Skip to content Skip to footer

Who Will Watch the Watchers?

(Photo: OZinOH / Flickr)

It’s time to completely end the privatization of national security.

Business Week recently pointed out that 99 percent of Booze Allen Hamilton’s revenues come from government contracts.

Why would we pay a CEO millions, stockholders tens of millions, and workers a small fortune when the same work could and should be done by civil servants?

Even worse, our privatized national security apparatus isn’t just wasteful; it’s contrary to the founding principles of our democratic republic.

Governments can be made accountable, transparent, and responsive to “We the People.” In fact, that’s the core idea of our Constitution.

On the other hand, corporations, by and large, are accountable only to profits. They’re opaque, and don’t give a damn about “We the People,” except for the people who run them.

There once was a time, before Reagan put us on a privatization binge, when our national security was run by our government and answerable to “We the People.”

However, ever since the Reagan Revolution, our political class has been obsessed with the idea that since government can’t do anything right, private companies should take over most of our commons, even, in this case, the commons of our national security.

And that’s created an entire industry of companies like Booz Allen Hamilton, where NSA leaker Edward Snowden worked, reaping millions in profits every year to manage and lobby for an ever-expanding and ever-more-profitable national security industry.

Privatization enthusiasts praise contractors as efficient and responsible purveyors of public service, but corporations, by virtue of being corporations, are incompatible with the functions of representative government.

At its core, a republic requires accountability.

We entrust to our public officials the power to act in our interest. If they violate that trust, we expect them to either face punishment or resign from their duties. After all, they serve us, not stockholders or CEOs. And accountability in a democratic republican society, in turn, requires transparency.

How can the public judge the crimes of its representatives without knowing about them?

As the Roman poet Juneval famously wrote about 2000 years ago, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” – Who will watch the watchers?

Our Founders answered that question quite simply in the Fourth Amendment and repeatedly throughout the Constitution: We, the People, will watch the watchers. They are answerable to us. That’s also why they enshrined freedom of the press in the Constitution and gave Congress (the branch most directly answerable to the People by elections every two years) the power to investigate and correct the abuses of the executive and legislative branches of government.

But corporations are not governments; they don’t even resemble democratic republics.

By their very nature they are non-transparent, and only care about public concerns to the extent they affect their profitability. Corporations are functionally kingdoms, with the CEO and Board of Directors as the King and main Lords, senior executives as Minor Lords, and all other employees as serfs.

And “national security” corporations have a specific carve-out from FOIA laws and whistleblower laws; they don’t generally have to disclose secrets or wrongdoings like government agencies do, and are additionally protected from doing so by privacy and trade secrecy laws. So you can’t just directly send a FOIA request to Booz Allen’s McLean, Virginia headquarters demanding information on its intelligence operations.

And for those, like Edward Snowden, who work for contractors engaged in questionable activities, there are few consistent and functional internal whistleblower mechanisms like those that exist for government workers.

The lack of accountability or transparency inherent to corporations isn’t a huge deal if a company is making, say sneakers, but it is a problem if that company is in control of an essential part of the commons like national security.

Some commentators have said that they don’t care about government snooping because Google and Amazon are already snooping. But Google and Amazon are doing that to make money. They lack the power to come to your home with a gun, put it to your head, and kill you or disappear you into a prison in Egypt.

Our government has that power, all governments do, which is why it’s so important to demand transparency and accountability from government, and to keep non-transparent and unaccountable hands out of the spying cookie jar.

That power to arrest, and wage war, and to spy is nearly absolute, and with it must come nearly absolute transparency and accountability.

Let’s keep our commons – particularly the commons of our national security and policy agencies – transparent, accountable, and secure from abuse or corruption by the profit motive.

Congress should, today, take our national security apparatus out of the hands of unaccountable shadowy corporations and put it back in the hands of publicly-accountable institutions.

We have hours left to raise $12,000 — we’re counting on your support!

For those who care about justice, liberation and even the very survival of our species, we must remember our power to take action.

We won’t pretend it’s the only thing you can or should do, but one small step is to pitch in to support Truthout — as one of the last remaining truly independent, nonprofit, reader-funded news platforms, your gift will help keep the facts flowing freely.