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Opinion: Outsourcing intelligence work is a slippery slope

The CIA still hires a lot of private contractors. How many is too many? And where will it stop?

“Blackwater,” so sinisterly named, is only the most famous of the private security contractors. It has changed its name to “Xe,” as if assuming an alias would provide a new cloak to hide its dagger. I can remember being told when I arrived in Baghdad in the autumn of 2005 that these private contractors were trigger happy, were not supervised as were normal soldiers and could literally get away with murder. Indeed, Blackwater guards killed 17 unarmed Iraqis in 2007, which got the firm in trouble. It lost its contract to protect the State Department officials in Iraq.

But once having kicked the firm out the front door, the State Department appears to have hired some of them back through the side door.

What are the permissible limits of outsourcing? The danger comes when the private contractors are not under the same discipline and control that federal employees would be under. In a sense the United States has long been outsourcing interrogation when it sends terrorist suspects to countries such as Egypt to be treated more roughly than our laws would permit. The euphemism, “extraordinary rendition,” has become part of the language. With the intelligence services so heavily outsourcing, can outsourcing of entire wars be far behind? France used to outsource its colonial wars. The storied French Foreign Legion, made up of foreign soldiers but officered by Frenchmen, fought in Africa and in Asia to maintain the French empire. After World War II, there were many Germans in the Legion, many of whom had actually fought against France only a few years before. After 1956, and the failed Hungarian Revolution, there was an influx of Hungarians. One hopes there was always a supply of Anglo-Saxons with broken hearts and unhappy love affairs to keep up tradition.

The tradition was that no one looked into your past, and that after a five-year term you could have French citizenship. Given the number of soldiers in the American army who are not yet citizens, I often wondered if an American Foreign Legion, with full citizenship rights at a tour’s end, might one day be seen as the answer to the Army’s recruiting problems.