WaPo Targets Intelligence Contractors, But Lacks Context

This week's series of three Washington Post articles  on American intelligence operations tried to create a controversy that does not exist. In parts two and three the issue of contractors used by the intelligence community was explored.  However, many of the stated facts were very misleading.  Those interviewed felt that contractors are a necessary part of America's national security and resent the argument of the Post that the CIA is too dependent on them.

Former acting CIA Director, John McLaughlin, commented on C-SPAN that one of the articles was written out of context.  The article never explained that in the 1990's, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the intelligence community was drastically reduced by about 25%.  McLaughlin pointed out that "Shortly after 9/11 there was a need to re-build the community. A lot of new people were hired with not a lot of experience.  This increases the need for specialized skills and to reach out to the contracting community to fill those needs."

Dana Priest and William Arkin, the Washington Post journalists, are unfairly trying to build a case against contractors. They stated that,

"...the intent of the memorial (for those who died at the Afghanistan CIA base late last year) is to publicly honor the courage of those who died in the line of duty, but it also conceals a deeper story about government in the post-9/11 era: Eight of the 22 were not CIA officers at all. They were private contractors."

The Post used this incident to make a statistical point which appeared to devalue the contractors' deaths.  As John McLaughlin stated, "you can't reduce this to a series of sound bites and headlines."

Priest and Arkin estimate that contactors make up 30% of the work force. It is interesting to note that they did not explore the reason behind these numbers.  Currently, the permanent intelligence work force cannot be expanded because it has been five years since an appropriations bill has been passed.  Hence, it is easier to hire contractors using the "one year funding" that Congress provides in supplemental budgets than in hiring career employees. A former intelligence official commented that "The blame goes to Congressional neglect. If there is no authorization bill there is no clear guidance." 

Because the numbers in the article are taken out of context, the reader is led to a conclusion that is not completely correct. According to a high ranking former intelligence official the article ignored the FTE (Full time equivalent) employee. For example, the DNI nominee, General James Clapper, once stated that as a contractor he might be working on five or six contracts simultaneously.  Does each of those agencies count him as one when asked how many contractors do you have? A former official further stated that it becomes "very complicated which is why some folks will say that no can tell how many contactors there are. It is hard to figure out a mechanism for what percentage of time is devoted to each task." The article never points out that the numbers appear inflated because of the overlaps that occur. (According to the Post, "out of 854,000 people with top-secret clearances, 265,000 are contractors.")

A former CIA operative who is now a contractor was upset that the Post ignored the legitimate need for contractors. He commented that "unfortunately, the intelligence community (IC) and military have no choice but to use contractors.  There's an alarming lack of experience in the IC right now, since many of us old war horses have retired.  Lots of us retired because we got tired of fighting with management.  Bottom line, until the folks currently on board gain the experience necessary, which takes years, contractors will remain a necessary evil."

Former CIA Director, Michael Hayden, also explained that there is

"...absolutely a need for contractors. Yet, I reduced the number of contractors by 15% because I realized that as valuable as contractors were, we had expanded so rapidly after 9/11 that clearly there had to be inefficiencies."

He implemented the requirement that for anyone who resigned, not retired, there would be a 12 month moratorium before they could be hired as a contractor.

Priest and Arkin have missed the point that contractors are a necessary component to the intelligence community and to fighting the War on Terror. Michael Hayden summarized it best when he stated that

"contractors make an invaluable contribution to national security since the government can't do what is necessary with the current government personnel.  I put contractors stars on the wall (for those that died in the line of duty) when I was there." 


This week's series of three Washington Post articles  on American intelligence operations tried to create a controversy that does not exist. In parts two and three the issue of contractors used by the intelligence community was explored.  However, many of the stated facts were very misleading.  Those interviewed felt that contractors are a necessary part of America's national security and resent the argument of the Post that the CIA is too dependent on them.

Former acting CIA Director, John McLaughlin, commented on C-SPAN that one of the articles was written out of context.  The article never explained that in the 1990's, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the intelligence community was drastically reduced by about 25%.  McLaughlin pointed out that "Shortly after 9/11 there was a need to re-build the community. A lot of new people were hired with not a lot of experience.  This increases the need for specialized skills and to reach out to the contracting community to fill those needs."

Dana Priest and William Arkin, the Washington Post journalists, are unfairly trying to build a case against contractors. They stated that,

"...the intent of the memorial (for those who died at the Afghanistan CIA base late last year) is to publicly honor the courage of those who died in the line of duty, but it also conceals a deeper story about government in the post-9/11 era: Eight of the 22 were not CIA officers at all. They were private contractors."

The Post used this incident to make a statistical point which appeared to devalue the contractors' deaths.  As John McLaughlin stated, "you can't reduce this to a series of sound bites and headlines."

Priest and Arkin estimate that contactors make up 30% of the work force. It is interesting to note that they did not explore the reason behind these numbers.  Currently, the permanent intelligence work force cannot be expanded because it has been five years since an appropriations bill has been passed.  Hence, it is easier to hire contractors using the "one year funding" that Congress provides in supplemental budgets than in hiring career employees. A former intelligence official commented that "The blame goes to Congressional neglect. If there is no authorization bill there is no clear guidance." 

Because the numbers in the article are taken out of context, the reader is led to a conclusion that is not completely correct. According to a high ranking former intelligence official the article ignored the FTE (Full time equivalent) employee. For example, the DNI nominee, General James Clapper, once stated that as a contractor he might be working on five or six contracts simultaneously.  Does each of those agencies count him as one when asked how many contractors do you have? A former official further stated that it becomes "very complicated which is why some folks will say that no can tell how many contactors there are. It is hard to figure out a mechanism for what percentage of time is devoted to each task." The article never points out that the numbers appear inflated because of the overlaps that occur. (According to the Post, "out of 854,000 people with top-secret clearances, 265,000 are contractors.")

A former CIA operative who is now a contractor was upset that the Post ignored the legitimate need for contractors. He commented that "unfortunately, the intelligence community (IC) and military have no choice but to use contractors.  There's an alarming lack of experience in the IC right now, since many of us old war horses have retired.  Lots of us retired because we got tired of fighting with management.  Bottom line, until the folks currently on board gain the experience necessary, which takes years, contractors will remain a necessary evil."

Former CIA Director, Michael Hayden, also explained that there is

"...absolutely a need for contractors. Yet, I reduced the number of contractors by 15% because I realized that as valuable as contractors were, we had expanded so rapidly after 9/11 that clearly there had to be inefficiencies."

He implemented the requirement that for anyone who resigned, not retired, there would be a 12 month moratorium before they could be hired as a contractor.

Priest and Arkin have missed the point that contractors are a necessary component to the intelligence community and to fighting the War on Terror. Michael Hayden summarized it best when he stated that

"contractors make an invaluable contribution to national security since the government can't do what is necessary with the current government personnel.  I put contractors stars on the wall (for those that died in the line of duty) when I was there." 


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