Monday, June 10, 2013

Intelligence's Heisenberg Principle

Two Times articles about the Edward Snowden leaks suggest variants of a kind of Heisenberg Principle of intelligence gathering. First: the better you share information, the more the information will be "shared" in unintended ways, perhaps affecting your ability to gather it:
Some outside experts said the push in recent years to break down barriers between spy agencies and share information across the government had greatly expanded the universe of government employees and outside contractors with access to highly classified intelligence. 

“In past years, someone like Snowden may not have had access to briefings detailing these collection programs,” said Cedric Leighton, a former deputy director of the National Security Agency, “but now with the push from a ‘need to know’ to a ‘need to share’ philosophy, it’s far more likely for an I.T. contractor like him to gain access to such documents.”
Snowden worked for the mega-intelligence services firm Booz Allen, which earns over a billion dollars a year in mostly intelligence-related work for the federal government.  Which suggests the second variant:

The government has sharply increased spending on high-tech intelligence gathering since 2001, and both the Bush and Obama administrations have chosen to rely on private contractors like Booz Allen for much of the resulting work. 

Thousands of people formerly employed by the government, and still approved to deal with classified information, now do essentially the same work for private companies. Mr. Snowden, who revealed on Sunday that he provided the recent leak of national security documents, is among them.
Past a certain point, perhaps,  the larger the number of  people are involved in secret intelligence work, the likelier that work will be leaked -- or, worse, sold or sabotaged.

P. S. This is not to suggest that outside contractors are likelier to leak than military personnel or civilian government employees.

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