In one case, these active-duty officers moonlighted at a hedge-fund consulting firm that wanted to tap their expertise in “deception detection,” the highly specialized art of telling when executives may be lying based on clues in a conversation.
The never-before-revealed policy comes to light as the CIA and other intelligence agencies are once again under fire for failing to “connect the dots,” this time in the Christmas Day bombing plot on Northwest Flight 253.
But sources familiar with the CIA’s moonlighting policy defend it as a vital tool to prevent brain-drain at Langley, which has seen an exodus of highly trained, badly needed intelligence officers to the private sector, where they can easily double or even triple their government salaries. The policy gives agents a chance to earn more while still staying on the government payroll.
A government official familiar with the policy insists it doesn’t impede the CIA’s work on critical national security investigations. This official said CIA officers who want to participate in it must first submit a detailed explanation of the type of work involved and get permission from higher-ups within the agency.
“If any officer requests permission for outside employment, those requests are reviewed not just for legality, but for propriety,” CIA spokesman George Little told POLITICO.
There is much about the policy that is unclear, including how many officers have availed themselves of it, how long it has been in place and what types of outside employment have been allowed. The CIA declined to provide additional details.
Generally, federal employees across the vast government work force are allowed to moonlight in the private sector, but under tight guidelines, that can vary from agency to agency, according to the federal Office of Government Ethics.
“In general, for most nonpolitical employees, they may engage in outside employment, but there are some restrictions,” said Elaine Newton, an attorney at the Office of Government Ethics. She explained that agencies throughout the federal government set their own policies on outside employment, and that they all typically require that the employment not represent a conflict of interest with the employee’s federal job and that the employee have written approval before taking on the work.
But the close ties between active-duty and retired CIA officers at one consulting company show the degree to which CIA-style intelligence gathering techniques have been employed by hedge funds and financial institutions in the global economy.
The firm is called Business Intelligence Advisors, and it is based in Boston. BIA was founded and is staffed by a number of retired CIA officers, and it specializes in the arcane field of “deception detection.” BIA’s clients have included Goldman Sachs and the enormous hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors, according to spokesmen for both firms.