Jun 01

One of the joys of writing this blog--and something I think we are particularly good at here at On Violence--is coming up with wild ideas to improve our national security. Some favs: An International Criminal Court for Terrorists, Criminals and Pirates. Sending US Brigades on peacekeeping missions. Making Iran our ally in the Middle East.

Today, I present a new one: governments around the world need an Espionage Control Treaty.

I came up with this idea after revelations that the US had been spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel It was later revealed Angela Merkel had authorized German foreign intelligence service to spy on Germans for the NSA and she is now paying a political price for that. Since that revelation, there have been several repeated espionage snafus that make me think we need this more than ever.

- During negotiations with Iran, it was revealed that Israel was spying on US Secretary of State John Kerry and the negotiations.

- Recently, we discovered that the Russians had tapped into President Obama’s cell phone.

- China has been accused of spying on American corporations to steal intellectual property.

Since you can’t have a really good treaty without a really good acronym (START is probably the king of all treaties in this regard), we need one for this too. I propose “Restrictions on Espionage and Spying Treaty”, or REST.

REST would prohibit, ban or limit forms of international spying. For instance, it could say that governments won’t steal secrets from private individuals or corporations. Or it could prohibit sweeping up electronic communications and sharing them with allies. Or even all human intelligence collection on other governments. In short, it would make most clandestine spying illegal and against international norms.

Now I can hear some established national security voices clearing their throats to call me naive. They’re already preparing to say, “Did you really not realize that we spied on foreign governments? Did you not think they spied on us back?”

Of course I did.

But the brazen spying on a supposed ally by the US did surprise me. In hindsight, it was fairly easy to predict the diplomatic damage. But just because something--like espionage--is always done, doesn’t mean we have to--as a global community--keeping doing it (like slavery or war). And there are two great reasons why we could use this treaty.

First, intelligence could be the biggest waste of national security spending in the world right now. A lot of countries (not the US!), have dramatically restrained their spending on their militaries, but still spend boatloads keeping spies in the field. As Eric C wrote in his “Two Thoughts on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” post, spying often just wastes time, energy and money. Spies try to collect information, while counter-intelligence folks spread misinformation, and then the spies get that misinformation, understand it is misinformation then spread more. A lot of it seems not much better than guesswork.

Second, this is really the only way for the citizens of the global world to ensure our rights to privacy. Right now, the US can promise not to spy on its own citizens, but that doesn’t apply to British, German or Australian citizens. And those countries can agree to protect the privacy rights of their citizens, but still spy on Americans. Then the intelligence services can just swap information. And even if you trust the UK, Australia and other western governments, do you trust the Chinese or Russian governments? Me neither.

So let’s get to some obvious counter-arguments.

First, we wouldn’t “unilaterally disarm”. I bring this up because I can imagine someone saying, “We’re going to give up all our spies and let China spy on us?” Absolutely not. The entire point of a treaty is to ensure a country doesn’t do something unilaterally. So the US isn’t going to stop spying on other countries until it has agreements in place.

This leads to the second counter, which we receive on the blog all of the time, “Is this really enforceable? Do you trust other countries?” Well, as much as I trusted the Russians when we first established arms control treaties. Or trust opponents in war to follow the Geneva Conventions. Essentially, any Espionage Control Treaty would have the same safeguards as any international treaty. Having a treaty, though, gives us a pathway to both inspections and starts the world on a path for a new global norm.

Of course, America doesn’t always follow its treaty commitments. Think Geneva Conventions and the war on terror. That said, treaties help create international norms and I would love for a norm that enforced the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution worldwide. As a person who believes the values that founded America are universal, I’d love a treaty that starts that conversation.

The next argument, what about all the useful information we would lose? As I said above, I’m not too worried. For the most part spies write reports that become footnotes in other reports that are synthesized in even larger reports and no one ever reads most of them. Those reports, the slight edge we go for, are really just one or two steps above news reports, and maybe not even that high. (Remember when the CIA failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union? Remember when the CIA said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction?) We could still fund analyst shops to analyze the world; we just don’t need spies collecting vague human intelligence sources and collecting all our digital history.

