It is the world’s wildest high tech toy catalog, a Christmas list that includes nondiscernible micro-bio-inoculators, KH-9 HEXAGONs and RQ-3 Darkstars. These items are not new Apple products, but rather technology used by the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies in order to collect, analyze and investigate both national and international security threats.
On August 29, 2013, The Washington Post, vis-à-vis Mr. Edward Snowden, released the details of this list. Of paramount importance is not the controversial manner of publication, but the content of the government’s immensely classified black budget. The release of this information marks an unprecedented act, for the U.S. government did not even release its overall level of intelligence spending until 2007. This 178 page-summary therefore maps a bureaucratic landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny.
For the year 2013, the Pentagon’s “blank check” to the intelligence community consisted of $52.6 billion, a shocking 50 percent increase since 2000. In addition to the numerical allotment specifications per intelligence agency, the revelation detailed objectives, failures, technologies, recruiting and other highly classified information. Mr. Snowden’s abrupt exposure forced the Post to censor certain aspects of the dossier in order to protect U.S. security interests.
From the black budget, we learn the CIA gets the biggest piece of the $52.6 billion pie, with $14.7 billion. The National Security Agency is second, receiving $10.8 billion, followed closely by the National Reconnaissance Office with $10.3 billion. This top secret spending targets four key areas: data collection, data analysis, management and facilities, and finally data processing and exploitation. The leaked report further classified the funds by detailing how the intelligence community (IC) splits its main objectives into five classifications: warning U.S. leaders about critical events, combating terrorism, stopping the spread of illicit weapons, conducting cyber operations and defending against foreign espionage. In true IC fashion, numerous operational codes names accompanied the taxonomic details, including Elegant Lady, Forest Green, Island Sun, Classic Wizard and Tractor Rose.
THE EDITORS: Not mentioned, PAWS-Secure.
Now that many of the intricacies of our nation’s chief defense are readily accessible to media outlets, the American public, other nation’s governments and any individual with an Internet connection, what is the next step for the U.S. intelligence community? James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence and thereby the nation’s top spymaster, responded to the release of the black budget by arguing, “Never before has the IC been called upon to master such complexity and so many issues in such a resource-constrained environment.” It is difficult for the public to understand the fire hose of information flooding into the 16 intelligence agencies. Among this influx are over 4,000 daily threats, which the IC, through analysis, extrapolation and information sharing, must understand and prevent.
For perspective, we must analyze what $52.6 billion represents within the annual U.S. budget of $3.8 trillion. In the next year, the Department of Defense will have to cut $52 billion from its $498 billion budget. The entire Iraq War cost $49.3 billion, while the U.S. spent $74.6 billion on food stamps in 2012 and intends to allocate $248.3 billion to protect Medicaid spending in 2014. The $52.6 black budget represents a 2.3 percent decline from the 2012 intelligence budget. Moreover, the entire black budget represents one percent of the entire U.S. budget and is significantly lower than the annual $70 billion spent during the Cold War years.
The most common question raised due to this controversy is, How much is too much to spend on intelligence gathering? Is $52.6 billion too much? Too little? While these are fair questions, the right question to ask is, How much you are willing to spend to avoid another September 11? How much are you willing to spend a year to uncover the McVeighs, the Bin Ladens and Tsarnevs of the world?
The recent spectacle of Snowden’s actions creates various legal, ethical and moral considerations. Apart from Snowden’s intentions, this particular episode of his drama leads to the conclusion that the safety and security of American citizens has always, and will always, come with a steep price tag that it is imperative we pay.
—Sarah Smith is a senior studying history and international affairs.