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The growth of government contractors in surveillance

Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA, revealed details of top-secret surveillance conducted by the United States' National Security Agency regarding telecom data.

There’s been a spike in the number of private contractors collecting data for the U.S. government in the last decade, and it turns out secret surveillance is big business. The man who leaked information about the NSA’s secret data-collection programs, worked for Booz Allen, a Fortune 500 company. So how many taxpayer dollars end up in the profit margins of private companies?

 The national intelligence budget for next fiscal year is about $50 billion, and the government spends about 70 percent of that budget on private contractors. They do everything from serving food in cafeterias to building satellites. After 9/11 the government needed a lot of high-tech skills in a hurry. 

“Right now the trend remains in the direction of contractors, whether it’s for analysis or building large technical products like cloud servers,” says Phillip Carter, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. 

Long term, some critics worry about transparency.  

“There was never a transition,” says Scott Amey, with the Project on Government Oversight. “I don’t think questions were presented on whether this workforce truly had to remain to be a contractor workforce.” 

It might be hard for the government to bring those jobs in house. Uncle Sam would have to lure well-paid tech talent away from the private sector with government salaries.

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