Friday, August 30, 2013

Analysis of WaPo Intelligence Community Budget Report

Buried beneath the Syria news frenzy, on Thursday, The Washington Post published their latest piece on the US Intelligence Community (IC). The reporting is very interesting.

For a start, it seems that the CIA spends a lot more than we've previously thought. A total expenditure of around $15 billion annually. We've also learned that the CIA allocates very significant resources to technical collection efforts (of the type generally associated with the NSA).

Concerning the action of intelligence operations, North Korea and Pakistan are regarded as two especially hardened intelligence targets - challenging to penetrate and gather information on. However, although the Lebanese Hezbollah are also regarded as a hardened target, the Post's report suggests that the IC has closed some of their knowledge gap in this area (crucially important following the Pizza scandal).

In an interesting statement, the Intelligence Community regards Israel as one of the top five counter-intelligence focus areas. The other states being: China, Russia, Iran and Cuba. This shouldn't be surprising, Israeli intelligence efforts against the US are well known. It also shouldn't be taken as an indictment on the US-Israeli relationship. States spy on each other. Indeed, outside of '5EYEs', America spies on everyone.

In another area, the US IC continues to inject the majority of available resources into SIGINT/GEOINT and other technical-focus capabilities. From my perspective, this is both good and bad. On the good side, technological developments have meant that US technical surveillance efforts can garner exceptionally detailed and timely data from hardened, high level targets (enabling, for example, aggressive counter-terrorism efforts). On the bad side, unlike human sources, satellites and phone intercepts etc. cannot offer proximate inferential analysis. Their weakness and flowing vulnerability is obvious- if a target doesn't engage with technology, he/she will be exceptionally challenging to track. As a response, it's crucial that the US possess a robust HUMINT portfolio. Perhaps attempting to navigate hard-target penetration, the CIA is developing capabilities “that minimize or eliminate the need for physical access and enable deep concealment operations against hard targets.”

However, what most interested me is the degree to which the CIA resources covert action efforts - $2.6 billion/annual. That's more than the agency spends on HUMINT operations ($2.3 billion/annual).

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