US President Obama said last week that reforming the NSA in the midst of a major surveillance scandal could restore confidence in the government. Newly revealed connections between Congress and the private sector, however, may not do the same.
Officials from the executive and legislative branches have expressed an interest in reforming the NSA, especially in light of the ongoing and highly damaging leaks disclosed to the media by former contractor Edward Snowden. But a recent report has shed light on some ties between those in Washington who watch over the intelligence community and their financial bankers - the likes of which raise questions about just how serious lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives are about reigning in the NSA.
A study by Donny Shaw at the nonpartisan research organization MapLight was published this week, and in it he explored the connections between the major industry players that provide the intelligence community with tools and the lawmakers that look over the NSA and other agencies.
Seventy percent of the intelligence budget is used to pay private contractors, Shaw acknowledged, and the corporations at the top of that list are among those that have received billions of dollars by the federal government in awards and contracts.
At the same time, however, those very companies and the political action committees (PACs) they’ve aligned with have long been padding the pockets of influential members of Congress.
According to research published this week by Shaw, PACs and individuals from the top 20 contractors with ties to the Pentagon have all contributed significantly to members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
“In total, members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have received $3.7 million from top intelligence services contractors since January 1, 2005,” Shaw reported, suggesting that lawmakers in those offices may be a bit hesitant to scale back the nation’s intelligence operations and, in turn, cut funding to the very contractors that are helping their campaigns.
With regards to contractors who have benefited heavily from government opportunities, L-3 Communications has been awarded more than $46 billion in federal funds for an array of jobs they’ve undertaken during the course of their relationship with Washington, according to the USAspending.gov website. But as of last month, L-3 has also handed over around $238,145 to the Senate and House intelligence committees.
Even with more than a quarter of a million dollars going directly to the lawmakers in charge of monitoring the intelligence community that relies on L-3’s products and services, the communications firm is hardly the most generous. Lockheed Martin has made contributions to those intelligence committee members in one form or another to the tune of around $798,901, according to Shaw’s research, and Northrup Grumman, Honeywell International, and General Dynamics have each awarded those committee members at least $675k a piece.
And how is that money divvied up? The Maplight research reveals that Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland) - the chairman of the House committee who also represents the district containing the NSA headquarters - is the largest recipient of intelligence contractor money, reaping in around $363,600 since 2005.
“Amid the NSA scandal, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — the committees in charge of oversight — denied stricter reform attempts to the NSA programs and instead propelled legislation aimed at restoring their trust,” John Schoffstall of the Capitol City Project remarked after seeing Shaw’s report.
“The committees are intended to keep waste, fraud and abuse in check given most of these programs are hidden from the general public,” Schoffstall continued. Despite this, however, “Every single member on the committees received campaign contributions from the largest intelligence companies in the US performing services for the government,” he said.