How America’s ‘Espionage Empire’ is Paid for: The ‘Black Budget’ (Queally)

Jon Queally writes at

In the latest revelation made possible by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the Washington Post on Thursday published an investigative analysis and interactive map of America's so-called "Black Budget" which details the $52.6 billion allotment of taxpayer money that funds the government's "intelligence-gathering colossus" that has previously remained insulated from the eyes of the American public.

Though a series of revelations have flowed from the Snowden leaks over recent months, this is the first detailed financial picture of how public monies are used to fund programs that Americans still know very little about. Critiqued as a "collect it all" strategy by those concerned about Constitutional and privacy violations, the vast surveillance network has been slammed at home and abroad.

According to the Post, the "Black Budget,"

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 those funds 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 Washington 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.

A view into what the newspaper terms the US "espionage empire," the blueprint and summary documents  obtained by the Post "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" in 2001.

According to the reporting, the $52.6 billion far-exceeded estimates about the amount of money being spent on clandestine spying and surveillance operations and that figure does not even include an additional $23 billion specifically geared to CIA and NSA operations done in direct support of the U.S. military.

In addition to providing what is repeatedly referred to as an "unprecedented" look inside the financial operations of the both the CIA and the NSA, the summary report leaked by Snowden also shows the enormous rate of operational growth at the CIA in the last decade, including a "surge in resources for the agency funded secret prisons, a controversial interrogation program, the deployment of lethal drones and a huge expansion of its counterterrorism center."

In an additional and ironic twist, the documents trace the development of internal counterterrorism efforts at the NSA and how to prevent sensitive leaks from occurring "from within" the US intelligence system. As the Post reports:

The document describes programs to “mitigate insider threats by trusted insiders who seek to exploit their authorized access to sensitive information to harm U.S. interests.”

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.

Among them was Snowden, then a 29-year-old contract computer specialist who had been trained by the NSA to circumvent computer network security. He was copying thousands of highly classified documents at an NSA facility in Hawaii, and preparing to leak them, as the agency embarked on a security sweep.



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10 Responses

  1. No surprise here.

    Interesting to see also how many persons and how much funding exists for agencies outside of the 16-member “U.S. intelligence community”

    At the state and local level exist intelligence sections attached to state police and local law enforcement agencies. These units often have relationships with the U.S. intelligence community via the “fusion centers” and otherwise. Almost every major American city has its own intelligence section of its police department and so do most large suburban municipalities. The investigations of these entities can be politically-motivated and often involve invasive surveillance with little or no oversight or serious justification. Many local police are “deputized” as either state police or federal agents so they can legally cross municipal or state boundaries to conduct their investigations.

    The Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit (LEIU), a private organization, has been around for decades as a worldwide repository of intelligence information. Its records are exempt from FOIA disclosure due to LEIU’s status as a private entity. Its information is derived from state, local and federal intelligence and police sources.

    The recent disclosure of the NYPD as a CIA affiliate conducting surveillance on purported “terrorist” suspects are one facet of this legally questionable intelligence network.

    Your state tax dollars, as well as your federal income tax, likely fund extensive intelligence activity at the federal, state and local levels of government.

  2. With nothing more than simple competence and functional lines of inter-agency communication, the 9/11 attacks would have been stopped. The most effective countermeasure? — locking the door to the pilot’s cabin. With standard interrogation techniques used by trained interrogators, the network could have been unwound rapidly. With simple, direct tactics, Osama bin Laden would have been caught at Tora Bora. With attention to the obvious, the assault on Irag would have never even been contemplated.

    The $50B/yr — or make it $75B/yr, all told — seems like one more chapter in an increasingly intricate history of avoidance.

  3. To give an idea of scale, only 6 countries have total military budgets that exceed the US intelligence budget. Of these, China spends 3x the US intelligence budget on its military. Russia spends 2x.

    The UK, France, Japan and Saudi Arabia have total military budgets roughly equivalent to the US secret military budget.

    On top of it intelligence budget, the US spends more than half a $Trillion on the military

  4. According to reports, there’s a panic on at the NSA because they CAN’T FIND OUT FROM INTERNAL SYSTEMS EXACTLY WHAT SNOWDON TOOK.

    So how much INTERNAL security (e.g. on the Sharepoint application) does $$52B actually buy? Not much it seems. And these are the people who want to “protect OUR security”. Funny if it wasn’t so sad.

    But it’s actually worse than that! According to reports, the NSA is paying twice for software – once to buy the licences, and again to get the vendor to fix “what doesn’t work”. This is corporate welfare…..your $$52B taxpayer money at work!

    • Nothing new under the sun, just jaded and stupefied amazement at the scale of it all:

      When I was a clerk in the Admin Company of the 2nd Armored Div. (“Hell On Wheels!”) at Ft. Hood, TX in 1969, the Army contracted to set up a computerized, mainframe-centric, tape-and-punch card-based system to “more efficiently” run finance, personnel, inventory and supply functions. One contractor dude arranged to “pay” himself several million payroll bucks, delivered to an offshore account. He then removed his foot- and fingerprints from tape and card stacks. The Army eventually paid him another couple of million, and gave immunity from prosecution, to show how he did it.

      While with the US EPA in the early 1980s, I got to see the Justice Department steal millions from the “Superfund” hazardous-site cleanup fund to buy their house data base and computer system, which was supposed to be a shared system with EPA to assist with environmental-law enforcement but quickly got closed off for exclusive dedication to “other DOJ purposes.”

      True vampire bats are great at draining blood from the stupefied sleeping cow or pig. They have specialized sensors to detect spots where the blood flows strongest and nearest to the skin, components in their saliva that keeps the blood flowing, and those always-razor-sharp incisors to make those productive little cuts. Occasionally, they drain so much blood that the host mammal dies outright, or transmit some awful, fatal-if-not-treated bloodborne disease, like rabies…

      Nothing new under the various large public-private rocks one might occasionally turn over, either.

  5. I’m curious if a cost benefit analysis or return on investment has been done on the intel community, because I sure haven’t seen any effect from our security state other than a continued assault on our liberties while being told it’s for our own good and protection against ….

  6. It seems to me that the huge investment in surveillance is predicated on our enemies being incessant, ignorant, yakkers. They simply can’t keep quiet about their destructive plans.

    But if our enemies are quiet and intelligent, they can set the intelligence community’s hair on fire by dumping loads of bogus terror hints into the communications infrastructure. The intelligence that resulted in closing all those US embassies and consulates in August, might be an instance of this – our hair caught fire and nothing happened.

    I think a good mantra for the surveillance machine is: “Build the haystacks and the needles will come.”

  7. $53 B + $23 B = a lot.

    That’s approximately 2/3 of the Army’s budget, not including the separate costs of ongoing wars.

  8. Thanks to this $52.5 billion a lot of marijuana smokers have been apprehended and fined and/or jailed. Other than that… nothing to report.

  9. And has anybody mentioned that the whole thing is blatantly un-Constitutional, at least as far as the Constitution was interpreted up until that point (1960’s-70’s ? ) when the national security state accelerated into its current arrogance and insularity?

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