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 the money or how it performs against the goals set by the president and Congress.
The 178-page budget summary for the National Intelligence Program details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees.
The summary describes cutting-edge technologies, agent recruiting and ongoing operations. The Post is withholding some information after consultation with U.S. officials who expressed concerns about the risk to intelligence sources and methods. Sensitive details are so pervasive in the documents that The Post is publishing only summary tables and charts online.
“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 cyber-warfare,” Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. wrote in response to inquiries from The Post.
“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 $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 the NSA have begun 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.”
-Long before Snowden’s leaks, the U.S. intelligence community worried about “anomalous behavior” by employees and contractors with access to classified material. The NSA planned to ward off a “potential insider compromise of sensitive information” by re-investigating at least 4,000 people this year who hold high-level security clearances.
-U.S. intelligence officials take an active interest in friends as well as foes. 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 latter is a U.S. ally but has a history of espionage attempts against the United States.
-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 the intelligence program’s 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.
Formally known as the Congressional Budget Justification for the National Intelligence Program, the “top-secret” blueprint represents spending levels proposed to the House and Senate intelligence committees in February 2012. Congress may have made changes before the fiscal year began on Oct 1. Clapper is expected to release the actual total spending figure after the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
The document describes a constellation of spy agencies that track millions of 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, Clapper said the threats 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.
The current 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.
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