And what about the terrorists? As I linked to above, a hypothetical “International Criminal Court for Terrorists” would handle those criminal investigations.

Do I think this one will ever happen? Of course not. The spies would hate it. Would we be in a better world with it? Of course.

Apr 24

Michael C argued last Wednesday that we could use the world’s largest supercomputer better. As he wrote:

”So, I ask you, what would be a better use of the world's largest supercomputer, trying to prevent a handful of attacks a year by terrorists or the medical innovations that could come by feeding the world's fastest supercomputer human genome data?”

Reading an early draft of the post, I responded, “That’s not the only way we could use one of the world’s greatest supercomputers.” Instead of wasting all of that technology on recording Americans phone calls and internet usage, we could use it to...

...Model Global Warming. I’m not even saying that we have to use it to support the theories of liberals. We can use it to run as many scenarios as possible. Run as much data and as many variations as you can. The government does have a supercomputer running these scenarios...and it’s only the twentieth largest supercomputer in the world. Oh, and according to research I found on Wikipedia, its memory is smaller by a factor of thousands.

...Predict the Course of Natural Disasters. The National Center for Atmospheric Research actually has a supercomputer that, in addition to modeling climate change, studies “tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, and other natural disasters”, helping to improve our predictions. If it works, let’s make it bigger, instead of spying on Americans’ phone calls and internet searches.

...Model the Economy. According to Nate Silver, modeling and predicting the economy is a fool’s errand,. And he’s probably right. But imagine if this computer at Moody’s were the size of the government’s supercomputer. We’d probably get a hell of a lot closer to reality.

...Recreate the Big Bang. No life saving achievement here, but it does add to our knowledge of the world...and it would keep America on the forefront of scientific innovation.

...Figure Out the Human Body. Like Michael C described in his last post, supercomputers can help us save lives by improving medicine, folding proteins and mapping the human bloodstream in ways humans never could, two innovations that could save lives.

...Advance solar power technology. Cause, you know, that’s what the Chinese are doing with their supercomputer. Sigh.

...Something we haven’t thought of yet.

Anyway, we could do all these things. Or none of them, and spy on Americans to prevent the terrorist attacks that rarely happen.

Apr 16

(Click here to read the entire “The (Opportunity) Costs of Security” series.)

Quick question: who, in the whole world, has the most powerful supercomputer?

Answer: The U.S. Government.

Second question: What do they do with it?

Answer: Collect, store and analyze internet traffic.

For details, read this prescient Wired article by author James Bamford that describes how the NSA is building a gigantic facility in Utah to track, store, crack and read a huge chunk of the communications passing through the U.S interwebs. To help decrypt and understand all this information, the NSA is trying to build the world's most powerful supercomputer. (If you had read this article pre-Snowden leaks, well, Prism and XKeyscore weren’t stunning revelations. Those leaks, though, confirmed what many of us suspected but couldn’t prove.)

As I said in the intro to this series, I don’t want to frame the NSA’s meta-data collection in terms of privacy and civil liberties, but in the terms of economics...and loss. The computing power purchased and harnessed by the NSA has opportunity costs. By using the world’s most powerful computer to track terrorist communications, we’re not using it on other things. Things that could save more lives.

For instance, when the NSA and Congress choose to spend billions on designing and building supercomputers for eavesdropping on our phone calls and emails, we choose to not use it on cracking the human genome. Genetics scientists have become much better at decoding individual human genomes. However, doing extensive analysis requires--you guessed it--massive amounts of computing power.

(For the sake of total honesty, the U.S. may not currently hold the title of “World’s Fastest Supercomputer”. The super-computer rankings are constantly shifting. Either way, the U.S. still has several very, very powerful super-computer systems dedicated to stopping terrorism.)

