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'Black Budget' Revealed: A Detailed Look at US 'Espionage Empire'

Latest revelations made possible by Edward Snowden give unprecedented view of how taxpayer funds are use to "collect it all"

Jon Queally

In the latest revelation made possible by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the Washington Post on Thursday published an investigative analysis and interactive map of America's so-called "Black Budget" which details the $52.6 billion allotment of taxpayer money that funds the government's "intelligence-gathering colossus" that has previously remained insulated from the eyes of the American public.

Though a series of revelations have flowed from the Snowden leaks over recent months, this is the first detailed financial picture of how public monies are used to fund programs that Americans still know very little about. Critiqued as a "collect it all" strategy by those concerned about Constitutional and privacy violations, the vast surveillance network has been slammed at home and abroad.

According to the Post, the "Black Budget,"

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.

The 178-page budget summary for the National Intelligence Program details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees.

The summary describes cutting-edge technologies, agent recruiting and ongoing operations. The Washington Post is withholding some information after consultation with U.S. officials who expressed concerns about the risk to intelligence sources and methods. Sensitive details are so pervasive in the documents that The Post is publishing only summary tables and charts online.

A view into what the newspaper terms the US "espionage empire," the blueprint and summary documents  obtained by the Post "provides a detailed look at how the U.S. intelligence community has been reconfigured by the massive infusion of resources that followed the Sept. 11 attacks" in 2001.

According to the reporting, the $52.6 billion far-exceeded estimates about the amount of money being spent on clandestine spying and surveillance operations and that figure does not even include an additional $23 billion specifically geared to CIA and NSA operations done in direct support of the U.S. military.

In addition to providing what is repeatedly referred to as an "unprecedented" look inside the financial operations of the both the CIA and the NSA, the summary report leaked by Snowden also shows the enormous rate of operational growth at the CIA in the last decade, including a "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."

In an additional and ironic twist, the documents trace the development of internal counterterrorism efforts at the NSA and how to prevent sensitive leaks from occurring "from within" the US intelligence system. As the Post reports:

The document describes programs to “mitigate insider threats by trusted insiders who seek to exploit their authorized access to sensitive information to harm U.S. interests.”

The agencies had budgeted for a major counterintelligence initiative in fiscal 2012, but most of those resources were diverted to an all-hands, emergency response to successive floods of classified data released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

For this year, the budget promised a renewed “focus . . . on safeguarding classified networks” and a strict “review of high-risk, high-gain applicants and contractors” — the young, nontraditional computer coders with the skills the NSA needed.

Among them was Snowden, then a 29-year-old contract computer specialist who had been trained by the NSA to circumvent computer network security. He was copying thousands of highly classified documents at an NSA facility in Hawaii, and preparing to leak them, as the agency embarked on a security sweep.

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