Gotham Diary:
11 June 2013

¶ If it hadn’t been for the intellectual ferment induced by my reading of George Packer’s The Unwinding, I should never have arrived at the view that I’m taking of the Snowden leaks. Without a sense of organized money — a term that Packer uses but does not define in any detail; I’ve had to work that out for myself — and the absence of what I call a “loyal opposition” to organized money, the intelligence scandal would be a tired and fruitless argument between the ideal of personal privacy and the imperatives of national security — neither of which concepts interests me very much (they’re inherently shambolic). When I place the Prism program and its variants in the frame of organized money, however, the familiar argument gives way to something that at least feels fresh. The organized-money perspective highlights the role of a private contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, in the operation — a role in which the contractor is likely to be a sponsor as well as a beneficiary. And the extent of the surveillance program begins to make sense when we consider the absence of a loyal opposition, of a platform on which to argue against the outsourcing (for example) of national intelligence. Blather about national security dissolves into bubbles in the soda of a much clearer imperative: the determination of “connected” businessmen to make money out of Washington.

Typically, the Times buried Catherine Rampell’s story about Booz Allen (the employer of some 24,000 people. it earned 23% percent of its revenues from national intelligence work, according to Rampell) and other big recipients of federal money in the vicinity of the capital, on the fifth page of the Business Section. I had been thinking that the reach of organized money into academia ought to be looked into, with a view to understanding that our universities are just as corrupt as our legislatures; Rampell presented me with a handy bit of evidence. Actually, Rampell’s story is really about organized money.

Others in the top 10, like the University of Maryland at College Park, receive taxpayer money for a variety of federal projects, and even those that do not are still benefiting from the increasing spending power of local residentsemployed through government money. The same goes for the smaller employers, like restaurants, gyms, shops, and dry cleaners that serve the growing professional-class work force in the area.

The contractors also tend to earn much more than their public payroll counterparts, which helps drive up local household incomes. Today, of the 50 most populous metropolitan areas in the country, the Washington area has one of the highest concentrations of high-income households. The Washington area also dominates the list of counties with the highest median household incomes.

National security contractors are not the only local residents getting rich as a result of government policy: in recent years, the stimulus package and other new laws and regulations (like the Affordable Care Act) and proposed laws (like tax reform) have sustained and improved the careers of lobbyists, lawyers and consultants.

¶ David Brooks probably understands organized money as well as anybody — and, I suspect, is well paid never, ever to discuss it. His Op-Ed piece about Edward Snowden completely overlooks the problematic nature of letting Booz Allen do the nation’s snooping; he goes so far as to call Snowden a public servant — in italics, no less. It will probably take a few months to sound the bottom of Brooks’s disingenuous tirade against Snowden’s alleged lapse of personal responsibility; for the moment, I’m almost paralyzed by the audacity of his echoing the Declaration of Independence’s rhetorical list of grievances against King George.

For society to function well, there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures. By deciding to unilaterally leak secret N.S.A. documents, Snowden has betrayed all of these things.

He betrayed…

He betrayed…

And so on — a flurry of grandiose piffle. “Respect for institutions and deference to common procedures” is of course another way of voicing — while masking — organized money’s interest in more effective education, so long as it produces more efficient workers. There is no Mom-and-apple-pie value that organized money won’t co-opt to its own purposes, or use to veil them. It seems to me that the Snowden case boils down to something very small: Snowden blew the whistle on his employer (not the government, but Booz Allen, extracting nearly a quarter of its income from this kind of work), and that his employer was probably derelict in assuring itself of Snowden’s soundness for the job with which it entrusted him. Let it never be supposed that organized money, when not on the alert, is brighter than a dim bulb.

He betrayed the privacy of us all. If federal security agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods.

As arguments go, the quality of this one is appallingly poor by Brooks’s standards. But notice how the possibility that Booz Allen might have supported lobbying efforts to persuade the government of the vital importance of “vast data sweeps” is completely elided. You almost get the impression that Booz Allen is all that stands between us and tyranny!

It ought to be astonishing that one relatively insignificant analyst can be charged with such monumental betrayal. But in the end it is simply unbelievable. The betrayal occurred long before Edward Snowden was hired.

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