably, shamefully, two years after he penned his piece for the Wall Street Journal, as Shorrock reports, Woolsey co-founded the “first private equity fund to invest solely in homeland security and intelligence markets”. He soon raised $US500 million to splurge, largely from union pension funds. They’ve now got close to $US1 billion. As their latest Website message points out, “Federal Spending Presents Big Opportunities For Paladin Portfolio”. You could say it’s not rocket science. *For an account of US “rebuilding” of Iraq, see my review of “The Bush Agenda: Invading The World, One Economy At A Time” by Antonia Juhasz, Peace Researcher 33, November 2006, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr33-131d.html. That’s the pedigree of one of the more forthright builders of Echelon. As a justification for NZ taxpayers to support American spies, it’s as flat as a dome at Waihopai (referring to the aftermath of the 2008 deflation of one of the spybase’s domes by Ploughshares activists. The dome has been replaced, in 2009. Ed.).

“Partnership” Subverted

Shorrock’s book is a major publishing event in that it has provided as thorough and informed a review of US policy that we’re likely to see. It’s especially valuable in showing how the “Intelligence Industrial Complex” came about. The relevance goes well beyond US policy or defence contracting. In fact, the machinations of the “Intelligence Industrial Complex” look very like the blueprint for how to run a Roundtable government. The Key government might like Woolsey-like “partnerships”, but they’re weaselly things. Shorrock concludes: “Once reserved for partial privatisations in which private capital was mobilised to support public utilities such as subways and roads, that term has been subverted in post-9/11 America to mean something very specific to national security: defence, homeland security, and intelligence contracts and practically any Government decision that favours business interests. In reality ‘partnerships’ are a convenient cover for the perpetuation of private interests”.

Anti-Bases Campaign
Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand

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