Are Edward Snowden Types Driving the DC Economy?

nsa-building

I thought we needed a fresh thread, so here’s another aspect of the Edward Snowden story to consider.

Alec McGillis has an interesting article up at The New Republic on all the high-salaried young outside contractors who are profiting from the rise of the U.S. surveillance state.

Edward Snowden is ready for his Rorschach test. Is he Benedict Arnold or Tom Paine, Daniel Ellsberg or Bradley Manning (or Aaron Swartz)? For the moment, I’ll leave that to others to debate, and instead consider Snowden through another lens: as an exemplar of the conspicuous, decade-long economic boom of Washington, D.C.

We’ve been hearing more and more about this boom, as the disconnect grows between the ever-more-prosperous Beltway and a Rest of America only now recovering from the recession. You’ve seen the stats: Seven of the 10 highest-income counties are in the Washington area; of the counties with the highest levels of college graduates, the top three are in greater D.C., and five of the top 10. There have been plenty of theories proffered to explain the Beltway boom—typically, conservatives like to talk about the growing scope of the federal government, while liberals like to talk about the rise in the influence industry that has accompanied it. But Snowden offers a reminder of another driver of the boom, one that I’ve long suspected was the biggest factor of all: the construction of the post-9/11 security leviathan, which has tentacles all around the country but is concentrated above all in greater Washington—not only at the headquarters of the FBI, CIA, and NSA, but in the sprawl of the contractors that have attached themselves to the region like barnacles, in hundreds of glass boxes along the Dulles Toll Road and Interstate 66 and Route 32, with naught but a cryptic acronym (SAIC, CAIC, ITT) affixed on their upper walls to hint at their identity (and sometimes not even that)….

The people working in these buildings and contractors are, by definition, a low-visibility lot, with job descriptions so inscrutable to the average American taxpayer footing the bill that they might as well be written in Sanskrit. But they make up a goodly share of the people who are crowding the Beltway’s ever-more-crowded highways in late-model cars and buying up condos and homes at rates that have made Washington the strongest real estate market in the country since 2000. But now we get to see one of their type close-up in a way that we are normally not able to. Edward Snowden is only 29 and lacks a four-year college degree, yet he has been pulling down $200,000 working for one of the biggest Beltway bandit contractors of all, Booz Allen Hamilton. He was most recently based not in Washington, but at an NSA facility in Hawaii (tough gig!), but he is otherwise highly typical of the new class of highly-paid security-state worker bees that litter the Beltway at firms like Booz Allen, which is headquartered in Northern Virginia.

Hey, they’re not only watching our every move, listening to our phone calls, and reading our e-mail and Facebook pages, but they’re getting filthy rich doing it–while the rest of us struggle with high unemployment, low-wage service jobs, collapsing infrastructure, and failing schools.

Let’s hear it for the good old USA!

This is an open thread.


59 Comments on “Are Edward Snowden Types Driving the DC Economy?”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Here’s something more cheerful.

    Hillary Clinton sends her first Tweet

    Hillary Clinton’s first tweet won’t make any book of famous quotations.

    “Thanks for the inspiration @ASmith83 & @Sllambe – I’ll take it from here… #tweetsfromhillary,” the former secretary of state said in her first foray on the social media site, referring to a pair of other Twitter users.

    On the home page, Clinton describes herself “wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD…”

  2. janicen says:

    Hey, they’re not only watching our every move, listening to our phone calls, and reading our e-mail and Facebook pages, but they’re getting filthy rich doing it–while the rest of us struggle with high unemployment, low-wage service jobs, collapsing infrastructure, and failing schools.

    I completely agree that too much of our government’s budget is now devoted to the Homeland Security mega-burocracy, but it’s not fair to characterize contract workers as “getting filthy rich”. I know a few of them, and they are far worse off than government employees, none of whom are getting filthy rich but do enjoy job security, health insurance, paid vacations and sick time. Contract workers get hired on for six month gigs and never know if there will be another one once this one ends. Many of them perform a host of functions that have nothing to do with spying on American citizens. This guy’s $200,000 salary is unusually high probably because of his location, Hawaii, and his skill set. Again, you also have to factor in that contract workers don’t get a standard benefit package along with their salaries so they are paying for their own health, disability, and life insurance as well as trying to put money aside for retirement. Six months later, they may be collecting unemployment.

    • RalphB says:

      The contracting companies get pretty rich but the contractors don’t, They’re just like every other business now.

