Copyrighted material


Analysis of under-reported news, updates on previous Monitor stories


[Editor's note: Before there were blogs, there were the Monitor "404 Reports," which began in 1997 as a forum to offer updates on previous Monitor stories and discuss items in today's news that deserved greater media attention. Significant additions or changes to the Albion Monitor site will also be announced here. Do not bookmark this page, as the 404 Reports address will change with each edition.]

The costs of spying


The Pentagon's Blank Check

Wanted: Enemy to Justify $344 Billion War Budget (2001)

Wasteful Spy Spending (2001)

Pentagon Budget gets a Windfall (1998)

Black Budget Exposed (1997))

  + SECRETS: SOMETHING OLD REHASHED, SOMETHING NEW LET SLIP     With much hoopla, the CIA has finally released a declassified version of its 1975 "family jewels" report, cataloging the Agency's previous years of abuses (PDF). The report ends with soon-to-be Director William Colby drafting a 1972 letter to Parade magazine objecting to a statement that the CIA uses "political assassination as a weapon." Colby wrote the editor, "I can say, under oath if need be, that CIA has never carried out a political assassination, nor has it induced, employed or suggested one which occurred." His denial would've been much more convincing if we hadn't read at the start of the report about the Agency's scheme to get mobster Johnny Roselli to whack Castro.

Much of the report is marginalia of that sort, probably interesting mostly to Wikipedia authors looking to confirm or add details about already-known CIA plotting and evildoing. Many of the deeds described seem almost restrained, today; as famed author and spook watcher James Bamford told NPR, June 24:

Usually the horror stories back in the 70s, everybody was aghast at what was happening. This was the whole creation of a congressional committee, joint committees to look into all this stuff. And now, looking back, it seems so minor compared to what the CIA is doing today. They have a whole section here on how the CIA held a Russian defector in a jail that was created by the CIA, a mini-prison for this person on CIA property for two or three years. Now you have the CIA keeping people in prisons all over the world, in secret prisons. It talks about the mail-opening that was done by the CIA, reading letters going from the United States to and from Russia, and also China. And that was an outrage at the time. But today the intelligence community is reading hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of e-mails of Americans.

Put another way: these last years have inured us to awfulness. Since Abu Ghraib, for example, there's been a running national debate over how much torture is okay; so numbed-out are we that most don't recognize that even asking the question is contemptable. And remember all that hubub less than ten years ago about presidents and the "rule of law?" How 90s quaint; how Newt Gingrichish.

Another sign of our diminished indignancy: Pre-9/11, one of the top government secrets was the existence of the "black budget" -- the hidden federal spending that pays for the CIA, NSA, and other covert ops. Only rarely have the staggering costs been revealed; in 1997, the Clinton administration said the U.S. was paying the spies $26.6 billion that year, which was about $10 billion less than the annual bill back in Reagan's day. And, as pointed out in " The Pentagon's Blank Check," the Bush administration indicated last year that intelligence spending had reached $44 billion. Before wrapping your head around that astronomical number, consider that the White House is lying: the actual amount spent annually is a staggering sixty billion dollars.

We know that figure thanks to a slip-up by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). At a May conference for the private intelligence industry, senior procurement executive Terri Everett gave a PowerPoint presentation that mentioned 70 percent of the total intelligence budget is spent on contractors. That unclassified PowerPoint file was posted to a Pentagon web site, where blogger R. J. Hillhouse discovered that the underlying data hadn't been scrubbed from the file -- just open the slideshow inside PowerPoint, click on the chart on page 11, and presto! Up comes the spreadsheet revealing that $42 billion was spent on contractors in FY 2005. If that's 70 percent of the pie, simple math shows the total budget is $60 billion.

(The file has been removed from the government web site, but can be downloaded here).

The ODNI released a statement that the data in question was just "...based on a small, anecdotal sample of a portion of Intelligence Community contracting activities. As a result, this data cannot be used to derive either the overall Intelligence Community budget, or a breakdown of any portion of the budget." Although most writers believed that the spymasters were lying to coverup an obvious -- and very serious -- breach of national security, R. J. Hillhouse offered an analysis that ODNI implied expenditures could be even higher.

Not to be lost in the outrage of $60 billion being spent on spying missions is the shocker that 7 out of 10 dollars are going to private companies (for the curious, the current top five intelligence contractors appear to be Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SAIC, General Dynamics and L-3 Communications, according to a recent analysis in Salon) even as government spy agencies are scrambling for funding.

The Baltimore Sun has covered ongoing budget problems at the NSA, where they're having troubles keeping the lights on. As predicted years ago, the facility has maxed out its electrical capacity. Running (what's believed to be) the world's most powerful computer complex has led to rolling blackouts at the center and shutdown of heating/AC in the offices. The Agency hopes to get a special $800+ million appropriation from Congress to upgrade the power system. Tempting though it may be to weep Crocodile tears over the NSA's computer problems that may stymie its efforts to eavesdrop on you and yours, consider this: would you really prefer that last vestige of your privacy ne outsourced to the likes of Halliburton or Blackwater?   (June 27, 2007)

PREVIOUS 404 Report

2006 Wayward Press Awards

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor Issue 158 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.