The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus, may soon prove to be more than great entertainment. It may also turn out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.
Throughout the movie, wealthy Romans assume they can buy anything–or anyone. When seeking a favor, Marcus Licinius Crassus (Laurence Oliver) says bluntly: “Name your price.”
Today, “Name your price” has become the password for entry into America’s Intelligence community.
Althugh not portrayed in Spartacus, one of the reasons for the fall of the Roman empire lay in its reliance on foreign mercenaries.
Roman citizens, who had for centuries manned their city’s legions, decided to outsource these hardships and dangers to hired soldiers from Germany and Gaul (now France).
Although Germans and Gauls had proven capable fighters when defending their own countries, they proved highly unrelible as paid mercenaries.
Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, drew heavily on ancient history for his examples of how liberty could best be preserved within a republic.
Fully aware of the Romans’ disastrous experience with mercenaries, Machiavelli believed that a nation’s army should be driven by patriotism, not greed. Speaking of mercenaries, he warned:
“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends, among enemies they are cowards.”
Americans–generally disdainful of history–have blatantly ignored both the examples of history and the counsel of Machiavelli. To their own peril.
Mark Mazzetti, author of the bestselling The Way of the Knife, chronicles how the CIA has been transformed from a primarily fact-finding agency into a terrorist-killing one.
Along with this transformation has come a dangerous dependency on private contractors to supply information that government agents used to dig up for themselves.
America’s defense and Intelligence industries, writes Mazzetti, once spread across the country, have relocated to the Washington area.
They want to be close to “the customer”: The National Security Agency, the Pentagon, the CIA and an array of other Intelligence agencies.
The U.S. Navy SEALS raid that killed Osama bin Laden has been the subject of books, documentaries and even an Oscar-nominated movie: “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Almost unknown by comparison is a program the CIA developed with Blackwater, a private security company, to locate and assassinate Islamic terrorists.
“We were building a unilateral, unattributable capability,” Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater, said in an interview. “If it went bad, we weren’t expecting the [CIA] chief of station, the ambassador or anyone to bail us out.”
But the program never got past the planning stage. Senior CIA officials feared the agency would not be able to permanently hide its own role in the effort.
“The more you outsource an operation,” said a CIA official, “the more deniable it becomes. But you’re also giving up control of the operation. And if that guy screws up, it’s still your fault.”
Increased reliance on “outsourcing” has created a “brain-drain” within the Intelligence community. Jobs with private security companies usually pay 50% more than government jobs.
Many employees at the CIA, NSA and other Intelligence agencies leave government service–and then return to it as private contractors earning far higher salaries.
Many within the Intelligence community fear that too much Intelligence work has been outsourced and the government has effectively lost control of its own information channels.
And, as always with the hiring of mercenaries, there is an even more basic fear: How fully can they be trusted?
“There’s an inevitable tension as to where the contractor’s loyalties lie,” said Jeffrey Smith, a former general counsel for the CIA. “Do they lie with the flag? Or do they lie with the bottom line?”
Yet another concern: How much can Intelligence agencies count on private contractors to effectively screen the people they hire?
Edward Snowden, it should be remembered, was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting/security firm. It was through this company that Snowden gained access to a treasury of NSA secrets.
In March 2007, the Bush administration revealed that it paid 70% of its intelligence budget to private security contractors. That remains the case today–and the Intelligence budget for 2012 was $75.4 billion.
A 2010 investigative series by the Washington Post found that “1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the country.”
Jesus never served as a spy or soldier. But he clearly understood a truth too many officials within the American Intelligence community have forgotten:
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”