You know, like dialysis and bridges that don’t fall down and paved roads and streetlights.
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.
Among the notable revelations in the budget summary:
•Spending by the CIA has surged past that of every other spy agency, with $14.7 billion in requested funding for 2013. The figure vastly exceeds outside estimates and is nearly 50 percent 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. The budget documents show that the U.S. intelligence community worried long before Snowden’s leaks about “anomalous behavior” by personnel with access to highly classified material.
•U.S. 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.”
•In words, deeds and dollars, intelligence agencies remain fixed on terrorism as the gravest threat to national security, which is listed first among five “mission objectives.” Counterterrorism programs employ one in four members of the intelligence workforce and account for one-third of all spending.
•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 U.S. intelligence about Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, and analysts know virtually nothing about the intentions of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In an introduction, (Director of National Intelligence James R.) Clapper said the threats now facing the United States “virtually defy rank-ordering.” He warned of “hard choices” as the intelligence community – sometimes referred to as the “IC” – 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 that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. 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.
Historical data on U.S. intelligence spending is largely nonexistent. Through extrapolation, 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.
Spending in the most recent cycle surpassed that amount based on the $52.6 billion detailed in documents obtained by The Post, plus a separate $23 billion devoted to intelligence programs that more directly support the U.S. military.
Despite the vast outlays, the budget blueprint catalogs persistent and in some cases critical blind spots.
Throughout the document, U.S. spy agencies attempt to rate their efforts in tables akin to report cards, generally citing progress but often acknowledging that only a fraction of their questions could be answered – even on the community’s foremost priority, counter-terrorism.
In 2011, the budget assessment says intelligence agencies made at least “moderate progress” on 38 of their 50 top counterterrorism gaps, the term used to describe blind spots. Several concern Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, an enemy of Israel that has not attacked U.S. interests directly since the 1990s.
Other blank spots include questions about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear components when they are being transported, the capabilities of China’s next generation fighter aircraft, and how Russia’s government leaders are likely to respond “to potentially destabilizing events in Moscow, such as large protests and terrorist attacks.”
A chart outlining efforts to address key questions on biological and chemical weapons is particularly bleak. U.S. agencies set themselves annual goals of making progress in at least five categories of intelligence collection related to these weapons. In 2011, the agencies made headway on just two gaps; a year earlier the mark was zero.
The documents describe expanded efforts to “collect on Russian chemical warfare countermeasures” and assess the security of biological and chemical laboratories in Pakistan.
A table of “critical” gaps listed five for North Korea, more than for any other country that has or is pursuing a nuclear bomb.
The intelligence community seems particularly daunted by the emergence of “home grown” terrorists who plan attacks in the United States without direct support or instruction from abroad, a threat realized this year, after the budget was submitted, in twin bombings at the Boston Marathon.
The National Counterterrorism Center has convened dozens of analysts from other agencies in attempts to identify “indicators” that could help law enforcement understand the path from religious extremism to violence. The FBI was in line for funding to increase the number of agents surreptitiously tracking activity on jihadist Web sites.
But a year before the bombings in Boston the search for meaningful insight into the stages of radicalization was described as one of “the more challenging intelligence gaps.”
That’s right, Ed Snowden. Who’s the traitor now?