Just a few days ago, President Barack Obama made a lot of lofty promises about how his White House would distance itself from lobbyists with conflicts of interests. Barack Obama pledged to slow the speedy revolving door between the federal government and private industry.
Now, as Obama shifts George W. Bush’s appointees out, replacing them with his own, Obama’s promises are being tested – and they don’t appear to be holding up very well. One case in particular captures my attention, because it has to do with the Big Brother government spying powers that were legalized through the Protect America Act and then through the FISA Amendments Act. As a senator, Barack Obama voted in favor of the FISA Amendments Act, and has since indicated that he intends to go on using its warrantless eavesdropping powers as President.
It’s the case of Michael McConnell, the outgoing Director of National Intelligence.
Mike McConnell started his work as Director of National Intelligence with a conflict of interest from the beginning. You see, before he became Director of National Intelligence, McConnell was the senior vice president at the private firm Booz Allen Hamilton. McConnell’s specific mission was to develop the technology the government would need to implement Total Information Awareness.
Total Information Awareness was a program to use the powers of the Patriot Act to conduct massive electronic surveillance on the private lives of law-abiding Americans. Conducted in the name of anti-terrorism, Total Information Awareness was designed to track the everyday activities of everybody, with the justification that perhaps by watching Americans, a terrorist might be found. So, the plan was to collect all the information possible about what Americans are doing – including data points so varied as medical records, grocery store purchases, Internet activity, library books borrowed, and even veterinary bills. The Total Information Awareness system would take information from commercial databases, in spite of privacy agreements, and integrate them together into a national database file on every person in the United States.
What’s your favorite kind of cookie? What movies do you like? What are your sexual interests? Does your new puppy have worms? All this information and more would be available to federal government intelligence agencies.
People got upset about hearing about Total Information Awareness, so Congress passed legislation that shut the program down… or to be more accurate, shut the program down in name. Total Information Awareness was actually kept alive, and moved over to the National Security Agency, where it became the foundation of George W. Bush’s infamous warrantless wiretapping program. Revelations over the last couple of years indicate that the National Security Agency has been doing exactly what Total Information Awareness was intended to do. They’ve been siphoning all electronic communications into a government database and then sorting through the information they’ve collected to look for goodies, including private sexual conversations between wives and husbands.
So, when Mike McConnell was appointed to be Director of National Intelligence a couple of years ago, he gained a position in government with power over a project that he had himself been supervising as part of Booz Allen Hamilton. Did McConnell really stop working for Booz Allen Hamilton?
Now, with Barack Obama as President of the United States, we’re going to get a new Director of National Intelligence. So, yesterday, it will announced that Mike McConnell will return to work for Booz Allen Hamilton, where he will direct the firm’s strategy in obtaining and implementing government contracts – such as their work on information systems like the Total Information Awareness / FISA Amendments Act electronic spying network.
Oh, but the revolving door between government and private contractors takes another spin. You see, at the very same time that he will be working at Booz Allen Hamilton on obtaining government contract related to ongoing Total Information Awareness operations in our government, Mike McConnell will retain a position in the government at the request of President Obama. McConnell will have a position on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, where he will give advise President Obama and other White House officials on intelligence matters pertaining to the very intelligence projects McConnell will be seeking government contracts for from his old seat as senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton.
(In another little twist of insider connections, Booz Allen Hamilton has been bought by the Carlyle Group, a firm with all sorts of government contracts, where ex-President George Herbert Walker Bush once was a board member.)
This story has two main threads, both of which lead to the same ultimate conclusion. First, there’s the thread of ongoing unconstitutional spying against the American people, through the federal government, controlled by a small number of people who have regarded themselves as above accountability under the law. Second, there’s the thread of the unethical influence of private companies over the affairs of our government, which is supposed to represent the rights and interests of all the people of the United States of America.
President Obama has promised to make the federal government both more open in its operations and more independent from the influence of private contractors. The way that Obama has helped Michael McConnell maneuver so quickly through the revolving door between government and the private sector demonstrates that we ought not to accept Obama’s promises at face value.