Are Edward Snowden Types Driving the DC Economy?Posted: June 10, 2013
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.