Snowden’s Employer Has Philanthropic Ties and Espionage Roots

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June 17, 2013; CorpWatch

The actions of Edward Snowden, the Booz Allen Hamilton employee who leaked information about the National Security Agency’s extensive global electronic surveillance activities, have provoked reactions both contentious and divisive. As with Bradley Manning, the soldier charged with leaking classified information to Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, the press and the public have been occupied by trying to understand Snowden’s motivations and future agenda.

Writing for CorpWatch, Pratap Chatterjee raises a very different issue: the roles and agendas of military and intelligence contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton, which he says collectively account for 70 percent of the $52 billion U.S. intelligence budget. As Chatterjee points out, “It is no longer possible to determine the difference between employees of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the employees of companies such as Booz Allen, who have integrated to the extent that they slip from one role in industry to another in government, cross-promoting each other and self-dealing in ways that make the fabled revolving door redundant, if not completely disorienting.” Snowden, as has been reported elsewhere, says he worked for the CIA before joining Booz Allen.

As examples, Chatterjee notes that former CIA director R. James Woolsey was a big promoter of “integrating domestic and foreign spying efforts to track ‘terrorists’” in 2004, while he was a senior vice president of Booz Allen. In 2007, retired Vice Admiral Michael McConnell was hired as the second head of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, coming to that job from his position as senior VP of Booz Allen, which he reclaimed after leaving office in 2009. Chatterjee says that the current “intelligence czar,” retired Lt. General James Clapper, was appointed in 2009 from his position as yet another VP of Booz Allen. Chatterjee guesses that one-fourth of Booz Allen’s $5.86 billion revenues come from intelligence contracts. Though investigative journalist Tim Shorrock covered the Booz Allen/government intelligence revolving-door story some years ago, it’s useful to hear Chatterjee’s reminder to look at more than simply Snowden.

With nearly $6 billion in revenues, we might guess that Booz Allen deploys some of its largesse in the world of philanthropy. According to the Foundation Center, Booz Allen’s corporate giving program is direct corporate giving, rather than through a corporate foundation, and doesn’t accept unsolicited applications. Like all big corporations, Booz Allen has a corporate social responsibility agenda, which is characterized as “driven by our employees’ passion for making a positive and sustainable impact on our communities—an impact that goes beyond financial support.” The program seems to be one of following employees’ priorities: “Once our employees make a personal commitment to serve socially responsible causes, the firm backs them up with corporate resources.”

One mechanism is Booz Allen’s Volunteer Service Grants, which are made available to nonprofits that receive 40 hours of an employee’s volunteer time (apparently 40 hours per year). Another is the company’s “Missions That Matter” program, which seems to be a means of deploying Booz Allen consultants on significant public policy issues, most of them related to Booz Allen’s business lines, such as cyber security and military support systems. However, within the latter are Booz Allen-supported programs for assisting veterans, like the public awareness campaign to encourage veterans to seek help after returning stateside. Booz Allen’s corporate social responsibility programs seem to run parallel to current and emerging lines of Booz Allen business practice, including the kinds of cyber-intelligence that give rise to the skills and knowledge of someone like Snowden.

Although the social responsibility commentary on the Booz Allen website suggests an employee-focused kind of cash and in-kind (time) giving strategy, the corporation plays on a larger level as well. It sends a regular contingent of high-level executives to the Clinton Global Initiative and is a sponsor of the Clinton Global Initiative University Day of Service, which last year worked on projects led by Rebuilding Together (formerly Christmas in April) and the USO. Former President Clinton has long proven quite ecumenical in terms of the range of individual and corporate donors he is willing to solicit for CGI projects. Booz Allen has also made a commitment to the “A Billion + Change” initiative of the Case Foundation, Points of Light, and the Corporation for National and Community Service, meant to attract pro bono assistance from national and international corporations “to help nonprofits address critical community priorities at home and around the world.”

No wonder Snowden showed such public spirit in wanting to make the NSA’s program widely known as a potential violation of the Fourth Amendment—look at his employer’s social responsibility strategy! Except that corporations rarely if ever engage in corporate social responsibility just to be good corporate citizens. A top Booz Allen consultant, Beth Kytle, co-authored a paper on corporate social responsibility a few years ago that outlined a distinctive perspective on CSR that sounds compatible with Booz Allen’s business priorities:

“The emergence of new forms of social risk [for global corporations] cannot be mitigated through traditional means…Risk management by global companies should be adapted to include corporate social responsibility programs. CSR provides the framework and principles for stakeholder engagement, supplies a wealth of intelligence on emerging and current social issues/groups to support the corporate risk agenda, and ultimately serves as a countermeasure for social risk…The linkage of CSR to core business processes can improve a company’s overall approach to risk management by improving strategic intelligence and knowledge of social issues/groups.”

In light of Snowden and the NSA revelations, it gives a new meaning to Booz Allen’s approach to corporate social responsibility. One might have guessed that CSR served as a means of corporate intelligence gathering, but given Chatterjee’s observations, the question now about Booz Allen is, intelligence for whom and for what purposes?—Rick Cohen

  • Pratap Chatterjee

    Thanks Rick for an insightful reflection on corporate philanthropy – you raise important questions that go beyond my original discussion of conflicts of interest, lobbying for contracts and shoddy work by Booz Allen. And thanks for linking to our article Y