Thanks to the efforts of whistleblower Edward Snowden and the reluctant cooperation of the Washington Post, American citizens are now able to see just what their half-trillion dollars have bought them over the last 10 years: a vastly larger and more expensive and invasive surveillance state than most people even imagined. And the Post warned that the “black budget” provided to them by Snowden is only part of the picture, and that even what was exposed is dated.
For simplicity, the “black budget,” proposed to Congress and dated in February 2012 for the fiscal year 2013, funds the “black operations” of 16 spy agencies, not just the big ones capturing the headlines. The “big five” include the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
The budget, estimated at more than $50 billion a year, fails to include another $23 billion for similar surveillance costs absorbed by the Defense Department, according to the Post. And after reviewing Snowden’s documents with various spy agency advisors, part of Snowden’s leaks were “redacted” or eliminated from publication altogether. So the Post’s revelations provide a brief but limited and dated peek behind the black spy curtain that has shielded their operations for years. And because part of that budget is now funding measures to keep other whistleblowers from parting that curtain in the future, this may be the last time such a limited look will be allowed.
Nevertheless, what is revealed is staggering. The agencies, in aggregate, have four tasks and five missions. They collect data, analyze it, process it, and act on it. The starting point is with the little-known NRO, which designs, builds, and operates the spy satellites that collect satellite intelligence, divides it into bite-size pieces, and sends the signal intelligence (SIGINT) to the NSA, the imagery intelligence (IMINT) to the NSA, and the measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) to the DIA.
From there, more than 100,000 workers analyze, track, and follow where that intelligence leads, in accordance with their mission: warning U.S. leaders about potential threats, neutralizing those threats, stopping the spread of weaponry in the possession of those threats, hacking into their networks, and eliminating the threats.
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