Whistleblower Reveals U.S. Spy Agencies' Secret Budget

by Nick Schwellenbach, 8/30/2013

Details on the secret U.S. spy budget spilled into the public realm yesterday after The Washington Post published selective pages from the 16-agency intelligence community’s fiscal year 2012 congressional budget justification, leaked by former Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden. The pages published by the Post, after obtaining input from the intelligence community, do not seem to reveal any sensitive information; instead the disclosures – in broad strokes – detail how spending is doled out within the spy agencies.

The budget summary for 2013 describes a request for $52.6 billion for the entire intelligence community (including $0.6 billion for the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) retirement fund). In 2012 dollars, the U.S. intelligence budget was $43.4 billion.

Source: National Intelligence Program FY 2013 Congressional Budget Justification

As the Post puts it, “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 2001 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.”

Putting that half trillion dollars in international and historical context, The Post’s veteran intelligence reporters Barton Gellman and Greg Miller wrote, “The result is an espionage empire with resources and a reach beyond those of any adversary, sustained even now by spending that rivals or exceeds the levels at the height of the Cold War.”

These budget details come after a successful years-long campaign by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists and others to declassify the topline budget numbers for the intelligence community.

One revelation is that the CIA’s budget has surged past the National Security Agency’s (NSA) in size. The NSA has long been considered the largest agency within the secretive community of spy organizations. The surge in the CIA’s budget likely is due to its evolution into a paramilitary operation conducting expansive covert operations spanning across much of Asia and Africa and widely using drones in places such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. These activities are funded out of the “collections and operations” part of the CIA’s budget, which is 78 percent of the agency's total proposed 2013 spending. The CIA has come under criticism in recent years for being overly focused on paramilitary operations at the possible expense of intelligence analysis, which is only seven percent of its budget.

The spy agencies have also cut the number of contractors working for them directly in core functions by 30 percent in the past five years. Excessive privatization of intelligence work has been a concern in recent years. Snowden's disclosures of classified documents, such as this budget justification document, have refueled that debate. 

The Post wrote that it is withholding all but several dozen pages of the 178-page document because:

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.

While there are undoubtedly many good reasons why much, if not most, of this and future spy agency budget justifications should remain hidden from view, it appears that far more could be made public by the intelligence community moving forward.

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