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‘Farm system’ for covert tech contractors on display in San Antonio

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo


In reality, the large, flashy industry displays lining the aisles of the convention center are a byproduct of the decade-long ramp up in national security infrastructure post 9/11. Formed in 2005, the office of the Director of National Intelligence now watches over some 16 federal agencies, such as the CIA and FBI, that make up our nation’s now-sprawling intelligence community. And private intelligence contractors, including for-hire intelligence analysts, computer techs, and even spies, have reaped the benefits of that boom. A DNI report in 2007 acknowledged that private contractors had begun to form a “key part” of the nation’s overall intelligence workforce, highlighting concerns from then-CIA director Mike Hayden that his agency had become a “farm system for contractors.”

Earlier this year, DNI Director Clapper disclosed that the entire spy network spends around $80 billion annually. But the federal budget crunch could change that, Clapper acknowledged Monday. Clapper said his office had just handed in its “homework assignment,” the agency’s 2012 budget, to the White House, saying it “calls for cuts in the double-digit range, with a B [billions], over 10 years.”

“We’ve been rather luxuriously funded over the last 10 years,” he said, with intelligence agencies rapidly expanding by leaning on contractors. Painfully, Clapper said, new budget constraints mean the intelligence community will have to reduce its private contractor profile in the coming years.

“Not to drop a name, but I did mention to the president once, and he agreed, that this oncoming challenge of reducing our budget rationally is kind of the litmus test for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” Clapper said.

For many of those industries lining this convention center’s halls with displays touting their interior surveillance systems, biometrics systems, virtualized imagery processors, and thermal imaging systems that could mean a slow transition into “adjacent markets,” like local and state police, emergency responders, and border patrol.

One such operation, largely classified and available only to the military until this year, is Science Applications International Corporation’s system for seeing through walls. Its IBISS, or Integrated Building Interior Surveillance System, uses “ground-based and airborne through-wall radar sensors to reconstruct the interior structure and contents of a building” that can be displayed on any portable device — in the future, possibly even smartphones. According to Newsweek national security correspondent Eli Lake, the company’s currently shopping the tech to local police stations and fire departments, hoping to expand its footprint into other markets.

Or take Boeing’s new “Human Geography” technology, which the company displayed Monday inside GEOINT’s exhibition hall, providing targeted community data broken down by categories like political ideology, ethnicity, “cultural habits,” language, education attainment, and healthcare to give analysts a “holistic understanding of nations and region,” according to Boeing Intelligence Systems Group Vice President Dewey Houck.

Coming soon to a police department near you? •

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* Originally identified as the National Security Administration.

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