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Offline mayya

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The Contractor Spies: Hackers for hire and a shadow army
« on: November 17, 2013, 20:45:02 PM »
November 17, 2013  02:09 pm CET

The Contractor Spies: Hackers for hire and a shadow army

By Bastian Brinkmann, Oliver Hollenstein and Atonius Kempmann

A soldier and a “Shadow” drone at the U.S. base in Vilseck-Grafenwöhr, Germany

A hacker-for-hire costs the U.S. government $117.99 per hour. If they need more than basic hacking, the American company MacAulay-Brown offers computer specialists from “level 1” to ‘level 4”. But that can run up to $187.30 per hour. And that’s the reduced piece reserved for government contracts, according to the online brochure.

The U.S. is spying on the world and can’t keep up with the workload.
That’s why the military and intelligence agencies rely so heavily on private contractors. It’s a billion-dollar industry. Large consortiums such as the CSC, L-3 Communications, SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton have tens of thousands of employees.

These companies maintain computer systems for U.S. troops, tend to intelligence databases and sort documents. Sometimes they send “analysts” to summarize raw data for intelligence briefings. All the major private intelligence companies have contracts in Germany (a complete list of all official “intelligence” contracts in Germany is available for download here, extracted from

Camp Germany

Germany is one of the U.S.’s most important bases. In fiscal year 2012 alone the U.S. spent $3 billion here. That’s more than in Iraq. And more than in South Korea, where the U.S. Army is in a face-off with the enemy to the north.

The U.S. uses Germany to fight an enemy very far away. When U.S. predator drones shoot down suspected terrorists in Somalia, those orders come from Stuttgart, Germany. That’s where the U.S. missions in Africa are headquartered. Private contractors are also heavily involved in this drone war. Their agents tend to drone equipment, calibrate lasers and collect information for targeting.

The biggest profiteer in this set-up has been SOS International (SOSi for short) who has so far earned $61 million, according to the U.S. database of government contracts. SOSi is currently looking to hire for positions in Darmstadt, Germany—some 32 kilometers, or 20 miles south of Frankfurt. The new hires will focus on geo-data: who is where, when. Which streets do Somalis—among them suspected terrorists—take home in the evening? The kind of information that could be used to target drone attacks. 

Geospatial analysts transform the satellite signals into bright images—and try to find their target.

And the military apparatus bears the consequences.

How bad could it get?

Just how much the U.S. and Germany rely on private contractors was well illuminated by Caci in 2009. The American group received nearly $40 million to send SIGINT analysts to Germany. SIGINT stands for signal intelligence—information collected from the internet.

Caci isn’t your run-of-the-mill company. Its agents were employed in 2003 as interrogators in the U.S. Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Yes, that Abu Ghraib, where later the photos sparking the torture scandal originated. We’ve all seen the images: naked detainees stacked in human pyramids, leashed attack dogs inches from kneeling prisoners and grinning American soldiers.

Two investigative reports from the U.S. Army showed the Caci contractors were involved in the abuse. Caci denies it.

The disgraceful mess shows just how deeply the contractors are engaged in the U.S.’s dirty wars. 

Just how many could there be?

Every fifth government intelligence worker is actually on the payroll of a private company.

This information comes from a secret U.S. intelligence budget, which was made public by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Snowden, who worked for Booz Allen Hamilton until June 2013, is probably the most famous of these contractors. The company performed many IT jobs for the U.S. authorities, giving contractors like Snowden access to highly sensitive documents. Those included information about top-secret operations being performed by the U.S. and the UK.

Many contractors have access to the most secretive of secrets.

They have access to data collected by government intelligence agencies as well as internal communications. Assignments like these go for top-dollar in Germany. And Caci and their competitor SAIC together have raked in hundreds of millions of dollars here.

An integral—albeit outsourced—intelligence

These private companies were recently looking for developers for the XKeyscore program. After The Guardian revealed that the NSA-run program could record “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”, including email content, websites visited, searches and metadata—they took the job listing down.

The CIA even has their own investment firm to support start-ups, whose technological advancement they could later put to use.

Even the highest levels of U.S. intelligence and private contractor personnel are interconnected. The top U.S. intelligence director James C. Clapper got his start at the U.S. military’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), then went to work with the contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and eventually returned to a government post as Director of National Intelligence.

Private companies—such as Clapper’s former employer—have a lot to profit from special relationships like this.

The relationship between private contractors and government agencies is so tight that the contractors now have offices on military bases. Up until a year ago MacAulay-Brown employees worked on the Dagger Complex in Griesheim, Germany. The base acts as a bridgehead for the NSA. The MacAulay-Brown workers shared the same main phone line as the troops stationed there, with their own extension. As though they were part of the team.

(photo: Reuters)