So I ask you, what would be a better use of the world's largest supercomputer, trying to prevent a handful of attacks a year by terrorists, or developing medical innovations that could come by feeding the world's fastest supercomputer human genome data?

To be safe, let's run the numbers.

Assume that without the supercomputer, Al Qaeda would have the ability to conduct three 9/11-sized attacks every year. (This is, of course, a ridiculous exaggeration.) That's around 9,000 people a year saved by the supercomputer. (Again, this is a ridiculously high figure, approximately twice as many people as the actual number of Americans who have died by international terrorism since 1969 or roughly 44 times more than the average number of people who have died of terrorism since 1969). The average age in the U.S. is 36.8. The life is expectancy is around 77. That means that the computer saved around 361,000 U.S. life years. (I mean, it didn’t, but go with us here.) Go NSA supercomputer!

Let’s assume that instead of stopping terror attacks, we use all that computing power on decoding the human genome. Let’s say we target it at breast cancer alone. Let’s say this develops a cure for one form of breast cancer, or approximately 12% of the 232,000 newly diagnosed cases every year. The average person lives 5 years after a breast cancer diagnosis. Let’s say this adds on an additional 12 years. This would assume the average diagnosis age is 60, and the average survival is now normal life expectancy. (It’s a cure, remember?) This supercomputer, on a very limited and conservative estimate, just saved 334,000 U.S. life years.

Don’t think too hard; these are just rough back of the envelope calculations, filled with assumptions. Just kicking the tires a tiny, tiny bit, though, shows my thesis holds up: we are wasting computing power on stopping terrorism. That assumption of 9,000 U.S. lives saved by terrorism is ridiculously high. Ludicrously high. If the government’s computer could save even a fraction of lives by decoding the human genome (the break-even in life years), then we should use it for that purpose.

(And I just used it for breast cancer, not other cancers, or heart disease or diabetes or infectious diseases or a host of other illnesses where genetics play a part. We didn’t even mention unfolding proteins, which is both medically useful and the perfect task for a supercomputer.)

The moral? Don’t let counter-terrorism advocates fool you into thinking spending money stopping terrorism saves your life. Wasting money on supercomputers to stop terrorism is killing you.

Apr 01
(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2014", please click here.) - See more at: http://www.onviolence.com/#sthash.urR2eHTL.dpuf

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

Today’s post continues our series about the intelligence community after the release of their black budget last fall by the Washington Post. Today’s edition debunks the critics of Edward Snowden.

Myth 9: The release of the Intelligence Community’s Budget isn't useful. Edward Snowden’s disclosures will probably provide more use as a historical document than any other intelligence document of the last 50 years. The Washington Post explains why, “Historical data on U.S. intelligence spending is largely nonexistent.”

So I ask the rhetorical question, how can you write a history of America’s intelligence community if you don’t have the documents? You can’t. As an academic and historian, this troubles me. Indeed academics--rather than journalists--can write the best, most critical research and analysis on intelligence. (Tenure is a powerful thing.) As a result, we don't have great histories of intelligence written by non-intelligence insiders. This document (plus Wikileaks) will do a tremendous job of filling the gap. It will enable historians to study intelligence without relying on insider access.

Of course, oversight is useful in and of itself. As the 9/11 Commission wrote:

“When even aggregate categorical numbers remain hidden, it is hard to judge priorities and foster accountability...”

Who doesn’t want every single member of Congress to have the knowledge of how much our country spends on intelligence? It seems vital to ensuring oversight and protecting the civil liberties of Americans. Further, this release will help small government conservatives, transparency advocates and anti-war activists marshall facts to support their opinions.

So, yeah, it is pretty useful.

Myth 10: The intelligence community isn't redundant or wasteful. Thanks to this budget, the whole country can go through and see how many agencies conduct the same activities, repeat the same functions, and analyze the same information.

