On Thursday morning, the Washington Post published a major scoop: The contents of America's 2013 intelligence "black budget"—a secret, 178-page explanation of where money allotted by Congress to the intelligence community goes. It also details what America's intelligence objectives are, and which programs are succeeding or failing. The Post opted not to publish the entire budget, but made a summary and excerpts publicly available. The contents offer an amazing window into where Americans' tax dollars go and which programs are working.
According to the Post's Barton Gellman and Greg Miller, "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 (we) are publishing only summary tables and charts online."
Some of these summary tables and charts, it turns out, are of great interest to the tech industry.
According to the data, both the NSA and CIA have begun hacking into foreign computer networks on an offensive basis to steal information or sabotage enemy systems. The American government has frequently accused China of doing much the same thing, along with countries like France and Israel. The documents published by the Post strongly suggest that America has expanded its cyber-warfare program post-Stuxnet. Meanwhile, counterintelligence operations (including, it seems, defensive cyber-warfare) are "strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel."
Unsurprisingly, the NSA also has a massive leak problem. In 2012, the agency expected it would have to tackle a staggering 4,000 possible or ongoing insider threats in their budget. These threats primarily involved "anomalous behavior" by personnel with access to highly classified material. Might certain intelligence agencies have their own, in-house Snowdens delivering their data to foreign capitals instead of newspapers?
Meanwhile, America's secret intelligence budget is dominated by terrorism. Terrorism is listed first among five "mission objectives," and counterterrorism is responsible for one out of every four American intelligence jobs, and accounts for one-third of all spending.
One other surprise for bean counters is the fact that CIA budget is expanding rapidly, and now outpaces the NSA's. According to the documents, most of that budget bloat is due to the growth of the CIA's armed drone fleet, the creation of a secret prison system around the world, and massive expansion of the agency's counterterrorism center. As the Post's reporters put it, "there is no specific entry for the CIA's fleet of armed drones in the budget summary, but a broad line item hints at the dimensions of the agency’s expanded paramilitary role, providing more than $2.6 billion for “covert action programs” that would include drone operations in Pakistan and Yemen, payments to militias in Afghanistan and Africa, and attempts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program."
The final area of interest to the tech community is the world of high-tech surveillance devices used by America's intelligence agencies. North Korea is apparently surrounded by surveillance platforms, distant ground sensors, and more. In Syria, "NSA listening posts were able to monitor unencrypted communications among senior military officials at the outset of the civil war there, a vulnerability that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces apparently later recognized." Meanwhile, massive signals interception projects of the kind Snowden warned about—the collection and archiving of electronic communications by government authorities without a warrant—are apparently causing the agency massive headaches as agents try to actually use the world's Internet feed. The NSA allocated $48.6 billion for research projects dedicated to "coping with information overload."
[Image: Flickr user USACEHQ]