Suddenly lost amid the latest missteps of the Obama administration concerning Syria is the publication by the Washington Post
on 29 August of the US Intelligence Community 2013 budget, based on a document purloined by defector Edward Snowden. The document provides details on line item spending and programs across the IC totaling some $52 billion. The CIA budget of $14 billion makes up almost a quarter of the total and represents a 50% increase in funding for the nation's premier spy agency since 2004. Follow-on articles provide additional details of US cyber programs, including targeting.
The article reveals the names and missions of specific collection programs and lists a series of intelligence "gaps," i.e. areas for which good information is lacking and hard to come by. The newspaper also claims it "' is withholding some information after consultation with U.S. officials who expressed concerns about the risk to intelligence sources and methods." Were it not so sad, this asseveration would be laughable. Considerable damage has been done.
The Post has performed at least one service here. The revelation that Snowden stole such a document and provided it not only to left-wing publications like the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Guardian newspapers, but also without doubt to the Russian and Chinese intelligence services should give the lie to any claim that he is anything other than a dirty little traitor with a grudge against US intelligence.
While many have focused on the size of the IC budget, that really should not be the central concern. As usual, attention is drawn to the failures of collection efforts, the so-called "gaps" described in the Post articles. But the real concern should center on the intelligence successes that must likewise have been described in the original document. The Post congratulates itself for redacting the information it published, but whatever that information may be, one can be certain it is now in the hands of the Russian and Chinese intelligence services, thus putting vital sources (including human sources) and methods at risk.
But even the published redacted version goes far in revealing sources and methods, not to mention specific targeting and current lacunae in US knowledge of the plans, intentions, and capabilities of potential and current adversaries. Moreover, while it is true that the Russians and Chinese possessed this information already, the same could not be said for the rest of the world. So now, thanks to the Post, the North Koreans, Iranians, Pakistanis and others have been handed a guidebook to the USIC's operations. Thank you, Washington Post.
General Michael Hayden, former director both of the NSA and CIA recently characterized the Snowden leaks as a calamity for US intelligence. I can but agree in spades.
Edward Snowden press conference taken by @HRW's @TanyaLokshina in Moscow airport July 12, 2013. | Photo: Tanya Lokshina, HRW | Link | Edward Snowden, Cia, Press, Russia, Press Conference, Leak, Secret, Whistleblower,
It's almost enough to make one wish that the US had an Official Secrets Act similar to that of Great Britain. The detention of David Miranda, the Brazilian homosexual lover of Guardian reporter David Greenwald, is illustrative. Greenwald is the Guardian reporter who worked with Wikileaks and Snowden to assist the latter to abscond to Hong Kong. The usual bleats and squeals erupted from the press when it was revealed that British authorities had confiscated computers and the data they contained from Miranda. Later, GCHQ (the British version of NSA) officials raided the Guardian's offices and destroyed hard drives containing the Snowden documents. Yesterday it was revealed that Miranda was carrying not only Snowden information, but also highly sensitive materials on GCHQ operations.
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In the spirit of closing the barn door after the horse has escaped, US officials are now taking a fresh look at how Top Secret clearances are granted and putting into place protocols to prevent another Snowden from compromising our nation's secrets. Yes, that's right. Intelligence secrets are national secrets that are in the interest of all citizens to protect.
The sad fact that a single, disgruntled individual could have access to such a broad array of highly sensitive information is a scandal. The lack of attention, oversight, and proper supervision is evident in both the Snowden and Manning affairs. It's time to take a close look at the use of outside contractors in sensitive positions. It's time to consider whether the implications of the steps taken to share information between intelligence and security agencies in the wake of 9/11 were sufficiently thought through.