When the President doesn't even know the names or purposes of the sixteen intelligence agency under his purview (read this Politico story of the details), you probably have redundancy and waste. When multiple agencies have human intelligence, satellite collection, technical intelligence and signal collection capabilities--not to mention analytical overlap--then yeah, you probably have redundancy and waste. When a government agency’s budget doubles in a ten year period without regular reviews, then you probably have redundancy and waste.

Now that we have all the numbers to quantify those redundancies, we might (small might) be able to fix it.

Myth 11: Releasing this document harms America's national security. When I first wrote this article, I asked myself, “What does that even mean?” Does “harming national security” mean “making it more likely Americans will be harmed?” In that case, it’s hard to see how releasing our national collection priorities will suddenly change the behavior of our enemies. Will al Qaeda, armed with the information that U.S. wants to hunt it down, suddenly change tactics? Will China be shocked we are spending gobs to stop its cyber attacks? Probably not and Americans won’t be harmed in either case.

Really, though, the question is irrelevant. The onus isn't on us for explaining why this isn't dangerous, but on the classifiers to explain how this specific document could hurt America's security in concrete, specific ways. Operational plans fall into that category; broad strategic plans don't. We should release this document unless the NSA can show the concrete harm which could stem from it. The benefit from having millions of Americans having more insight into how the governments spends their money far outweighs the hypothetical damage to national security.

Myth 12: The Intelligence Community doesn't have goals, metrics or a report card. For this myth, we go to myself (Michael C). Like its bigger brother the Pentagon, I just assumed the IC spent our money wildly with no eye to accomplishing concrete goals. As this budget shows, the IC does have goals, for example improving human intelligence collection, but it hasn’t done very well accomplishing them, which might explain why they stay hidden. Nevertheless, I have to give credit that at least somewhere America’s intelligence world created goals for itself.

Mar 24

A few weeks back, I wrote that the NSA defends itself by using a version of English only spoken within the intelligence community. (See this Slate piece for how “surveillance”, “collect” and “no” mean different things in the intelligence world than in the rest of America.)

Yet that Slate article missed a few good examples of how the NSA abuses the English language. The last time I “Got Orwellian”, I wrote about President Obama’s liberal use of the phrase “ordinary Americans” to defend the NSA. Today, I want to tackle another another word that has bugged me: “legal”,  in that the NSA’s programs were “legal.” (For the most common uses, see General Keith Alexander’s repeated defense of NSA programs as “legal” here, here, here and here.)

Were those programs “legal”? Imagine this hypothetical. Facing budget shortfalls, Congress passes a new law to save on military spending. Instead of forcing troops to pay for their own houses, Congress requires any citizens living near military bases to house and quarter troops. President Obama, in an act of bi-partisanship, signs this law. He then orders the military to execute the law, and they start planning. Eventually, troops start living with civilians in their homes.

To be perfectly clear, the Pentagon legally acted on President Obama’s order, as in the Pentagon obeyed/followed laws passed by Congress.

As any one who has read the Constitution can attest--and so many politicians claim they love the Constitution that they now read the Constitution on the House floor (leaving out, of course, that whole 3/5ths thing)--quartering troops is clearly unconstitutional. I deliberately chose the oft forgotten 3rd Amendment, which prohibits quartering troops, because no one worries about having to house soldiers, nor could anyone really call that constitutional. Unlike other amendments, pundits and politicians don’t argue over the 3rd.

This thought exercise illustrates perfectly a clear gap between legal actions and legal yet unconstitutional laws. Supporters of the NSA completely miss this distinction.

Critics of the NSA aren’t simply claiming that the NSA is acting illegally (though there is plenty of evidence that the NSA exceeded its legal authority in any reasonable interpretation of the Patriot Act). Critics argue the NSA is acting unconstitutionally. In this interpretation, it doesn’t matter that Congress passed a law and the President is enforcing it; the law doesn’t pass Constitutional muster in the first place. American history is filled with laws that were deemed unconstitutional by the courts.

