Intelligence "black budget" reveals vast CIA funding for surveillance, collection

Top secret document leaked by Snowden shows aims, successes and failures of $52 billion intelligence nexus

Published August 29, 2013 6:10PM (EDT)

While the government annually reveals its overall intelligence budget, which has skyrocketed since the 9/11 attacks (over $500 billion in those years), details of how the budget is broken up remain top secret.

On Thursday, however, the Washington Post revealed the so-called Intelligence Community (IC) "black budget." The top secret document, leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, offers a breakdown of intelligence spending with notes on objectives, perceived threats, successes and failures.

Earlier this year the CIA’s chief technical officer, Gus Hunt, openly explained the spy agency’s strategy for a broad surveillance dragnet, focused on collection and hoarding of vast amounts of communications data: “The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time,” Hunt said. “Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever.”

His comments have certainly been borne out in the revelation of the NSA's vast surveillance programs and are evidenced in stark figures in the "black budget": 78 percent of the CIA's budget is dedicated to "collection and operations." It's worth noting too that the CIA, of all the intelligence agencies, has grown to receive the lion's share of funding. As WaPo's Greg Miller highlighted:

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.

Stressing the sheer size of the "black budget" request, Miller noted:

The result is an espionage empire with resources and reach beyond those of any adversary, sustained even now by spending that rivals or exceeds the levels reached at the height of the Cold War.

This year’s total budget request was 2.4 percent below that of fiscal 2012. In constant dollars, it was roughly twice the estimated size of the 2001 budget and 25 percent above that of 2006, five years into what was then known as the “global war on terror.”

The document makes note of specific failures and blindspots the IC believes have not been addressed, despite vast resource allocation. Miller notes:

In 2011, the budget assessment says intelligence agencies made at least “moderate progress” on 38 of their 50 top counterterrorism gaps, the term used to describe blind spots. Several concern Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, an enemy of Israel that has not attacked U.S. interests directly since the 1990s.

Other blank spots include questions about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear components when they are being transported, the capabilities of China’s next generation fighter aircraft, and how Russia’s government leaders are likely to respond “to potentially destabilizing events in Moscow, such as large protests and terrorist attacks.”

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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