Wednesday, October 31, 2007

US Government Spent $43.5 Billion Spying Last Year

The US government spent $43.5 billion last year on shoe-phones and the like, up about 50% since 9/11, according to a report by Greg Miller in the Los Angeles Times.

U.S. reluctantly reveals spy budget
The disclosure marked the first time in nearly a decade that the federal government has offered even a partial glimpse of how much it spends on the CIA and the other 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community. Only the overall figure was provided.

The Bush administration had vehemently opposed releasing even that number, arguing that doing so would give the nation's enemies valuable insight into how much money the United States was spending on clandestine activities.
As we've been seeing for years now, the Bush administration vehemently opposes releasing any information, and it's not surprising that they didn't want to release this number either. But now that we have it, what -- if anything -- does the number mean?

The "clandestine activities" referred to here include gathering and analyzing information, as well as covert paramilitary and other operations designed to destabilize foreign governments and other perceived political enemies. But most of the covert operations are now being run out of the Pentagon.
The release fulfills one of the recommendations of the commission that investigated the intelligence failures surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks. The commission urged the government to disclose the figure in order to foster greater public scrutiny of the nation's spending priorities. The recommendation was in legislation passed by Congress earlier this year.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said releasing the figure is likely to demonstrate that basic information about the nation's spending on its spy programs can be shared without harming national security.

The information is probably of little use to adversaries trying to scrutinize U.S. intelligence activities, Aftergood said. His organization had unsuccessfully sued the government to force release of the figure.

"What it does tell you is how much we're spending on intelligence compared to other government functions such as defense and healthcare," Aftergood said. "Also, it makes it possible to openly debate the level of intelligence spending, something that has not been possible before in Congress."
With all due respect to Mr. Aftergood, the focus on "government spending" doesn't tell the whole story.

What that number doesn't say may be even more important than what it says.

The $43.5 billion total does not include "black budgets" -- and the "intelligence community" does quite a bit of "fundraising" on its own behalf.

But the LA Times doesn't want to talk about that.
Director of National Intelligence, J. Michael McConnell, declined to provide any further details on spy spending. He said that there "will be no other disclosures of currently classified budget information because such disclosures could harm national security."

The government must disclose the comparable budget amount in 2008. But the intelligence director can block disclosure in subsequent years if he makes the case to Congress that it is necessary to protect national security.

Some officials said that the director's office may take that step because many intelligence officials believe that releasing numbers over a period of years would allow adversaries to examine trends in U.S. intelligence spending.

"If they see a blip, they can direct collection [by their own intelligence agencies] on what that blip might be," said a congressional official involved in classified intelligence budgets, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing issues surrounding classified information.
In other words, if they see a change in the percentage annual increase (for these budgets never get smaller), our adversaries might try to find out what we're doing.

But otherwise they would never try to find out anything of the sort, because they're not curious about stuff like that -- in the absence of blips.

Or something like that.

And if you want to know where the money goes, you are welcome to speculate:
The figure represents spending on an array of intelligence activities, but the CIA and two other agencies account for the bulk of the budget. Those are the National Security Agency, which eavesdrops on phone calls and intercepts e-mails around the world, and the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds spy satellites.

Those agencies may each account for as much as $10 billion of the total, according to intelligence experts. The CIA's budget is believed to be between $5 billion and $8 billion.

The $43.5 billion does not include spending by the armed services on intelligence equipment and activities for military operations in the field, including Iraq and Afghanistan.