Thursday, November 01, 2007

Tons of money: National Intelligence budget disclosed

By Carol Gee

The amount of money the the U.S. spends on spying is astonishing: $43.5 billion. That is $144.45 for each of the 301,139,947 (July 2007 est.) people in the United States. Recently revealed figures do not count the military spy budget, nor do they tell us how much of that money is spent spying on Americans. The New York Times reports that, quote:

Congress authorized spending of $43.5 billion over the past year to operate spy satellites, remote surveillance stations and outposts overseas, according to a budget figure released Tuesday by Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence.

. . . lawmakers, acting on a recommendation by the Sept. 11 commission, pushed a law through Congress this summer requiring that the director of national intelligence reveal the spending authorization figure within 30 days after the close of the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

The number released Tuesday does not include the billions of dollars that military services spend annually on intelligence operations. The total spying budget for the last fiscal year, including this Pentagon spending, is said to have been in excess of $50 billion.

To get further size perspective I did a little more research because the amount seems excessive. From Wiki Answers we get this tidbit about "how much is . . . "

. . . I can tell you that most U.S. currency weighs exactly one gram per note (bill). There are four hundred fifty-four grams (rounded to the nearest whole number) in one pound. Therefore, one pound of U.S. $100 bills would be worth about: $45,400!!!

Using these figures and doing the math
means that $43,500,000,000 amounts to 435 million $100 bills. That much money in $100 bills weighs 9581 pounds or 4.79 tons. In dollars it would amount to 479 tons of paper dollar bills. It would take six of our 3/4-ton Texas trucks, loaded heavy, to deliver all the $100 bills from the Treasury to Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell's office.

Tons of money spread around -- The International Herald Tribune, as usual, has one of the better stories on the subject, with this additional information on what our tax dollars buy. To quote:

How the money is divided among the 16 intelligence agencies and exactly what it is spent on is classified. It includes salaries for about 100,000 people, multi-billion dollar secret satellite programs, aircraft, weapons, electronic sensors, intelligence analysts, spies, computers and software.

Much of the intelligence budget __ about 70 percent__ goes to contractors for the procurement of technology and services including analysis, according to a May 2007 chart from the DNI's office.

. . . The intelligence agencies have fought multiple legal attempts to disclose their budgets, including the CIA, the National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the agencies inside the State, Treasury and Homeland Security departments, among others. They have argued that adversaries can divine secrets about intelligence activities if they can track budget fluctuations year to year.

. . . A top intelligence official inadvertently disclosed the overall intelligence spending figure two years ago at a conference that was open to the public. She said it was $44 billion (€30.5 billion).

National security analysts outside the government usually estimate the annual budget at about 10 percent of the total U.S. defense budget, which in 2007 was about $430 billion (€298.4 billion) plus nearly $200 billion (€138.8 billion) in war spending.

"DNI Discloses National Intelligence Program Budget" is the headline used by Steven Aftergood, who writes Secrecy News -- from the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy. Aftergood is often quoted in the stories about the disclosure. This is a story he must have written with great satisfaction on October 30. To quote:

As required by law, the Director of National Intelligence today disclosed (pdf) that the budget for the National Intelligence Program in Fiscal Year 2007 was $43.5 billion.

The disclosure was strongly resisted by the intelligence bureaucracy, and for that very reason it may have significant repercussions for national security classification policy.

Although the aggregate intelligence budget figures for 1997 and 1998 ($26.6 and $26.7 billion respectively) had previously been disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Federation of American Scientists, intelligence officials literally swore under oath that any further disclosures would damage national security.

Here is some perspective on how much money $43.5 billion amounts to in other areas of spending.

  • Bigger than many other budgets -- According to Reuters, the story most often used by the news media, I quote:

    The figure, which is roughly equal to the entire economy of Croatia or Qatar, dwarfs the estimated intelligence budgets of any other country including the closest U.S. ally, Britain, which spends about 10 percent of the amount, he [Aftergood] said.

  • Just a bit less than 4 years of U.S. aid to Iraq -- From the Khaleej Times "Most of the 44.5 billion dollar US reconstruction aid to Iraq since the 2003 invasion has been focused on the oil and electricity sectors," the Washington Post said.

  • Equal to China's support last year for all its rural people -- The People's Daily Online reported in 2006 that "A total of 339.7 billion yuan (43.5 billion U.S. dollars) went from central coffers to rural areas this year, an increment of 42.2 billion yuan (5.4 billion U.S. dollars) on last year."

For more information, following are references with which I intend to explore further the question of how much of this budget is spent on domestic intelligence. That will be very difficult, and I am sure it is a question in which Steven Aftergood is also very interested. As an aside, it that man's name heaven-sent for his mission?

Update: Here is a link to an information filled comment to this post at another site, TPMCafe. Howard Berkowitz adds useful insights to this rather murky business, and he caught a typo, too. Thanks to Howard.

  1. Good charts from Steven Aftergood -- "Tracing the Rise and Fall of Intelligence Spending"
  2. Daylife -- All the major stories from U.S. and foreign sources linked
  3. Wired -- Danger Room "Secret Intel Budget Revealed"
  4. Washington Post -- "Related Content" link-rich page

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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