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Latest Snowden leak reveals multi-billion dollar "black budget"

U.S. 'black budget' reveals spending on spy programs

The latest leak from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden details the government’s so-called “black budget” — the multi-billion dollar budget request of America’s intelligence agencies.

The 178-page document outlines federal spending on surveillance programs. Intelligence agencies requested $52.6 billion for the 2013 fiscal year. The information was obtained by The Washington Post from Snowden, and published in part Thursday.

The budget shows the Central Intelligence Agency requested the most money at $14.7 billion or 68 percent of the budget.

Most of the total pot will go to data collection expenses — one of four spending categories — and warning U.S. leaders about major world events, like threats — one of five objectives.

And the black budget might be even larger than the $52 billion figure cited by the Post. A writer for The New York Times points out the N.S.A. budget figure omits much of the support it receives from military personnel who carry out eavesdropping on its behalf.

The budget report doesn’t just outline numbers; it also details targets. The Christian Science Monitor lists countries of “interest” to the intelligence agencies. “Among the nations listed as counterintelligence ‘priority targets’ are China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, and ... Israel,” a U.S. ally.

But despite the intelligence community’s sizable budget, its surveillance isn’t always effective. The Guardian points out this latest report highlights several key weak points in the U.S. intelligence community.

“Huge gaps in knowledge about Iran, China and Russia are acknowledged, with North Korea identified as the most difficult to penetrate, mainly because of its relative lack of internet and other modern communications.”

And freelance journalist Joshua Foust noticed an interesting connection in the report. Some of the documents suggest Snowden may owe his success to the leaker who came before him: Chelsea Manning.

Apparently the government was supposed to start investigating high-risk, high-profile contractors like Snowden. But “the government panicked so strongly about the threat caused by leaking documents classified at a lower level than this document that it diverted resources from the very program that possibly would have exposed Edward Snowden before he could have leaked.”

 NSA head James Clapper defended the budget request in a statement to The Post, arguing the total federal budget for intelligence was less than one percent of GDP. In a separate statement, Clapper reiterated his department’s commitment to increased transparency.

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