In August the FBI arrested Harold T. Martin III for security violations—most notably, walking out of the NSA facility at Fort Meade, Maryland, with reams of classified documents and government property. How much? The New York Times describes it as a “staggering quantity of highly classified material.”

Coincidentally, in early August—about the time the FBI was kicking in Martin’s door—I wrote about contracted intelligence as a symptom of a much larger problem. The following month, I took a look at the US Air Force’s growing reliance on drone pilots as a symptom of unbalanced supply and demand as we move toward the 16th year of this, our longest war.

There was Edward Snowden. Now, Hal Martin. And while they have most recently raised the question of clearances to the fore, worries about intelligence contracting oversight.

Spies for Hire

Back in June 2007, Salon contributor Tim Shorrock wrote, “More than five years into the global ‘war on terror,’ spying has become one of the fastest-growing private industries in the United States. . . . Intelligence experts, and even the government itself, have warned of a critical lack of oversight for the booming intelligence business.”

Between 1995 and 2005, the value of intel contracts increased by 57 percent. Those larger investments, however, have proven problematic. Lines are blurred because, in part, we expect our national security to be provided by our government proper. The lines are further blurred because of the relationship between contractors and government leaders, as well.  Those sorts of relationships are, by nature, conflicts of interest, and they inevitably cause problems, real or simply perceived.

Now, some may argue that it’s no big deal. It’s just a good, healthy, defense-based free-market economy during a time of war. Perhaps. If Snowden’s betrayal was damaging, it is a problem. If Hal Martin’s breach is damaging—even to the credibility and confidence of our spy agencies, not to mention the contracting companies supplying them—it’s a problem.

As we continue to expand and expand and expand operations against an enemy that’s everywhere all the time, we can expect more problems. Now it’s up to the intelligence community to find the right oversight.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.