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U.S. spy agencies call themselves an “intelligence community” (IC). The Washington Post has good reason to dub it an intelligence “colossus,” with 16 spy agencies and 107,035 employees. The IC “black budget” for fiscal year 2013 is $52.6 billion, a lot of money even by Washington standards, and that figure is separate from $23 billion for intelligence directly supporting the U.S. military. The biggest spender is the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at just short of $15 billion, almost 50 percent above the figure for the National Security Agency (NSA), much in the news of late for its domestic surveillance. While 2.4 percent below fiscal 2012, the 2013 numbers are about twice the 2001 budget and 25 percent higher than 2006.
As the Post noted, “the result is an espionage empire with resources and a reach beyond those of any adversary, sustained even now by spending that rivals or exceeds the levels at the height of the Cold War.” But what is the result of all that spending? The spy agencies “remain unable to provide critical information to the president on a range of national security threats.” That sounds like a major failure.
The IC’s primary target is terrorism, but the community remains tight-lipped about successes. All that remains “classified.” On the other hand, the IC and other federal agencies have failed to stop acts of terrorism within the United States, but not for lack of information. Russian intelligence warned U.S. officials about Tamerlan Tsarnaev but took no action that might have prevented the Boston Marathon bombings that killed and maimed innocent civilians. Likewise, U.S. intelligence picked off emails that U.S. Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan sent to terrorist capo Anwar al-Awlaki, discussing the prospect of killing Americans. But U.S. officials did nothing to prevent Hasan from killing 13, more victims than the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. The IC also failed to prevent the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the terrorist attacks on American diplomats in Libya on September 11, 2012.
A $52.6 billion 16-agency intelligence colossus is no guarantee of safety against terrorism. But regardless of its effectiveness, the colossus does strive to increase its funding, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, and to abuse those same taxpayers by spying on them.