The Buzz

Private Spies

It turns out that Uncle Sam isn't the only one watching out for terrorists, enemy agents, saboteurs, bombers, kidnappers and dangerous trends. Sam Walton's folks are, too. The world's largest company has begun competing for spying talent.

Wal-Mart, with its 1.7 million em-ployees and more than 6,000 stores in 16 countries, is putting together its own corporate CIA, the Analytical Research Center, at company headquarters in tiny Bentonville, Ark. The center is part of the retailer's global security division, which is headed by former CIA and FBI officer Kenneth Senser. The center is led by David Harrison, formerly of the Border Patrol, Justice Department, 82nd Airborne and Army Special Operations.

Early this year, the center began advertising for threat analysts on Web sites for intelligence and law enforcement officers. On March 8, for example, Wal-Mart advertised on the site of the International Association of Crime Analysts. According to the job description, "threat analysts provide an objective perspective to assist key corporate leadership in critical decision-making involving corporate reputation and image, operations, safety and security concerns, and emerging world events."

Harrison's center will gather information about violence and threats against Wal-Mart and perform background checks on new employees. It no doubt also will mine the huge database of personal information the store maintains on all current and former employees, 47 million Sam's Club members, anyone who files a claim against the company or uses its pharmacies, as well as the vehicle identification numbers, license plate numbers and home addresses of those who get their oil changed at Wal-Mart.

The store also tracks those who buy propane tanks or more than three prepaid cell phones, Harrison told Government Security News in February.

Of Wal-Mart's data repository, he said: "If a [Joint Terrorism Task Force] comes to us and wants to look at it, I believe we would cooperate."

Cautionary Tales

The Defense Department Office of General Counsel is hoping to scare employees straight with a compendium of ethical violations and punishments. The "Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure" came out in April and contains 133 pages of tales of woe.

"Our goal is to provide DoD personnel with real examples of federal employees who have intentionally or unwittingly violated the standards of conduct," the introduction says. "Some cases are humorous, some sad and all are real. . . ."Please pay particular attention to the multiple jail and probation sentences, fines, employment terminations and other sanctions that were taken as a result of these ethical failures," it continues.

Some examples of what to avoid:

  • An offshore safety inspector found government equipment in poor repair and referred the fixes to his brother-in-law's repair shop. Rig operators ratted him out to the FBI. For each referral, the brother-in-law was procuring "a lady of dubious morals" for the inspector. At trial, the inspector claimed he hadn't received a "thing of value" for the referrals. "The judge didn't buy it-and neither did his wife."
  • A Social Security Administration employee and her husband approached people having trouble qualifying for Supplemental Social Security benefits and offered to have the benefits reinstated or to complete paperwork. Then, they demanded payment. Each wound up repaying $23,809.33 and they served 46 month- and 30-month sentences, respectively, with three years' probation.
  • Just before a contract award, a bureau director was treated to dinner by one of the competing firms. The wine alone cost $100 a bottle. Too bad a reporter from The Washington Post was seated within earshot. The front-page story in the next day's paper prompted a swift resignation.

Covert Contractors

The moral of this story: Watch what you put on PowerPoint.

It appeared that a bit too much was revealed in a May 25 presentation, "Procuring the Future: 21st Century [Intelligence Community] Acquisition," at a Defense Intelligence Agency conference in Colorado by Terri Everett, senior procurement executive in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Among her slides was one indicating that 70 percent of the total intelligence budget is paid to contractors. Another displayed a bar graph showing the rising trend in awards. The actual dollar amounts were omitted because they are classified, as is the amount of the intelligence budget. Nevertheless, the dollar amounts were visible to Web viewers: Double-clicking on the bar chart produced a spread sheet with the raw data.

What really excited spy agency watchers was the belief that by extrapolating from the contract award amounts using the 70 percent figure, they could determine the secret size of the intelligence budget. For example, if the contract award amount for fiscal 2005, $42 billion, is 70 percent of the intelligence budget, then the total is $60 billion, or 25 percent more than had been believed.

The DNI's office was quick to respond to bloggers and news outlets that picked up on the coincidence. "As explained during the presentation, the specific bar graphs on the slides and their underlying data were based on a small, anecdotal sample of a portion of intelligence community contracting activities," DNI Acting Director of Public Affairs Ellen Cioccio said in a June 19 statement. Could she mean that intelligence agencies spent more than $42 billion with contractors in fiscal 2005, thus making the intelligence budget even larger than $60 million?

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