Snowden Reveals Spy Agencies' $53B 'Black Budget'

We spend vast sums, still have critical intelligence gaps
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2013 2:21 PM CDT
Snowden Reveals 'Black Budget' of Spy Agencies
A file photo provided by the Guardian newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden.   (AP Photo/The Guardian, File)

The US has budgeted $52.6 billion on its intelligence operations this year, according to classified documents Edward Snowden leaked to the Washington Post. Yet those operations are, by their own assessment, doing a less-than-spectacular job on a host of critical intelligence questions. Here are some highlights of the Post 's analysis of the so-called "black budget."

  • If you add in another $23 billion devoted to military intelligence programs, the US now spends more on intelligence than it is estimated to have spent at the height of the Cold War.
  • The CIA has surged past the NSA to become the priciest agency, requesting $14.7 billion in 2013 compared to the NSA's $10.8 billion. That's in part because the CIA has reinvented itself since 9/11 into a paramilitary organization. Of the $4.9 billion spy agencies spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, half came from the CIA.
  • The intelligence committee rates itself in the budget, saying that in 2011 it made "moderate progress" on only 38 of its 50 top counterterrorism gaps.
  • It acknowledged a host of other critical gaps in US knowledge as well, including the security surrounding Pakistan and North Korea's nuclear programs, the capabilities of China's new aircraft, and biological and chemical weapons in Russia, Pakistan, and in general.
  • US intelligence is particularly perplexed by the threat of home-grown terrorists. The report, written a year before the Boston Marathon bombings, calls it one of "the more challenging intelligence gaps."
  • Israel appears on the list of countries that counterintelligence operations are "strategically focused against," alongside more expected names like Iran, China, Russia, and Cuba.
  • The NSA and CIA are expanding aggressively into "offensive cyber operations" designed to steal information from and sabotage foreign computer networks.
  • Indeed, the budget details so many sensitive methods and cutting-edge techniques that the Post has posted only a general overview of it, which you can see here.

Former House Intelligence Committee chairman Lee Hamilton praised the leak as important, saying it represents the public's first real look at the cost of the post-9/11 intelligence buildup. "Much of the work that the intelligence community does has a profound impact on the life of ordinary Americans, and they ought not to be excluded from the process," Hamilton argues. (Read more Edward Snowden stories.)

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