The news: The furor surrounding the National Security Agency’s domestic and foreign surveillance has just cost an American company $4.5 billion. Or at least that’s how it would appear.
Wednesday, December 18, Brazil defense officials announced the country would award its coveted 10-year contract to build 36 new fighter jets to Swedish company Saab – instead of the American Boeing, which had long been considered the favorite to win the contract.
What was the reason for the surprising turn to Saab? According to an anonymous Brazilian government source, “The NSA problem ruined it for the Americans.”
The backstory: The revelations of NSA spying abroad have caused considerable friction between the United States and Brazil.
After it came out that the U.S. was spying on foreign leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, President Barack Obama acted quickly to smooth things over: “We will work with their teams to resolve what is a source of tension,” he said. But it wasn’t enough. Rousseff remained skeptical and wary of the U.S., so much so that she eventually cancelled a diplomatic visit to Washington, D.C.
All in all, it’s been a rough week for the NSA (though when hasn’t it lately?). The news of the botched deal for Boeing comes just days after a federal judge ruled the NSA’s domestic surveillance unconstitutional. It seems that no one – domestic of foreign – likes being spied on.
Why this matters: This is a very real, quantifiable cost of the NSA surveillance leaks. A $4.5 billion contract is no joke, and Boeing likely won’t take this loss lightly.
What’s more is that Boeing is quite the power player in the U.S. federal government. It’s routinely listed near the top of federal contractors. In 2009, it had almost $20 billion in contract work from the federal government, second only to Lockheed Martin. It spends millions of dollars each year on political lobbying and campaign contributions. If it really wanted to, it could throw around its weight and put some serious pressure on certain elected officials and federal employees.
And now, it just might want to. Brazil isn’t alone in feeling spurned by the NSA’s international surveillance – this $4.5 billion might not be the only one Boeing loses thanks to friction between the U.S. and other countries. And if this is any indication, the federal government might soon have a lot of pressure from private corporations to remedy its NSA tensions sooner rather than later. Because if there’s one thing that could spur reform, it’s billions of dollars.