    • I may need to re-read, but I understood both the article and BB’s comment to be referring specifically to contractors involved in the surveillance gathering etc. not necessarily contractors in general.

      • janicen says:

        I guess my point is that there are a whole lot of mid-level NSA employees and contractors who are not necessarily spying on people and certainly not getting rich. To Ralph’s point, certainly there are corporations and CEO’s getting rich but many thousands of workers, the ones that really do drive the DC economy, aren’t necessarily cashing in big time.

        • bostonboomer says:

          My sense of McGillis’ article was that the Washington DC area is doing very well economically in comparison to the rest of the country. I really didn’t think the point of the piece was what you are inferring.

          • Yes, DC is doing much better. They have something like 95% employment last I remember reading.

          • janicen says:

            I’m sorry if I misunderstood. I wasn’t trying to infer anything but to address the article’s inferences

            The people working in these buildings and contractors are, by definition, a low-visibility lot, with job descriptions so inscrutable to the average American taxpayer footing the bill that they might as well be written in Sanskrit. But they make up a goodly share of the people who are crowding the Beltway’s ever-more-crowded highways in late-model cars…

            While this all sounds very cloak and dagger, the truth is a little less glamourous. There are many bad guys in this story but people who dare to drive late model cars and live in the DC area aren’t all spies and I can personally attest to the fact that many of them have been adversely affected by the economic downturn.

            I think the article exaggerates the position and power of government contract employees with the end result being a tendency to place a greater importance on the Snowden’s revelations. Any number of middle class contract workers could have done what Snowden has done but they choose not to. I guess I’m not saying very well that I think Snowden has an overblown sense of himself and his importance and of the information he has leaked.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I was actually thinking more of the corporations like Booz Allen that are getting rich, and the politicians they are buying off.

      What is Snowden’s skill set? I haven’t read about that anywhere yet. I’m still wondering how he got into special forces training without a high school diploma.

  3. Via politico:

    2. Donated to Ron Paul. Zeke Miller of Time reported that Snowden made two $250 donations to the libertarian presidential candidate’s 2012 campaign. Snowden told The Guardian he voted for a third party in 2008 rather than President Barack Obama.

    Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/06/10-things-to-know-about-edward-snowden-92491.html#ixzz2VqLRLLvV

  4. RalphB says:

    Daily Howler: TWO KINDS OF FACTS: Invented, withheld!

    OT but a great post on how our media, and the culture which follows it, operates.

  5. White House Asked if Edward Snowden Is a Hero
    ABCNEWS.com
    Jun 10, 2013, 3:05 PM
    Press Secretary Jay Carney says information was classified for a reason.

    Video at link:
    http://abcnews.go.com/video?id=19366214

  6. RalphB says:

    Barton Gellman, Glenn Greenwald feud over NSA leaker

    Reporter feuds with narcissistic prick over who leaker loves the most.
    \

  7. RalphB says:

    Gov. Perry signs sweeping education bill

    Ending days of speculation, Gov. Rick Perry Monday signed education reform legislation that will roll back the number of high-stakes tests and seek to provide greater opportunities for students who are not college bound.

    The new law will the reduce from 15 to five the number of end-of-course exams needed to graduate from high school, and replace the uniform 4×4 graduation plan — four years each of math, science, social studies and English — with more flexible options.

    From way off topic. Less testing is probably good but I’m nervous about how they implement the flexibility.

    • Fannie says:

      WTF………….they just need to know how to strip a car……………or have 4 years of auto mechanics instead Enlish, math, or science, aren’t they the lucky ones.

  8. RalphB says:

    Franken said he was not surprised by NSA revelations

    Here’s Al Franken’s take and it’s fairly close to mine.

  9. RalphB says:

    Salon: How we broke the NSA story

    Since he contacted you before he started working at Booz Allen, the implication people were drawing was that he went to Booz Allen with the express intention of leaking this.

    That’s completely absurd. I had no dialogue about what the information was — there were claims, that’s all I received.

    So the implication that you sent him into Booz Allen to spy was incorrect.

    Are you kidding? I didn’t know where he worked, I didn’t know he was NSA, I didn’t know how — nothing. There was no like, Oh do you think you …, no nudging. It’s like the crazy correlations that the NSA does. There’s no connection here. We were contacted, we didn’t know what he was up to, and at some point he came forward with documents.

    Laura Poitras didn’t want to admit to committing espionage. She’s in Hong Kong filming a documentary on this story and the reporting. No narcissism there, oh no.