Last week, Edward Snowden leaked the National Intelligence Program’s top-secret annual budget report to the Washington Post (formally known as the Congressional Budget Justification for the National Intelligence Program). The document is the first to breakdown the $56.2 billion spending of America’s Intelligence Community (IC), which has previously remained “off the books” and away from public scrutiny. The rationale for keeping the budget “black” has always been to protect national security. The report covers the activities of 16 spy agencies and 107,035 employees that comprise the IC. It reveals a colossal network of data gathering, analysis, and “covert operations” that exceeds the apex of Cold War spending in the 1980s.
The CIA, perhaps unsurprisingly, emerges as a titan. Requesting $14.7 billion for fiscal year 2013, the agency dwarfs any other spy service, including the NSA, which was to receive $10.5 billion the same year. According to the report, both the NSA and CIA have begun new “aggressive” efforts to hack foreign computer networks. This includes U.S. intelligence officials “strategically focused” on China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, and Israel. The overall priority for the IC remains counterterrorism–since the 2001 attacks the U.S. has spent more than $500 billion on intelligence, and the current budget is roughly twice that of 2001 figures. As Gellman and Miller write, “The result is an espionage empire with resources and a reach beyond those of any adversary, sustained even now by spending that rivals or exceeds the levels at the height of the Cold War”. It is worth remembering that the U.S. government still spends around ten times more on Defense Department as it does spying.
During its decade-long surge in funding, the CIA has constructed secret prisons, a network of extraordinary rendition, an armada of drones, and a “huge” expansion of its counterterrorism center. The funding has transformed the spy service into a paramilitary force, with a workforce of 21,575. “The agency’s budget allocates $2.3 billion for human intelligence operations and $2.5 billion to cover the cost of supporting the security, logistics and other needs of those missions around the world”. While there is no specific entry for its unmanned aircraft, there is $2.6 billion set aside for “covert action programs”, that would surely encompass drone operations in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, as well as funding militias in Afghanistan and Africa (as well as ongoing attempts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear enrichment). The black budget also reveled the billions that are poured into the war in Afghanistan (and Iraq). For 2013, U.S. spy agencies were projected to spend $4.9 billion on “overseas contingency operations”, with the CIA accounting for about half of that figure–a number factored into its $14.7 billion budget.
Despite the billions of dollars, there remain a number of “blind spots” that the IC has identified, including: concerns about Hezbollah, Pakistan’s transport of nuclear materiels, China’s next generation aircraft, Russia’s politics, “homegrown” terrorists, and biological and chemical weapons.
Technology remains an important foundation to the IC. In North Korea, for example, ground sensors ring the country and are able to monitor seismic activity to indicate the construction of new nuclear sites. In Iran “new surveillance techniques and technologies” probe the country’s nuclear sites. In Syria, NSA listening posts monitored communications among senior military officials. Indeed, signals intelligence, or SIGINT, is seen as indispensable. The NSA’s monitoring of emails, phone calls, and internet traffic received a $48.6 million boost to help with “information overload”. In order to intercept these signals, which are often used to direct drone flight paths, there are close to 35,000 employees in the “Consolidated Cryptologic Program”, which spans the NSA and military. The report also reveals that the CIA “has deployed new biometric sensors to confirm the identities and locations of al-Qaeda operatives. The system has been used in the CIA’s drone campaign”.
For example, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden stitched together a variety of cutting-edge espionage infrastructures. According to Whitlock and Gellman of the Washington Post, in a related article, this included a fleet of satellites which pointed “dozens” of receivers over Pakistan to collect signals intelligence. The National Reconnaisance Office, which oversees the network of spy satellites in space, performed more than 387 “collects” of high-resolution and infrared imagery of the compound. The NSA was able to track mobile phones through specific calling “patterns”. An arm of the NSA called the Tailored Access Operations group installed spyware that was able to track and target designated computers and mobile-phone networks. The CIA was then able to pinpoint the geographic locations of one of the phones to Abbottabad. Additionally, the CIA flew the high-tech RQ-170 drone over Pakistan to eavesdrop on communications. And yet, the U.S. was only 40 to 60 percent sure Osama bin Laden was actually housed in his Abbottabad compound.