Unfortunately for the American people, we can only challenge unconstitutional laws in court. Doubly unfortunately, the Intelligence Community does most of its dirty, unconstitutional work in secret. Congress passed the Patriot Act publicly, with a few classified sections, which the NSA interprets in secret, gets approval from the FISA court in secret, and then executes in secret. The entire snooping apparatus was erected...in secret.

Only after the Snowden disclosures did critics have the standing and the ability to challenge the constitutionality of these programs.

Take a key piece of the Patriot Act, national security letters. These letters--unconstitutionally--made it illegal to tell anyone an intelligence agency had contacted you to execute a search warrant. They also prevented recipients from challenging them in court. The intelligence agencies approached companies like Google, Yahoo, Verizon and others (including civilians) with these letters, and threatened criminal prosecution if they told anyone they had started spying on Americans.

Without a whistleblower like Edward Snowden, and hopefully others in the future, we never would have found out about this program. Not because the law isn’t legal--though many doubt the NSA’s interpretations will stand in court--but because the laws are unconstitutional in the first place.

Feb 19
(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2014", please click here.) - See more at: http://www.onviolence.com/?e=775#sthash.qYBD8JIS.dpuf
o read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2014", please click here.) - See more at: http://www.onviolence.com/?e=775#sthash.qYBD8JIS.dpuf

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

Congress recently passed a new budget about the same time that President Obama laid out his plan for reforming the intelligence community. Unfortunately, as others have written, they missed a huge opportunity to declassify the “black budget”, the part of our annual spending which goes to intelligence, opening up the dark intelligence world to the bright, cleansing sunlight of transparency. Like most people in the intelligence game, they continued to pretend that Edward Snowden didn’t leak that same black budget six months earlier.

Alas.

Today we continue debunking the myths about intelligence related to Edward Snowden’s leaks. (Find the previous post here.)

Myth 4: We need that funding because the world is more dangerous than it has ever been. Again, in James Clapper's words:

“Today’s world is as fluid and unstable as it has been in the past half century...”

General Clapper again relies on an emotionally-compelling reason for increased spending. He doesn't provide facts, data or evidence--the logically/rationally compelling reasons--to increase intelligence spending. As we’ve covered before the world is, if anything, safer and more stable than at any time in history. Not even in proportional terms, but in real world terms; less people die each year from armed conflict, including terrorism, than at any time in history. This is due to rising global incomes, the spread of international institutions and the general decline of violence in the modern and contemporary periods.

Yet General Clapper said the opposite.

Further--and we need to write about this more--no rational foreign policy or national security expert could reasonably claim the Cold War was less dangerous or unstable than today. If anything, the Cold War motivated both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to oust unfriendly dictators, which is why the rate of civil wars (and terrorism) skyrocketed.

Myth 5: This spending keeps you safe. I could provide an explanation of logical fallacies, but I think I’d rather have Lisa and Homer Simpson demonstrate for me. After a bear sighting in Springfield, Homer says:

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.

Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.

Homer: Thank you, dear.

Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.

Homer: Oh, how does it work?

Lisa: It doesn’t work.

Homer: Uh-huh.

Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.

Homer: Uh-huh.

Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?

[Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]

Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

[Lisa refuses at first, then takes the exchange]

It would be funny, if the intelligence world didn’t snooker the the Washington Post with the same logic:

The United States has spent more than $500 billion on intelligence during that period, an outlay that U.S. officials say has succeeded in its main objective: preventing another catastrophic terrorist attack in the United States.

Of course, officials can say that; they just can't prove it. Over ten years, what amount of spending would have allowed a terror attack? $100 billion? $200 billion? Clearly, if we had spent a trillion dollars, that would have prevented another catastrophic attack as well, but since a terrorist attack didn’t happen, we didn’t need to spend an extra $500 billion.

We’ll have more in future posts, but in the mean time, I have a rock that prevents terrorism. Anyone want to buy it?

