WASHINGTON -- U.S. spy agencies have built an intelligence-gathering colossus since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but remain unable to provide critical information to the president on a range of national security threats, according to the government's top secret budget.
The $52.6 billion "black budget" for fiscal 2013, obtained by The Washington Post from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, 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.
"The United States has made a considerable investment in the Intelligence Community since the terror attacks of 9/11, a time which includes wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technology and asymmetric threats in such areas as cyber-warfare," the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said in response to inquiries. "Our budgets are classified, as they could provide insight for foreign intelligence services to discern our top national priorities, capabilities and sources and methods that allow us to obtain information to counter threats."
Among notable revelations in the budget summary:
• CIA spending has surged past that of every other spy agency, with $14.7 billion in requested funding for 2013. The figure vastly exceeds outside estimates and is nearly 50 percent above that of the National Security Agency, which conducts eavesdropping operations and has long been considered the community's behemoth.
• The CIA and NSA have launched aggressive new efforts to hack into foreign computer networks to steal information or sabotage enemy systems, embracing what the budget refers to as "offensive cyber operations."
• The NSA planned to investigate at least 4,000 possible insider threats in 2013, in which the agency suspected sensitive data may have been compromised by one of its own. The budget documents show that the U.S. intelligence community has sought to strengthen its ability to detect what it calls "anomalous behavior" by personnel with access to highly classified material.
• U.S. intelligence officials take an active interest in friends as well as foes. Pakistan is described in detail as an "intractable target," and counterintelligence operations "are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel."
• In words, deeds and dollars, intelligence agencies remain fixed on terrorism as the gravest national security threat; it is first among five "mission objectives." Counterterrorism programs employ 1 in 4 intelligence workforce members and account for one-third of all spending.
• The governments of Iran, China and Russia are difficult to penetrate, but North Korea's may be the most opaque. There are five "critical" gaps in U.S. intelligence about Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, and analysts know virtually nothing about the intentions of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Formally known as the Congressional Budget Justification for the National Intelligence Program, the "Top Secret" blueprint represents spending levels proposed to intelligence committees in February 2012. Congress may have made changes before the fiscal year began Oct 1. Mr. Clapper is expected to release the actual total spending figure after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
The document describes a constellation of spy agencies that track millions of individual surveillance targets and carry out operations that include hundreds of lethal strikes. They are organized around five priorities: combating terrorism, stopping the spread of nuclear and other unconventional weapons, warning U.S. leaders about critical events overseas, defending against foreign espionage and conducting cyber operations.
In an introduction to the summary, Mr. Clapper said the threats now facing the United States "virtually defy rank-ordering." He warned of "hard choices" as the intelligence community seeks to rein in spending after a decade of often double-digit budget increases.
This year's budget proposal envisions that spending will remain roughly level through 2017 and amounts to a case against substantial cuts.
The summary provides a detailed look at how the U.S. intelligence community has been reconfigured by the massive infusion of resources after the Sept. 11 attacks. The United States has spent more than $500 billion on intelligence in that period, an outlay that U.S. officials say has succeeded in its main objective: preventing another catastrophic terrorist attack in the United States.
The result is an espionage empire with resources and reach beyond those of any adversary, sustained even now by spending that rivals or exceeds levels reached at the height of the Cold War. This year's total budget request was 2.4 percent below that of fiscal 2012. In constant dollars, it was roughly twice the estimated size of the 2001 budget and 25 percent above that of 2006, five years into what was then known as the "global war on terror."
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., who was the House Intelligence Committee chairman and co-chaired the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, said access to budget figures has the potential to enable an informed public debate on intelligence spending for the first time, much as Mr. Snowden's NSA surveillance program disclosures brought attention to operations that had assembled data on nearly every U.S. citizen.
"Much of the work that the intelligence community does has a profound impact on the life of ordinary Americans, and they ought not to be excluded from the process," Mr. Hamilton said.
The CIA's dominant position will likely stun outside experts. It represents a remarkable recovery for an agency that seemed poised to lose power and prestige after acknowledging intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The surge in resources for the agency funded secret prisons, a controversial interrogation program, deployment of lethal drones and a huge counterterrorism center expansion. The agency was transformed from a spy service struggling to emerge from the Cold War into a paramilitary force.
The CIA has spent billions to recruit and train a new generation of case officers, its workforce rising from about 17,000 a decade ago to 21,575 this year.