The latest shoe to drop from the Edward Snowden cache of stolen NSA materials made its first appearance at the Washington Post at noon today, revealing budget details on intelligence operations that have never before been made public. The biggest revelation is the spending on intelligence, which has been known from the 30,000-foot level but not in specifics for each agency. CIA gets the most of the $52.6 billion annual budget at $14.7 billion, much higher than some have suspected, but NSA and the National Reconnaissance Office come in a close second and third:
U.S. spy agencies have built an intelligence-gathering colossus since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but remain unable to provide critical information to the president on a range of national security threats, according to the government’s top secret budget.
The $52.6 billion “black budget” for fiscal 2013, obtained by The Washington Post from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, 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. …
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.
Of the $14.7 billion, $2.5 billion gets spent on covert action, which covers drone operations in the Middle East and sabotage against the Iranian nuclear-weapons program, among other efforts. More than twice that ($6.2 billion) gets spent on human intelligence (HUMINT), which accounts for nearly half of all CIA spending. A little over a billion more gets spent on analysis and analysis enabling, with the rest going to infrastructure and management. If the overall price tag is higher than expected, the prioritization of the spending seems rather unsurprising.
The summary also revealed the goals of American intelligence and its shorter-term objectives in the budget year, as well as some of the classified successes and failures within the program. One goal in particular looks ironic in light of the leak:
The NSA planned to investigate at least 4,000 possible insider threats in 2013, cases in which the agency suspected sensitive information may have been compromised by one of its own. The budget documents show that the U.S. intelligence community has sought to strengthen its ability to detect what it calls “anomalous behavior” by personnel with access to highly classified material.
After Snowden, make that 4,001. AOSHQ’s John Ekdahl had some grim fun with this:
LOL, fail. —> “For this year, the budget promised a renewed “focus . . . on safeguarding classified networks””
— John Ekdahl, Jr. (@JohnEkdahl) August 29, 2013
Also, “a strict “review of high-risk, high-gain applicants and contractors” Major fail.
— John Ekdahl, Jr. (@JohnEkdahl) August 29, 2013
More disturbing is this failure:
The governments of Iran, China and Russia are difficult to penetrate, but North Korea’s may be the most opaque. There are five “critical” gaps in U.S. intelligence about Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, and analysts know virtually nothing about the intentions of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
While China and Russia are potentially existential threats to the US, both are also rational actors and in some ways too commercially intertwined with the US to seriously harm us without harming themselves. That’s not true of Iran and the DPRK, neither of which is entirely rational, and both of which want to use nuclear weapons as means of extortion, or worse. However, none of this is really a surprise, either.
On the other hand, we have a separate report on how the US managed to track down Osama bin Laden:
The U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden was guided from space by a fleet of satellites, which aimed dozens of separate receivers over Pakistan to collect a torrent of electronic and signals intelligence as the mission unfolded, according to a top-secret U.S. intelligence document.
The National Security Agency was also able to penetrate guarded communications among al-Qaeda operatives by tracking calls from mobile phones identified by specific calling patterns, the document shows. Analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency pinpointed the geographic location of one of the phones and tied it to the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where an accumulation of other evidence suggested bin Laden was hiding.
Although the budget does not provide detail, it reports that Tailored Access Operations “implants” enabled the NSA to collect intelligence from mobile phones that were used by al-Qaeda operatives and other “persons of interest” in the bin Laden hunt.
Separately, Tailored Access Operations were used in April 2011, the month before bin Laden was killed, when U.S. Forces in Afghanistan relied on signals intelligence from implants to capture 40 low- and mid-level Taliban fighters and other insurgents in that country, according to the documents.
The new details about the bin Laden raid fill out an already rich public account of how the U.S. government employed virtually every tool in its enormous surveillance apparatus to locate the elusive founder of al-Qaeda. For more than a decade, bin Laden stymied all efforts to find him by making certain he did not leave a direct electronic trail. He steadfastly avoided phones and e-mail, relying on face-to-face communications with a small number of couriers and middlemen.
I could be wrong, but other than some of the details getting too close to operational tactics, I don’t think the Obama administration is going to mind another recap of the OBL raid. Again, at least to the extent of the details released by the Post, we’re not seeing much that’s new.
The Post’s Barton Gellman writes that the newspaper has chosen to keep some very damaging material from publication in order to protect national-security interests. That’s certainly a good move, but what has been published is more interesting than provocative. Even the budget numbers are informative but not too surprising. The US is spending less than 10% of the Defense budget on global intelligence of all kinds (except military, which comes out of the DoD budget). This may allow for a more-informed debate on resources spent on intel and whether outcomes justify the spending, but I doubt anything in this report will prove terribly controversial — except for how it got out into the open.