Myth 6: Terrorism is our gravest threat. No, that's still nuclear weapons possessed by states. Terrorism is more likely, but less serious. The Washington Post, again quoting from the document, wrote, “In words, deeds and dollars, intelligence agencies remain fixed on terrorism as the gravest threat to national security." Though intelligence officials believe that terrorism is the gravest threat, that doesn’t make it so. This myth shows how the intelligence community--even in secret--can’t accurately identify threats to the country.

Myth 7: The CIA is understaffed/underfunded. For this, we go to past On V contributor Matt Bradley via email:

I thought this was the case. Yet, the CIA's budget has exploded, and as the article rightly points out, it now is a paramilitary force.

Myth 8: Technology will save us. The Washington Post again:

The documents make clear that U.S. spy agencies’ long-standing reliance on technology remains intact. If anything, their dependence on high-tech surveillance systems to fill gaps in human intelligence has intensified.”

I've said before that President Bush's biggest missed opportunity was the chance to really improve language training across America to help with human intelligence. He also could have allowed more immigration to provide a pool of foreign experts. He did neither, and the intelligence community never really strengthened their human intelligence collection capabilities.

Why not? Economics. Intelligence-contracting companies make more money off of fancy tech than training people to learn Arabic. Yet somehow the Post and government officials think this reliance on technology could be a good thing. Think tanks funded by defense contractors want Americans to think this too. Americans--led by their imagination of innovation in Silicon Valley--are also prone to buying this. As the IC"s own report cards show, human intelligence gaps can't be filled through tech, no matter how hard we try.

Feb 18

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

One of the most disappointing parts of the NSA disclosures was the repeated twisting of language by NSA officials to obfuscate what they were doing. Of course, all public relations people play this game. When it comes to possible constitutional violations, possible criminal conduct, insane amounts of secrecy and national security, though, that’s a game I don’t want government officials playing; we have to hold NSA and administration officials to a higher standard.

Today, I want to “get Orwellian” on the worst defense made by President Obama of the NSA, and it centers around a single word, “ordinary”.

Repeatedly uttered in his most recent speech on national security--in some variation of “ordinary” and Americans/people/citizens--President Obama tried to reassure the public that we’re not after you; we’re after terrorists. By our count, in his most recent speech on NSA reforms, he uttered it seven times:

“...U.S. intelligence agencies were anchored in a system of checks and balances, with oversight from elected leaders and protections for ordinary citizens.”

“...the men and women of the intelligence community, including the NSA, consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people.”

“In sum, the program does not involve the NSA examining the phone records of ordinary Americans.”

“But our efforts will only be effective if ordinary citizens in other countries have confidence that the United States respects their privacy too.”

‘To begin with, the directive makes clear that the United States only uses signals intelligence for legitimate national security purposes and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary folks.”

‘The bottom line is that people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don't threaten our national security...”

“Our intelligence agencies will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments, as opposed to ordinary citizens, around the world in the same way that the intelligence services of every other nation does.”

Interestingly, President Obama never defines what an “extraordinary American” is. Presumably, based on the speech’s repeated reference to terrorists and stopping terrorism, terrorists aren’t “ordinary Americans”. So we have a clear dichotomy: “ordinary Americans” and “terrorists”. Unfortunately, the world isn’t so simple and the phrase “ordinary Americans” presents as many problems as it solves.

For instance, while the NSA may not investigate “ordinary Americans”, the FBI certainly does. Numerous accounts have shown that the FBI spends a disproportionate amount of its time trying to infiltrate mosques. In many cases, these same FBI agents encourage ordinary Muslim Americans to commit terrorism, many of whom showed no interest in extremism before the FBI took an interest in them. (Listen to this episode of This American Life, for an extreme example.) Of course, in their NSA meta-data searches, many ordinary Muslim American phone numbers likely show up, simply because the NSA, like any intelligence agency, spends a disproportionate amount of time focused on Islamic terrorism.

