Friday, January 22, 2010

Connecting the Intelligence Dots -- It's Easy

Within the intelligence community, it’s easy to connect the dots. Corporations like IBM, CACI, and Lockheed Martin – among the main intelligence contractors -- are making it easier all the time. 

Corporate mergers, acquisitions, and the intelligence community’s revolving doors are making it easier than ever to understand who’s in control and to assess the motivations of U.S. intelligence operatives.

The effectiveness and reliability of U.S. intelligence is in increasing question. Decades of intelligence failures, abuses, politicized intelligence, and wildly wrong intelligence assessments have cast persistent doubts about the reliability and integrity of the 16 agencies that comprise the U.S. intelligence community.

Things aren’t getting much better under the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress, which, respectively, has failed to fill the CIA’s vacant inspector general position and which relies on national security sycophants like Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Texas) to provide congressional oversight as chairman of the House Select Intelligence Committee.

It’s been hard monitoring the intelligence community because its budget is classified, congressional oversight hearings are classified, and, well, they are spooks. But two factors over the past decade are making it easier at least to understand. 1) the rapid increase in outsourcing intelligence to private contractors (now constituting about 70% of the intelligence budget), and 2) the emergence of communications and information technology as the leading growth area in intelligence – and most areas of national security.

IBM’s acquisition this week of the National Interest Security Company, which is a conglomerate of intelligence, homeland security, and defense consulting firms, illustrates both these trends. According to Forbes, IBM’s “purchase of an intelligence firm signals boom time in the spy business” and “shows that the technology sector believes it can find growth servicing the government with high-end intelligence services.” Another business publication Information Week Government noted: “Big Blue's buyout of NISC deepens its presence in sensitive areas like homeland security, defense, and intelligence.”

The deal also highlights another common feature of high-tech intelligence, homeland security, and defense contracting – the critical role of high finance in configuring the new players of the national security complex.  

In this case, the key hidden player is DC Capital Partners, which describes itself as a Washington, DC investment firm whose “domain expertise provides a competitive advantage, primarily in the defense, aerospace, government services, information technology, and business services industries.”

Lately, to understand intelligence and, indeed, the entire spectrum of national security you need to follow the flows of venture capital.

Among NISC’s “continuum of services” are information systems development, datamining, cybersecurity initiatives, information assurance, and multilingual data-exploitation and mining. NISC says it is dedicated to providing innovative information technology, information management, and management technology consulting services in support of the national interest and security.”

Among the federal government departments the company “supports” include: Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Homeland Security, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Department of Defense, and “other classified agencies.”

NISC says its “main markets” are intelligence, homeland security, defense, energy, and federal health.

With more than a thousand employees, NISC is headquartered in Farifax, Virginia. The company has “$200 million in revenues and 80% of its employees hold security clearances and mostly work on classified contracts,’ according to Forbes.

According to DC Capital Partners, NISC was established through the acquisitions of a series of other high-tech companies specializing in intelligence and security. Since its establishment in a few years ago NISC, through the investment strategy of DC Capital Partners, has acquired the following intelligence-related firms: Edge Consulting, MITI, Information Manufacturing Corporation, Technology and Management Services, Omen Inc., National Intelligence Support Services, Athenyx, Kaseman, and Strategic Intelligence Group. It is unclear if all these subsidiaries will be transferred to IBM.

The company’s published descriptions of these integrated firms help illuminate the dimensions of the current merger of private contractors, intelligence operations, and intrusive technology.

Information Manufacturing Corporation providesa wide range of information technology and knowledge management services to the Intelligence Community, the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies,” with services including data capture, convergence, manipulation, mining, and exploitation.”

Omen Inc. provides the intelligence community with analysis of communications and electronic intelligence.

Kaseman offers “critical operational support” to State Department and Homeland Security in “anti-terrorism, counter-terrorism, and counter-narcotics training,” and “technical security advisory and assessment services, and risk analysis.”

Strategic Intelligence Group is “an intelligence consulting firm specializing in the development and implementation of innovative business platforms for human, financial and technical intelligence collaboration in the public and private sectors.”

Government Insiders Come Out

NISC like most homeland security, intelligence, and DOD contractors is a home for former high government officials. NISC’s chief executive officer, for example, is Andrew Maner, who served as chief financial officer for the Department of Homeland Security (2002-2006). Maner also served as chief of staff at Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol.

Among the members of its board of directors are General Michael Hayden, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and former head of the National Security Agency. Hayden is also a principal at the Chertoff Group, a national security consulting agency formed by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
Other NISC board members include former Senator Chuck Hagel, Ambassador Henry Crumpton, and five former retired generals and admirals, including General Anthony Zinni and General Michael Hagel,
The Forbes’ report of IBM’s purchase (which will be completed this quarter) of NISC noted that DC Capital Partners realized “$180 million and making nine times its original investment of $19.6 million in the company in less than three years.”
In a press release, IBM said NISC "will enable IBM to expand its capabilities with federal, state and local government entities, particularly in the fast-growing areas of defense, health care, energy, logistics and security."
“THINK” is the longtime slogan of IBM. That thinking has led IBM to follow the lead of other major corporations like Lockheed Martin, CACI, and Boeing in the emerging national security complex to pursue profits in the booming business of intelligence. 

Photo: General Michael Hayden

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