ADVICE+DISSENT: Intelligence File Behind the Scene

New spy chief Mike McConnell knows how the shadow intelligence community works.

On Jan. 5, consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton announced that its senior vice president, Mike McConnell, was leaving after more than 10 years to become the new Director of National Intelligence. In light of the fact that the DNI crafts the $45 billion intelligence budget, and McConnell's company is a top intelligence contractor, the immediate question was, "Is this good news for Booz?"

Yes. The company has a formidable footprint in the government intelligence market, and adding one more luminary to the mix doesn't hurt. More than 1,000 former military and intelligence officials reportedly have gone to work for the firm. Three former intelligence agency directors have become executives there. Joan Dempsey, a former CIA deputy director turned Booz VP, once called the consultancy "the shadow intelligence community."

But then, intelligence is hardly the only business where Booz has made a killing. In Government Executive's most recent Top 200 contractors listing, Booz clocked in at No. 17 on the civilian side and No. 29 for defense, with awards totaling almost $2 billion. So, what does McConnell's move mean for a company that, by all accounts, already is so successful?

There are two ways to answer that. The first and perhaps most obvious issue to consider is whether McConnell, who ran the National Security Agency before coming to Booz, will help the company win business. Unless the new DNI plans to follow in the footsteps of the Air Force's Darleen Druyun, he won't be wiring any contracts to his old bosses. But he doesn't really need to. Booz certainly owes part of its rise in the intelligence space to McConnell, but not all of it. In that line of the business, Booz has gained ground supplying consultants-read, warm bodies-to understaffed intelligence agencies. And that's the lens through which you can read the McConnell tea leaves more accurately. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and so the intelligence community's main enemy, the spy budget was pruned back, and with it, the number of analysts. Not until after Sept. 11 was there any push to dramatically increase their rolls, which are still too low for today's workload.

Enter Booz, and companies like it. These body shops provide the technology specialists and intelligence analysts that their clients just don't have in abundance. It can take more than half a decade, on the low end, to turn a green recruit into a decently seasoned analyst. But Booz's pond is stocked with former agency employees, who are trained and, more important, already have the security clearances that agency work demands.

"When you go to places like Booz . . . I think you get the individuals who are the solid base of experience, who have been through careers, who understand these things," says Tim Sample, the president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, an intelligence policy advocacy group where McConnell has served as chairman of the board. "As a contractor," Sample says, "it is to your advantage to hire people who are coming out of government because they [already have security clearances]. . . . You have somebody you can put on the job right away, and it works out for everybody."

When people talk of the "shadow intelligence community," this is what they mean. Surely for some, there's an unpalatable aspect to it, since they might want to believe that patriotism, not profit, drives people to work for their government.

In fact, it's often both. And for better or worse, having people in the seats right now is more important to officials than how they got there. This is the reality in which the intelligence community that McConnell is inheriting finds itself. Good news for Booz? Most certainly. And McConnell understands that as well as anyone.

Shane Harris, a staff correspondent for National Journal, wrote about intelligence and technology at Government Executive for five years.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.