Latest Snowden Leaks Detail The 'Black Budget' And How Much The Gov't Wastes On Useless Surveillance
from the i-could-use-me-a-black-budget-too dept
Barton Gellman and Greg Miller over at the Washington Post have the latest scoops from the Ed Snowden leaks, in which it appears they’ve been able to go through the details of the infamous “black budget,” detailing the money that is spent on intelligence operations. Apparently, the total budget is around $52.6 billion this year (which actually is a bit lower than I would have expected, but is apparently twice what the budget was back in 2001). There’s also another $23 billion spent on “intelligence programs that more directly support the U.S. military.”
Not surprisingly, the Post agreed to leave most of the document unpublished and is careful not to reveal anything really damaging (i.e., sources and methods), but the results are still quite revealing. Of course, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is still angry, arguing that any info from the budget “could provide insight for foreign intelligence services to discern our top national priorities, capabilities and sources and methods.” Blah, blah, blah. Someone doesn’t like being held accountable. Others point out that discussing the budget seems quite reasonable. The post quotes Lee Hamilton, the former chair of the 9/11 commission (and former chair of the House Intelligence Committee), who argues that having this info public is important to having an informed public debate on the surveillance state. That’s the only way that the intelligence community can be held accountable.
And, actually, what the budget reveals is a rather stunning lack of accountability for the budget — much of it going to the CIA. While many people had assumed that the CIA had been diminishing in power and authority within the intelligence community (especially in relation to the NSA), it turns out that its budget has been growing and growing, and is much more than the NSA’s. Furthermore, the CIA has basically been transformed from an “intelligence” agency into a “paramilitary force.”
And for all this funding, with so little accountability, it should come as no surprise to find out that much of this money appears to be wasted, and not particularly effective.
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.
So, we’re spending all of this money (our money) on top secret operations, including spying on pretty much every American… and so far it’s been almost entirely useless against the actual threats we face. Well, that’s comforting. Oh, and if you wondered about the failure to connect the dots on the Boston Marathon bombings? It’s because the intelligence community and all that money have no idea how to figure out those kinds of attacks.
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.”
Also, the NSA is swimming in so much information that it asked for nearly $50 million to cope with the problem of having too much information. We’ve pointed out for years that the trick to finding the needles in haystacks isn’t to build bigger haystacks, but that’s long been the NSA’s approach. However, those haystacks have become so big that the NSA asked for $48.6 million designated for “coping with information overload.” Here’s a simple, and cheaper, plan: don’t collect so much irrelevant data. You can ship me half of the $48.6 million and keep the rest for something that’s actually useful.
Also, there’s this:
The agencies had budgeted for a major counterintelligence initiative in fiscal 2012, but most of those resources were diverted to an all-hands, emergency response to successive floods of classified data released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
For this year, the budget promised a renewed “focus . . . on safeguarding classified networks” and a strict “review of high-risk, high-gain applicants and contractors” — the young, nontraditional computer coders with the skills the NSA needed
The budget, obviously, was submitted before Snowden absconded with it and gave it to the Post, so I would imagine that there have been some revisions to create yet another “all-hands, emergency response” to Snowden-like situations.