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Need a job? Private spy business is booming

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The NSA contracts out a lot of its programs, and they pay well for it. (Source: CNN) The NSA contracts out a lot of its programs, and they pay well for it. (Source: CNN)
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(RNN) - Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who leaked information about secret National Security Agency surveillance programs, raised eyebrows not just for his actions, but because he was a high school dropout.

He also didn't finish his military service and claimed he made $200,000 per year working for a government contractor in beautiful Hawaii.

That has led some people to consider getting into the spy business.

If one is looking to get into a growing field, spying is certainly it. The U.S. government is famous for being generous with its defense budget, spending more than the next 10 countries combined, but intelligence gathering has been especially on the upswing. In 1997, the intelligence budget was $26.6 billion. In 2007, spending had nearly doubled to about $50 billion. And by 2010, it had exceeded $80 billion, where it has hovered around since.

But to make the big bucks, one shouldn't work directly for the CIA or NSA, both of which have starting salaries for entry-level positions of about $38,000 to $50,000 per year. Rather, one should work for a private contractor like Booz Allen Hamilton, where Snowden worked.

Despite dropping out of high school and finishing only four months of military service, Snowden has been described as a "master of computers," which likely explain his $200,000 per year salary (or $122,000, according to Booz Allen), but one doesn't need innate wizardly tech skills to make good money at the private intelligence contractor firm.

Booz Allen is a $6 billion company with 24,500 employees and profits of more than $200 million annually, was named one of CNN's "100 Best Companies to Work For" and is known for its generous salaries. A secretary makes an average of $56,700 and the average salary for all employees is close to $100,000. Even the interns make about $20 an hour.

The spy business is also a boon for veterans. With 99 percent of Booz Allen's revenue coming from the federal government's defense budget, Booz Allen pays back the favor by offering jobs to people with military backgrounds, especially officers.

"We are actively seeking Junior Military Officers (JMOs) with between three and eight years of active duty service," Booz Allen says on its website. Although the company requires a BA or BS degree for some jobs, many others do not require a degree. However, eligibility for secret clearance, like what Snowden had, is required for most non-administrative positions.

The pay varies, but few positions pay under $60,000 per year.

Another reason why the private spy business is good is because defense cuts brought on by sequestration have had little impact on the intelligence industry as a whole. Most of the cuts were endured by the FBI, not private contractors.

Of course, it might be worth taking a look at private contractors other than Booz Allen. The company has received a lot of bad press because Snowden was their employee, which has damaged their reputation and put them at risk of losing future government contracts.

The leak has also inspired a potentially damaging lawsuit from the ACLU, speculation that relationships between the US and other countries will weaken because the NSA is spying on their citizens, and fear in about nearly half the US population that the government has gone too far in its surveillance program.

Nevertheless, with an $80 billion a year budget, thousands of private companies who contract with the government, and more than half of Americans being OK with the NSA program, it's likely that the private spy business will be a boon for years to come.

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