The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.
That's the opening sentence to the first story in a revealing series Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William M. Arkin unleashed this past week about this country's runaway spending, lack of oversight and accountability and extraordinary growth in private sector outsourcing of intelligence gathering and related military operations since 9/11. • The series naturally focuses on the multiplying, richly funded, alphabet labyrinth of clandestine CIA, NSA, DoD and Department of Homeland Security agencies in and around Washington, D.C. • But the pace of outsourcing and privatization of the counterterrorism effort reported by the Post — it estimates out of 854,000 people with top-secret clearance, 265,000 are contractors — includes identifying 1,931 companies that perform work at the top-secret level. Tampa Bay is home to a number of these firms, privately run and secretive businesses that by an large have run under the radar in recent years.
"Most are thriving even as the rest of the United States struggles with bankruptcies, unemployment and foreclosures," the Post series states.
These are businesses that rarely publicize their existence and do not advertise except to recruit more employees with "special" skills and, of course, national or military security clearances. They are typically run by ex-military or former intelligence types but are bolstered by technology specialists, including those most necessary: the experts at handling the intricacies of government contracts.
Among the Post's database of 1,931 such firms nationwide, we're taking a peek at the 24 that are headquartered in the greater Tampa Bay area. They range from a small, 2-year-old Tampa firm called Lukos — ancient Greek for "wolf" — that provides support services to the U.S. Special Operations Command, which we also know as USSOCOM, to North Redington Beach's 7-year-old Espial Services, with skills that include supporting "Joint Psychological Operations."
Of those 24, 18 were established in 2001 or since then. Nine of those 18 are 5 years or younger.
The vast majority of the 24 have well under 100 employees apiece and many only a handful.
More than half of the 24 have revenues, according to Post estimates, of less than $100 million, but we lack sales information on 10 of the 24. (See the table on the back page for more details.)
Most of the 24 firms are involved in some way with IT — information technology, which these days is the bread and butter of a high-tech intelligence and military world.
The bulk of them are based here, of course, because Tampa is home to MacDill Air Force Base and, more to the point, USSOCOM. But the firms are also here because, as private businesses seeking growth and profits, they have followed the money. This is a massive concentration of federal dollars committed to military and intelligence operations.
USSOCOM has a very specific mission:
"Provide fully capable Special Operations Forces to defend the United States and its interests. Synchronize planning of global operations against terrorist networks."
To do that, in the nearly nine-year wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and amid military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and, yes, special ops in Pakistan, Tampa's military operations rely heavily on these local firms and hundreds of others — including gigantic defense companies like General Dynamics, Lockheed and Raytheon — scattered across the country. The special accumulation of high-tech command and control skills, data management and past military experience are now woven deeply into the military and counterterrorism fabric of this country.
As the Post series notes, the privatization of national security work has been made possible by a nine-year "gusher" of money, as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently described national security spending since 9/11.
A lot of that money is going to the private sector. As the Post reported, private contractors made up 29 percent of the workforce in the intelligence agencies but cost the equivalent of 49 percent of their personnel budgets.
Most of the private firms with security clearances are so-called "veteran owned" or "service disabled veteran owned" small businesses. By federal procurement laws, that means large government contractors are required to subcontract portions of their business out to such entities, thus all but assuring business opportunities with the intelligence and military communities.
At Brown Security Group in St. Petersburg, formed in 2002, the firm touts employees who are graduates of the CIA's "Field Tradecraft Course" and other employees who provided "executive protection to the former Director of Central Intelligence, Mr. George Tenet."
At Advanced C4 Solutions, a telecommunications firm started in 2002 in Tampa, CEO and West Point graduate Hugh Campbell was a communications officer in special operations.
And at Tampa's Calhoun International, just five years old, the firm says it works at assessing "existing Cyberspace capabilities and developing the products necessary to assist in the formation of future US Army Cyberspace requirements." In other words, Calhoun's helping to defend the country from attack over the Internet and other digital networks.
Now try to imagine: What are the other 1,907 firms out there doing that are cleared to perform at the top-secret level? How much will they be paid? And who, if anybody, in charge will ever consider if they are really contributing to the security of the United States?
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]