Leaked information outlines U.S. spending on intelligence efforts
The most detailed public disclosure of U.S. intelligence spending in history shows a surprisingly dominant role for the Central Intelligence Agency, a growing emphasis on both defensive and offensive cyberoperations and significant gaps in knowledge about targeted countries despite the sharp increase in spending after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The top secret budget request for the current fiscal year was obtained by The Washington Post from former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden and published in part on its website Thursday. The newspaper said it was withholding most of the 178-page document at the request of government officials because “sensitive details are so pervasive” in its description of spying programs.
The document shows that the agencies’ budget request for the year ending Sept. 30 was $52.6 billion, a small decrease from the 2011 peak of $54.6 billion, which came after a decade of rapid spending growth.
Of that, the biggest share was taken by the CIA, which carries out traditional human spying and intelligence analysis but also now conducts drone strikes against terrorism suspects in Pakistan and Yemen.
The CIA asked for $14.7 billion, significantly outpacing the two big technological spy agencies, the eavesdropping NSA, which sought $10.8 billion, and the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates surveillance satellites, and sought $10.3 billion. Although the document reflects the money requested for the 2013 fiscal year and not what was actually received, the record of past expenditures suggests that real spending this year is probably very close to the amount requested.
The 16 U.S. spy agencies employ about 107,000 people, including some 21,800 working on contract, the document shows. The number does not include tens of thousands of contractors who work in support of the intelligence agencies, in some cases outnumbering actual employees, said Jeffrey T. Richelson, a prolific author on intelligence.
Richelson said he thought the NSA budget figure understated the real cost of its electronic surveillance, because it omits much of the support it receives from military personnel who carry out eavesdropping on its behalf.
The latest disclosure underscores the extraordinary impact of the leaks by Snowden, 30, who has accepted temporary asylum in Russia as he tries to avoid prosecution in the United States on espionage charges.
The documents he took from his job as an NSA contractor and provided to The Guardian, The Post and other publications have set off the most significant public debate in decades about surveillance and data collection by the government.
The parts of the new budget document published by The Post, while containing no major surprises, offers by far the most granular look to date at how the billions that go to intelligence collection are spent. (The Guardian has recently shared some of Snowden’s documents with The New York Times.)
On Thursday, complying with President Barack Obama’s call for greater transparency about government surveillance, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., announced that his office would release more detailed information each year on the number of secret court orders and national security letters demanding data on Americans and the number of people affected.
For decades, administrations from both parties have hidden spy spending in what is popularly known as the “black budget,” asserting that letting adversaries know what the United States is spending would make the country less safe.
Only since 2007 has even the total annual spending on what is called the national intelligence program been made public; another $23 billion is spent each year in a separate military intelligence budget.
Experts estimate that the government has spent about $500 billion on the intelligence agencies in the dozen years since the Sept. 11 attacks. That was a sharp increase in spending over the 1990s but is roughly what the Pentagon is spending this year alone.
The budget request lists five major missions for the intelligence agencies: warning U.S. leaders about threats and instability; battling terrorism; countering weapons proliferation; cyberoperations; and counterespionage.
In a statement introducing the budget request, Clapper wrote that counterterrorism efforts would be focused in particular on Yemen, Somalia and the Horn of Africa and would continue efforts in Libya “to deny terrorists a safe haven.”
Despite the declining budget, Clapper said, the NSA’s eavesdropping would get additional money to use on “foreign leadership targets” as well as to break the encryption used on foreign communications and “exploit Internet traffic.”
The budget called for some $278 million for the NSA’s “corporate partner access,” a reference to payments to Internet and fiber cable companies to provide it with access to their customers’ communications, and more than $48 million to study “coping with information overload,” a longstanding problem for the agency.
Even as Snowden was quietly beginning to collect the documents he would provide to the news media, The Post reported, the budget request emphasized “safeguarding classified networks” and a rigorous “review of high-risk, high-gain applicants and contractors” — an apparent reference to the young computer technicians the agencies have been recruiting. NSA officials said they would carry out “a minimum of 4,000 periodic reinvestigations” of employees to avoid “insider compromise of sensitive information,” the document said.
Steven Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists and has long campaigned for greater budget transparency, said the document “highlights the ascension of the CIA,” which before the Sept. 11 era accounted for about 10 percent of intelligence spending and now approaches a third of the total. President George W. Bush began a rapid expansion of the CIA’s work force in response to the terrorist attacks and in support of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The CIA has a presence in many places where they did not 15 years ago,” Aftergood said.
In addition, it has taken on a major paramilitary role in combating terrorism, notably by carrying out missile strikes from drones in places where the United States is not officially at war.
The document reveals that the CIA spends about $2.5 billion on covert action, including the drone program.
The budget included $4.3 billion for cyberoperations, a relatively new and increasingly central part of national security programs.
That covers both intrusions into foreign computers to gather intelligence and prepare for possible cyberattack, and spending to prevent electronic spying and hacking against the United States. But it is only a fraction of the entire government spending, since the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security account for most cyberspending.
According to The Post, the budget request included a candid account of the remaining holes in the government’s knowledge of the world despite the aggressive spying. The governments of China, Russia and Iran are hard to penetrate, but North Korea may be the hardest target of all, the document suggests.