August 30, 2013

The Spying Game: Leaked records detail 'black budget'

U.S. spying successes, failures and objectives are described in the top secret spending plan.

By BARTON GELLMAN and GREG MILLER The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

James Clapper
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National Intelligence Director James Clapper appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April.

Photos by The Associated Press

Edward Snowden
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The Washington Post obtained the “black budget” from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

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 -- 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.

"Never before has the IC been called upon to master such complexity and so many issues in such a resource-constrained environment," Clapper wrote.

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 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."

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.

DETAILS WITHOUT PRECEDENT

Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who was a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and 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 as Snowden's disclosures of NSA surveillance programs brought attention to operations that had assembled data on nearly every U.S. citizen.

"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," he said. But, he said, "there is a mindset in the national security community -- leave it to us, we can handle it, the American people have to trust us. They carry it to quite an extraordinary length so that they have resisted over a period of decades transparency. ... The burden of persuasion as to keeping something secret should be on the intelligence community, the burden should not be on the American public."

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, a Washington organization that provides analyses of national security issues. "But a real grasp of the structure and operations of the intelligence bureaucracy has been totally beyond public reach. This kind of material, even on a historical basis, has simply not been available."

 

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