A virtual secret state: the military-industrial complex 2.0
US reliance on private contractors is seeing a sinister focus on surveillance of citizens instead of defence against cyber attack
Sunday 9 October 2011
On Friday, Wired revealed that a virus of unknown origin has been consistently tracking the remote piloting of US military drones down to each keystroke, and that attempts to remove the intrusion have failed. Although the origin and intent of this virus remain unknown, with military analysts positing that it may be typical malware rather than a successful espionage bid, the incident provides the media with a practical opportunity to finally start examining the processes that determine our republic’s ability to protect itself from foreign cyber threats. That examination needs to focus on a particular system of the sort that is most dangerous to any republic – a system that grows ever more consequential while remaining largely invisible even to those who are charged with overseeing it.
Even most members of Congress are unaware of the extent to which both the military and intelligence community have come to depend on private contractors to provide the software and ingenuity necessary for both conventional and information warfare in the 21st century. In 2005, experts estimated that 30% of the US intelligence budget was being outsourced, and this intelligence contracting industry has grown markedly since.
On the surface, this practice makes sense; the modern military tends not to attract sufficient technical talent for its needs, and in a few notable cases, the once-legendary hackers who run crucial firms have felony convictions that would prevent them from doing equivalent work from inside the state. Meanwhile, competition for projects promotes the incubation of new and more powerful capabilities from within the industry, and the bidding system ensures that the US gets the best of these for the least money – at least, in theory.