Here’s a thought that’s been bothering me: I haven’t known the name of the company that Edward Snowden was working for when he stole US NSA data. I didn’t know the answer until just recently. Sounding like a character from a pulp fiction novel, it’s “Booz Allen Hamilton” (though that joke would work better if the “Booz” was in the middle). And while I haven’t followed the story so closely as to read every article on it, I’ve kept up with the news well enough I think, mostly through some of my usual sources (NPR, BBC, Economist, Fair Observer, NYT, etc.).
This is not to say it’s the fault of any of those organizations that I (and I suspect most of the US general public) don’t know the name. It’s dropped in there as with this article from The Guardian in mid-2013.
But collectively, they are know as “the Snowden leaks” (i.e. the Alan Rusbridger New York Review of Books article I just linked to there from November 2013 doesn’t mention that company at all). There are exceptions, of course, as there always are such as here or here.
I wish to point out that there been next to zero lasting interrogation of the company. All of the focus is on the celebrity of the moment, which is perhaps fitting in our times–even that CNN story linked to above gives a giant picture of Snowden under its headline about Booz Allen Hamilton.
It is surely the case that if Snowden is legally liable for his actions, it is certainly possible that Booz Allen Hamilton is as well. I may be mistaken, but I believe they call this “criminal negligence” in the business. Alas, the Air Force has declared the company did no wrong. Although, I might point out, that having an entity that might be liable itself in the creation of the problem is not the best choice for leading the investigation into it. Just a thought. In the least, one would think that the US government would seriously be considering dropping its contract (and even pursuing financial compensation in civil court). But that would require policymakers to admit they made a mistake, too, since 99% of Booz’s funding comes from the Federal Government.
Another reason no serious investigation has occurred thus far, however, is likely because so much of the US government work is privately contracted. Despite having many of the best-trained US military personnel in the world, the military and state department decided at some point that contractors were better. (Side note: please suggest any great histories on this topic for us in the comments below–if not, dibs on this as my next project after this pesky dissertation).
And finally, I think, there is the culture of veneration for business, which in America, can do no wrong. Chemicals spilled into a West Virginian river? It’s automatically the “fault” of regulation (e.g. government).
Although both were leaks, I worry that the public is not holding all parties equally accountable.