Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bush Officials Defend the Use of Intelligence Contractors

Aug. 20, 2009 – 1:03 p.m.

Two former top Bush administration officials Thursday defended using contractors at intelligence agencies, the same day media reports surfaced that the CIA hired the private security firm Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to capture or kill al Qaeda leaders.

Although former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said he would not comment on the New York Times story’s specifics, he noted that under Office of Management and Budget guidance on what constitutes “inherently governmental” activities, intelligence analysis and collection is an area where agencies can hire contractors. Hayden spoke on a panel at the National Press Club.

Going simply on the New York Times story, which said it was unclear whether the contractor, now known as Xe Services LLC, would participate in capturing and killing al Qaeda operatives, Hayden said some of the functions mentioned — planning, training, surveillance — could have been “scooped up” under the definition of intelligence analysis and collection.

Asked afterward whether he would be comfortable asking a contractor to carry out operations, Hayden said, “I don’t know.” He said he would have had to consult with CIA lawyers.

Hayden said there is a perception in some circles that the intelligence community hires contractors when it doesn’t want to take responsibility for an action.

“That’s absolutely not true,” he said. “We have the same moral and legal responsibilities” whether the agency uses contractors or full-time employees.

At the CIA, Hayden said he paid little attention to whether a contractor or full-time employee was doing the work, to the point that when members of Congress asked, he often had to check. His emphasis was on using the “best athlete in the draft” and Washington needed to move away from a “contractor bad, government employee good” dynamic, he said.

Congress legislates how many full-time employees can serve in the intelligence community, so when those numbers are not increased, agencies have no alternative but to turn to contractors, he said.

Hayden said he reduced the use of contractors because those firms were luring CIA personnel to work in the private sector, and the agency was forced to pay more for their services since it still needed their expertise.

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