Secret 'black budget' reveals intelligence successes, failures
- Article by: Barton Gellman and Greg Miller
- Washington Post
- August 29, 2013 - 8:41 PM
WASHINGTON – U.S. spy agencies have built an intelligence-gathering colossus since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but remain unable to provide critical information to the president on a range of national security threats, according to the government’s top secret budget.
The $52.6 billion “black budget” for fiscal 2013, obtained by the Washington Post from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, maps a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny. Although the government has annually released its overall level of intelligence spending since 2007, it has not divulged how it uses those funds or how it performs against the goals set by the president and Congress.
The 178-page budget summary for the National Intelligence Program details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees.
The summary describes cutting-edge technologies, agent recruiting and ongoing operations. The Washington Post is withholding some information after consultation with U.S. officials who expressed concerns about the risk to intelligence sources and methods.
“Our budgets are classified as they could provide insight for foreign intelligence services to discern our top national priorities, capabilities and sources,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said.
Constellation of spy agencies
Formally known as the Congressional Budget Justification for the National Intelligence Program, the “Top Secret” blueprint represents spending levels proposed to the House and Senate intelligence committees in February 2012. Congress may have made changes before the fiscal year began on Oct 1. Clapper is expected to release the actual total spending figure after the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
The document describes a constellation of spy agencies that track millions of individual surveillance targets and carry out operations that include hundreds of lethal strikes. They are organized around five priorities: combating terrorism, stopping the spread of nuclear and other unconventional weapons, warning U.S. leaders about critical events overseas, defending against foreign espionage and conducting cyber operations.
In an introduction to the summary, Clapper said the threats now facing the United States “virtually defy rank-ordering.” He warned of “hard choices” as the intelligence community seeks to rein in spending after a decade of often double-digit budget increases.
This year’s budget proposal envisions that spending will remain roughly level through 2017 and amounts to a case against substantial cuts.
The summary provides a detailed look at how the U.S. intelligence community has been reconfigured by the massive infusion of resources after 9/11. The United States has spent more than $500 billion on intelligence during that period, an outlay that U.S. officials say has succeeded in its main objective: preventing another catastrophic terrorist attack in the United States. The result is an espionage empire with resources and reach beyond those of any adversary, sustained even now by spending that rivals or exceeds the levels reached at the height of the Cold War.
This year’s total budget request was 2.4 percent below that of fiscal 2012. In constant dollars, it was roughly twice the estimated size of the 2001 budget and 25 percent above that of 2006, five years into what was then known as the “global war on terror.” Historical data on U.S. intelligence spending is largely nonexistent. Experts have estimated that Cold War spending likely peaked in the late 1980s at an amount that would be the equivalent of $71 billion today.
‘A titanic struggle’
Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., co-chairman of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, said that access to budget figures has the potential to enable an informed public debate on intelligence spending for the first time. “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,” he said.
Experts said that access to such details on U.S. spy programs is without precedent. “It was a titanic struggle just to get the top-line budget number disclosed, and that has only been done consistently since 2007,” said Steven Aftergood, an expert at the Federation of American Scientists. “This kind of material, even on a historical basis, has simply not been available.”
© 2013 Star Tribune