Nightly News   |  June 10, 2013

Intelligence contractors on the rise since 9/11

The demand for private intelligence contractors grew quickly after 9/11, leading to a large number of young, smart hires, many of whom have top secret clearances. Now, intelligence agencies say they could not function effectively without the expertise of these hires. NBC’s Lisa Myers reports.

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>> reporter: foreign secrets. officials say the real whiz kids are kids. they learned computers before they could talk.

>> thank you, andrea. we see many of the intelligence functions carried out, but it raises questions about whether too many contractors are in on the government secrets. to get that part of the story tonight from senior investigative correspondent lisa myers .

>> reporter: most us think intelligence involves spies from the cia, eavesdropping by the supersecret nsa and information gathered by the pentagon. but a huge shadow intelligence community of private contractors, some of them corporations with familiar names. after 9/11, when the government failed to connect the dots, the demand for private intelligence exploded, leading to what a former official called a hiring binge of battalions of young, smart nerds.

>> what once started a process of augmenting and fighting the war on terrorism has become an industrial system, an industrial system that works on profit motive.

>> reporter: near the nsa huge complex in ft. meade, maryland there, are office complexes full of contractors. 5 million host security clearance . 1.4 million top secret . one-third held by private contractor. the check of a job site, monster.com, shows 796 job openings requiring top secret clearances. the current director of national intelligence , james clapper , worked for private contractors between government jobs and predecessor mike mcconnell works for booz allen . many have intelligence or military experience, but others are 20-something technicians like edward snowden.

>> not motivated necessarily by patriotism, not motivated necessarily by a scar of 9/11. this is a job.

>> reporter: while acknowledging the risk, intelligence officials said private contractors are now critical, even indispensable.

>> the intelligence agencies tell me they could not function effectively without the personnel, technology, and expertise of these private contractors.

>> reporter: a delicate balance with the nation's security at stake. lisa myers , nbc news, washington.