By Joe Mathieu, WBZ NewsRadio 1030

BOSTON (CBS) – As we learn more about the man who leaked word of the government’s secret surveillance programs, you may be surprised to learn how many other private contractors we are employing with top secret security clearance.

We pay them to do everything from handling our private information to helping fight our wars.

They’ve come with their share of controversy – particularly after 9-11 – when the U.S. government went on a contractor hiring spree. At the time we spent billions of dollars on firms like Haliburton and Blackwater which became the two poster children for questionable contractors.

Enter Edward Snowden – a high school drop-out and computer whiz-kid that got a GED and a security clearance.

One of a staggering number of civilians to have that privilege.

Try more than 480,000 as of 2012, according to government statistics requested by Congress.

These contractors work for agencies including the CIA, the NSA, the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon.

And as the conversation pivots from outrage over these surveillance programs to whether Snowden did something to jeopardize our security, some people will think of him a traitor. Others will call him a hero.

Remember, just because this guy broke the law – and he could have done some real damage – many Americans are still glad to have the information Snowden supplied. They want to know if they’re being watched by their government.

And like Wikileaks-founder Julian Assange, Snowden will always have supporters – for better or worse – because of what he did.

You can follow Joe on Twitter @JoeMathieuWBZ.


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