Snowden leaks reveal how US spies spend US$52b a year
Snowden discloses US' 'black budget', showing the intelligence colossus built since 9/11 but one with some surprising gaps in its knowledge
US spy agencies have built an intelligence-gathering colossus since the attacks of September 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 US$52.6 billion "black budget" for the 2013 financial year, 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 Programme details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the US intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees.
The summary describes cutting-edge technologies, agent recruiting and ongoing operations.
"The United States has made a considerable investment in the intelligence community since the terror attacks of 9/11, a time which includes wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab spring, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technology, and asymmetric threats in such areas as cyberwarfare," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in response to inquiries.
"Our budgets are classified as they could provide insight for foreign intelligence services to discern our top national priorities, capabilities and sources and methods that allow us to obtain information to counter threats," he said.
Among the notable revelations in the budget summary:
- Spending by the CIA has surged past that of every other spy agency, with US$14.7 billion in requested funding for 2013. The figure vastly exceeds outside estimates and is nearly 50 per cent above that of the National Security Agency, which conducts eavesdropping operations and has long been considered the behemoth of the community.
- The CIA and NSA have launched aggressive new efforts to hack into foreign computer networks to steal information or sabotage enemy systems, embracing what the budget refers to as "offensive cyber operations".
- The NSA planned to investigate at least 4,000 possible insider threats in 2013, cases in which the agency suspected sensitive information may have been compromised by one of its own.
- US intelligence officials take an active interest in foes as well as friends. Pakistan is described in detail as an "intractable target", and counterintelligence operations "are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel".
- The governments of Iran, China and Russia are difficult to penetrate, but North Korea's may be the most opaque. There are five "critical" gaps in US intelligence about Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes, and analysts know virtually nothing about the intentions of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The summary provides a detailed look at how the US intelligence community has been reconfigured by the massive infusion of resources that followed the September 11 attacks.
The US has spent more than US$500 billion on intelligence during that period.
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.
Lee Hamilton, a Democrat and a former chairman of the House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee, said that access to budget figures has the potential to enable an informed public debate for the first time on how intelligence agencies spend their money.
"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.
"Nobody is arguing that we should be so transparent as to create dangers for the country."
But, he said, "the burden of persuasion as to keeping something secret should be on the intelligence community".