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Think Again: The Intelligence Community (After Reading Their Budget) Part 3

(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 Edward Snowden’s disclosures will probably provide more use as a historical document than any other intelligence document of the last 50 years.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.

One comment

Germans were angered by the massive scale of NSA surveillance activity in Germany on Germans. This did harm the positive German US relation. However, it was not so public knowledge before that much espionage is going on.