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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The "Intelligence" boondoggle

by digby

Now we're talking:
The actual funding lines for America’s spy agencies have been a matter of secrecy until recently, when the Washington Post obtained a $53 billion “black budget” list for fiscal year 2013 from Edward Snowden. That document, reported the Post, mapped “a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny." The Post noted that while the government has released its overall intelligence spending every year since 2007, "it has not divulged how it uses the money or how it performs against the goals set by the president and Congress.” In particular, the black budget showed major increases in funding for the CIA and the NSA. 
Under the proposed legislation, which is titled the “Intelligence Budget Transparency Act of 2014” and was first reported by Politico Huddle, the president, in his annual budget request, would have to make available both the total budget line items for the 16 agencies as well as estimated appropriation levels for the ensuing four fiscal years. He would not be required to go into any programmatic detail. 
The sixteen agencies that would be affected by this are as follows:
Air Force Intelligence
Army Intelligence
Central Intelligence Agency
Coast Guard Intelligence
Defense Intelligence Agency
Department of Energy
Department of Homeland Security
Department of State
Department of the Treasury
Drug Enforcement Administration
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Marine Corps Intelligence
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
National Reconnaissance Office
National Security Agency
Navy Intelligence

I like how the DEA is considered a secret "Intelligence" agency. And I honestly don't know why each branch of the military has one in addition to the Department of Defense or just what in the hell the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency does, although I'm sure it's very important. None of these agencies will likely ever go away and the thousands of private contractors that feed many of them will continue to get rich on taxpayer dollars.  Still, it's good to at least know how much it's costing us don't you think?

For all the money going to the NSA and CIA programs, this study (which I briefly referenced the other day) says that all the high tech super-duper surveillance for which we are spending billions to collect and store doesn't actually catch terrorists:
An analysis of 225 terrorism cases inside the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has concluded that the bulk collection of phone records by the National Security Agency “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.”

In the majority of cases, traditional law enforcement and investigative methods provided the tip or evidence to initiate the case, according to the study by the New America Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

The study, to be released Monday, corroborates the findings of a White House-appointed review group, which said last month that the NSA counterterrorism program “was not essential to preventing attacks” and that much of the evidence it did turn up “could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders.”
And keep in mind this whole thing is happening in the context of an ongoing, long term austerity push that has us cutting off the long term unemployed and ending food stamp benefits. That Utah data farm alone cost 1.2 billion and is reportedly going to cost at least a couple billion more before it's online.

There was a moment in the early days of the NSA story in which we discussed the incredible boondoggle all this really was but it passed as the revelations unfolded. It's good that the congress has decided to shine a light on that again, however briefly, in this budget process. After all, we have real people suffering in a stuck economy without enough jobs. We have a growing poverty rate. Our bridges and schools are crumbling. And yet the money for the military, police and all these attendant "intelligence" agencies has been kept secret until now. It's only right that the people should at least know what the numbers really are.