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Unprecedented 'black budget' leak reveals the scope of $52 billion US spy complex

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Black budget.
Black budget.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has leaked documents that map out a $52.6 billion budget for the NSA, CIA, and other security agencies in unprecedented detail. The Washington Post, which reviewed the documents, describes a detailed list of objectives, failures, technologies, recruiting, and other information; the apparently 178-page summary itself has not been published. An interactive chart of some of the data, however, accompanies the piece.

CIA and NSA budgets increased by over 50 percent each since 2004

The Post reveals that CIA and NSA budgets have increased by over 50 percent each since 2004, with the CIA reaching $14.7 billion in 2013. Though budgets fell from 2012 levels, total funding is still almost twice what it was in 2001. The overall number is revealed each year, but these breakdowns are not included for security reasons. Among other things, the budget lays out "gaps" in counterterrorism efforts regarding Hezbollah, China's fighter planes, and Pakistan's nuclear program. Though it's said to have made progress in 38 of the top 50 gaps, one chart apparently shows dismal results in addressing biological and chemical weapons gaps: intelligence agencies hoped to make progress on at least five "gaps" a year, but they managed to work on only two in 2011 and none in 2010.

Snowden's past revelations about surveillance in Europe and at the UN's New York headquarters have strained relations between the US and its allies, and we've been given a general idea of where the US seeks intelligence. In this document, counterintelligence operations are described as "strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel." Iran, China, and Russia are all listed as difficult to surveil, but North Korea tops the list, and Pakistan is described as an "intractable target."

One of the most interesting sections discusses the surveillance technology the intelligence budget funds. In North Korea, US agencies gather photos, air samples, and infrared images "around the clock," using ground sensors to check for seismic activity that could indicate construction. Other surveillance technology monitored Iran for similar nuclear expansion. In Syria and other countries, ground sensors were placed near suspected weapons sites to provide data. A planned NSA mission could involve placing sensors to intercept radio signals in hostile areas. One section of the document even appears to describe CIA drones with biometric sensors used to help find and identify al-Qaeda members.

One section appears to describe drones with biometric sensors

Though the NSA's PRISM program is now well-known, the documents reveal that the CIA spends almost 12 percent of its budget on similar information collection systems, including a "CLANSIG" division described as "the agency's more targeted version" of the NSA's program. The NSA itself is apparently suffering from information overload: it's projected to spend $48.6 million on research projects that will alleviate the problem. Nonetheless, signals intelligence is considered one of the most important intelligence categories, particularly because officials believe it allows the agencies to monitor communications of al-Qaeda operatives who would otherwise be impossible to reach. Overall, data collection and processing costs comprise huge parts of the surveillance budget.

While the 'black budget' details give significant details about targeting other countries for surveillance, it also reveals growing fears of betrayal. In the 2012 fiscal year, counterintelligence funds were apparently diverted at the last minute in an attempt to shore up defenses when WikiLeaks began to publish leaks revealing details of the intelligence community. In 2013, The NSA was set to make at least 4,000 investigations of potential compromises. And the budget included funds to review "high-risk, high-gain applicants and contractors" — a group that included Edward Snowden.