KEEPING AN EYE ON THE SPIES: Tahoe author wraps up book on outsourcing of U.S. spy work
After years of chasing major political and business stories around the globe, journalist and author Tim Shorrock settled into a family cabin on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe last winter to finish his latest book.
Sitting down to lunch Thursday at a West Shore restaurant, Shorrock is relaxing in between the book signings and interviews that have had him criss-crossing the nation over the last month. His mop of brown hair, jeans-and-a-T-shirt attire, and warm smile framed by a mustache and soul patch seem youthful for his 50-some-odd years of age.
His T-shirt features the eye of providence as seen on the back of a dollar bill ” but with the banner “We are always watching” scrawled across it.
The motto sums up Shorrock’s lifetime of digging into the world of government and business ” a career that most recently culminated in his new book “Spies for Hire, The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing,” which details private industry’s role in America’s intelligence agencies.
The book has received national attention, reviewed across the nation in newspapers such as the Washington Post and radio programs including National Public Radio.
“I was very involved in the anti-war movement during Vietnam and as a result I and a lot of other people began looking at power structures and the arms industry,” Shorrock said. “I wanted to use journalism as a way to dig up stuff the public should know about, and I learned to write fairly.”
Occasionally stopping to pick at his salad, Shorrock’s brow lightly furrowed and his eyes closed as he accessed the depths of his research, mentally turning the pages of his pertinent articles and recent book.
“The government has been very opaque about telling the public, and even congress, about private contractors in intelligence,” Shorrock said.
As the nation’s eyes were opened to the scandals surrounding Abu Ghraib and Blackwater, Shorrock had already been shining a light onto the corporate take-over of responsibilities traditionally held by the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and others.
With little information available, congress turned to Shorrock’s articles and book to learn the extent to which the private sector had taken over government duties, Shorrock said.
What Shorrock and, in turn, Congress learned was that 70 percent ” about $45 to $50 billion ” of the U.S. government’s intelligence $60 billion budget now goes to private corporations, he said.
“The intelligence budget was cut in the 90s after the cold war,” Shorrock said. “And when things like Bosnia, Haiti, North Korea, and Al Qaeda came up rather than building up the government ranks they went to the private sector.”
And while proponents of privatization often say the corporate world can accomplish goals more efficiency without government bureaucracy, Shorrock said the U.S. government is now paying up to three times as much to private industry as they would have paid their own employees for the same work.
“It became out of control to the point that some companies were recruiting in the CIA cafeteria, saying ‘come work for us and make double your salary,'” Shorrock said.
Shorrock said he worried about accountability and motives when sensitive work for national security is being done for profit, as companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman could write an intelligence report suggesting the need for more satellites with one hand, then build them with the other.
Despite what he discovered and wrote about, Shorrock said his tempered and balanced approach meant the book didn’t earn him any enemies ” sometimes surprisingly even earning him invitations to speak about national security issues.
“People generally agree with what I wrote, there has been no hostility,” Shorrock said.
But now almost half a year into his stay at Lake Tahoe, it seems the challenges of writing a book took a toll Shorrock’s youthful impetuousness.
Reflecting on time spent both on the book and as a freelance reporter, Shorrock said he was considering a staff position at a news publication, looking for steady pay as his daughter works her way through college.
When asked what issues he’s interested in now, a twinkle came to his eye however, and it seemed his propensity to dig hasn’t been quelled quite yet.
“I’m now looking into the erosion of civil liberties in this country,” Shorrock said. “Who knows, I might do another book.”