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Privatization of Intelligence

The nature and intensity of intelligence have changed during the last decades in response to a higher security challenge because of worldwide terrorism growth. The approach of outsourcing led to an increase in the number of non-state actors that are involved in the intelligence process. Currently, the private and public sectors deal with intelligence work available in the US in collaboration. It seems that times, when intelligence activities were the prerogative of national agencies, are over. The main difference between state-owned and private actors lies in the legislation gap that sees the private sector less regulated by the government. This fact contributed to a substantial brain drain and budget allocation to private intelligence agencies (PIAs). Despite raising concerns regarding civil liberty and public policy, the private sector currently enjoys superiority over Intelligence Community members in terms of information acquisition speed and advanced technologies.

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Currently, the United States has a mixture of national security intelligence, usually conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and private intelligence corporations. In general, PIA is a non-governmental institution that performs the collection, assessment, and processing of specific information using different approaches, including public sources analysis and collaboration with other organizations (Aytekin, 2018). Booz Allen Hamilton, Esoteric LTD, and the Black Cube are representatives of private intelligence contractors offering their services both for states and individuals. Its personnel usually consists of former cyber professionals, governmental agents; hence, qualified staff and effective top-down management are one of PIAs’ main advantages.

The shift towards privatization of sensitive information collection was intensified in the post 9/11 period when intelligence forces rallied to face an increased threat of terrorism. Already in 2005, more than 40 billion dollars (70% of the US intelligence budget) were dedicated to private contractors (Keefe, 2010). By 2008, the private sector and national agencies became so intervened that they established a symbiotic relationship. Many essential activities of the particular industry remain outsourced to private companies due to its significant convenience in legal terms. These private actors are not under constant parliamentary and judicial oversight; thus, their staff fulfills tasks that national agencies are restricted from doing or require lengthy procedures under federal regulations (Krishnan, 2011). What is more critical, PIAs are not subject to bureaucratic counterintelligence protocols that enable instant information sharing (Torres-Baches, 2017). The relationship between stakeholders (government) and the private sector is more open and flexible, whereby analysts enjoy more freedom, to be honest with decision-makers.

Private companies are more dynamic in terms of technology and faster complete their assignments due to higher intelligence acquisition speed. According to Aytekin (2018), Pia’s long-term success depends on its performance as the private sector is profit-driven. Hence, such organizations are motivated to apply innovative techniques of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data products that abandon traditional intelligence practices. PIAs evolved as industry leaders that change the intelligence cycle nature and thrive in using such sources as Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) and Social Media Intelligence (SMI).

Such firms are challenged by market forces to process information and draw conclusions from collected data as quickly as possible. To respond to this challenge, they incorporate technological advancements starting with off-the-shelf solutions and extending to sophisticated tools for merging information. For instance, artificial intelligence, big data, data management platforms, and advanced real-time graphical tools are currently used by PIAs. The majority of them enjoy superiority over national agencies in terms of technology and constant improvement of techniques.

To conclude, further privatization of intelligence may lead to overall quality improvement of intelligence practices. The private sector and PIA’s are more progressive and dynamic in terms of advanced technology application. The new era of intelligence sees private analysts, who are free from excessive bureaucracy, as the main gatekeepers of information. Professional and experienced personnel, together with modern techniques, enables them to operate faster than others. In the post-COVID-19 era, when the government sector is static and weakened, intelligence privatization and outsourcing may be an answer to emerging security issues.


Aytekin, M. (2018). The privatization of intelligence: The Black Cube case. Insamer. Web.

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Keefe, P. R. (2010). Privatized spying: the emerging intelligence industry. In L. K. Jonson (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of national security intelligence (pp. 296-310). Oxford University Press.

Krishnan, A. (2011). The future of US intelligence outsourcing. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 18(1), 195-211.

Torres-Baches, E. R. (2017). Welcoming the new age of intelligence. Journal of Mediterranean and Balkan Intelligence, 10(2), 45-58.

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