This new Washington Post story about the intelligence services black budget (taken from documents provided by the inveterate narcissist, Edward Snowden) is a real blockbuster. It’s going to take some time to fully digest what it means, but this is what jumped out at me to begin with:
The CIA’s dominant position will likely stun outside experts. It represents a remarkable recovery for an agency that seemed poised to lose power and prestige after acknowledging intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The 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. The agency was transformed from a spy service struggling to emerge from the Cold War into a paramilitary force.
This budget has been off the books for decades and from the sound of the article nobody knew that the CIA had become the Big Player in all this. The implication is that the government decided that despite CIA’s inability to accurately assess the state of Saddam’s nuclear weapons program (or, perhaps, willingness to lie about it) it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a firehose full of money — to pay for secret prisons, illegal torture operations and drone warfare. And yet oddly, here we are today, unsure about who’s responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Syria. Go figure.
I’m not sure the fact that the CIA is the behemoth secret intelligence operation matters all that much except to the extent that the CIA has a license to kill. Still, one would hope that we would at least know what the list of so-called enemies really has on it and what kinds of measures these agencies think are necessary to protect us from them. (For instance, it’s unclear why bugging the EU at the UN is considered a national security matter.) Covert is covert and whether it’s the NSA or the CIA.
Still, this via Kevin Drum is striking by any measure:
Unsurprisingly, the CIA, NSA, and reconnaissance satellites collectively account for nearly 80 percent of our total civilian-ish intelligence spending. Another $23 billion goes to “intelligence programs that more directly support the U.S. military.” That’s a total of $75 billion. Adjusted for inflation, Gellman and Miller say this exceeds our peak spending during the Cold War.
That’s amazing. I’m so old I remember when we had an enemy that put nuclear weapons 90 miles offshore very nearly resulting in WWII. And yet we’re spending more today to face down a threat from non-state actors and a few other countries which hardly match the intensity of the old Soviet Union’s hostility toward the west. But hey, we’ve got money to burn for this stuff. It’s everyone else who has to have “skin in the game.”
You have to love this:
Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who was a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and co-chairman of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, said that access to budget figures has the potential to enable an informed public debate on intelligence spending for the first time, much as Snowden’s disclosures of NSA surveillance programs brought attention to operations that had assembled data on nearly every U.S. citizen.
“Much of the work that the intelligence community does has a profound impact on the life of ordinary Americans, and they ought not to be excluded from the process,” he said.
“Nobody is arguing that we should be so transparent as to create dangers for the country,” he said. But, he said, “there is a mindset in the national security community — leave it to us, we can handle it, the American people have to trust us. They carry it to quite an extraordinary length so that they have resisted over a period of decades transparency. . . . The burden of persuasion as to keeping something secret should be on the intelligence community, the burden should not be on the American public.”
That man is obviously a narcissist who cares nothing for the security of our nation. Doesn’t he know that just need to”trust the professionals so that we might be “comfortable”? The man is seriously out of touch.