And while I don’t want to suggest that politics might use racially coded language for political purposes--for instance “welfare queen”--I could make the argument that “ordinary Americans” means, you know, the non-Muslim Americans. (The NYPD Intelligence Unit spent most of its time mapping and infiltrating Muslim communities. Do they count as “ordinary Americans”?)

A final point that I will hammer home in the next “Getting Orwellian” post: for a Constitutional scholar, President Obama must know better. Under the Constitution, every American is an ordinary American, until proven otherwise in a court of law. Everyone receives the full-protection of the law, no matter what the government accuses them of doing. This includes a right to privacy and protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

When we start to pick and choose who gets Constitutional protection, well, we are probably on the wrong track.

Feb 11

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

Of all the Snowden leaks, few will have as much impact on our intelligence community (IC) as the release of the secret intelligence budget. With this budget, the American people--and tragically, their elected representatives--have better insight into the intelligence community than ever before. The release of the budget, like most of the leaks coming from Edward Snowden, shows that the unelected leaders of the intelligence community have consistently exaggerated, misled, and deceived Americans about both the threats facing our country and their actions to counter those threats. 

In this case, how they spend money.

So consider this a "Think Again: The Intelligence Community". It will tackle three different types of myth, including myths the release from last summer overturns, myths the intelligence community continues to peddle to lawmakers and the American public, and the myths the intelligence community uses to attack Edward Snowden and the journalists releasing classified information. 

Myth 1: There is nothing new here. In future posts, we plan to hold some NSA defenders’ feet to the fire when it comes to this claim. Supporters of the NSA manage to argue two contradictory statements about nearly every Snowden leak: 1. “Oh, everyone already knew that” and 2. “This devastates our national security.”

How can something everyone knows devastate our national security if everyone already knew it? 

And with the budget release, this line of attack is especially disingenuous. The biggest update is that, far and away, most national security observers had been drastically underestimating the size of particular agencies. For instance, most analysts believed the CIA was still operating under budget constraints, when they had the single largest growth in funding since 9/11. In this case, the intelligence agencies didn’t lie per se, but chose to pretend that they were cash-strapped agencies.

Speaking of underfunding...

Myth 2: The intelligence community is underfunded. This is frankly an incredibly shocking statement...and it comes from the Director of National Intelligence, General James Clapper. In his words:

Never before has the IC been called upon to master such complexity and so many issues in such a resource-constrained environment...

Apparently General Clapper never learned to never say, “Never say never.” As the Washington Post describes later describes:

Spending in the most recent cycle surpassed that amount based on the $52.6 billion detailed in documents obtained by The Post, plus a separate $23 billion devoted to intelligence programs that more directly support the U.S. military.

That’s $75 billion on intelligence, by my calculations. To be clear, the U.S. spends more on intelligence than every other country in the world--besides China and Russia--spend on all their military spending. The United Kingdom has the third largest military spending in the world, and it only spends $60 billion per year on its whole military.

Worse, in historical terms, the amount spent on intelligence rivals any time during the Cold War. In other words, far from being “resource-constrained”, the intelligence community has never had as much money on hand as it does now.

Frankly, General Clapper can only get away with calling the budgeting environment "resource constrained" because a majority of our representatives don't have the ability (or the time) to read the secret IC budget . He can only get away with it because academics can't chart the budget historically, or in detail. He can only get away with it because think tanks and lobbyists funded by defense and intelligence contractors spread this myth through reputable journalists.

Myth 3: The U.S. only spends 1% of its GDP on intelligence. Again from General Clapper: "Even with stepped up spending on the IC over the past decade, the United States currently spends less than one percent of GDP on the Intelligence Community.”

Actually, I cannot debunk this fact. General Clapper is correct that we spend less than 1% of GDP on intelligence. The myth is that the U.S. should even think about pegging its intelligence spending to GDP. It is simply stunning that General Clapper could use this argument.

Maybe the definition of a security state is one which spends one percent or more of GDP on intelligence. So yes, we aren't there yet, but we're on our way...and should be, according to intelligence officials.