Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Joe Mazzafro

Well, the DNI implied back on 30 October that the United States will spend $43.5 billion on intelligence in FY 08 and the security of the republic seems not to have been impaired. In fact there has been a paucity of public discourse about whether this amount is to much or to little to spend on for intelligence ----- whether we are a nation at war or not. Interesting given all arguing back and forth over the years about whether or not providing the top line budget number for intelligence would or would not do harm to national security.

I say implied because the Washington budgetary cognoscenti know that $43.5 billion is a low ball number since it only includes what is in the National Intelligence Program (NIP), leaving those without clearance and need to know wondering how much the Military Intelligence Program for FY 08 is and what amount from the Iraqi War supplementals are spent on intelligence. I always contended inside the SCIFed area of Office of Naval Intelligence that the Intelligence Community wanted to keep its top line budget classified in the mid 90s because the amount spent on intelligence each year was about equal to the amount Mrs. Clinton said was needed to fund a national health care program and there was reasonable concern (meaning I was concerned) that if given a choice the American people would choose to fund heath care rather than intelligence.

As Ross Perot used say when he was running against George H. W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton back in 1992 “let’s take a look under the hood at these [IC] numbers.” The following chart from the Aspin-Brown Commission shows total intelligence funding grew by 125 percent in real (constant dollar) terms from 1980 to 1989 as part of the Regan Defense Build up and yet the IC was as surprised by Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait as it was Egypt crossing the Suez Canal in 1973. Then there was the collapse of the Soviet Union, which the IC seemed to be learning about with the rest of us from watching CNN and listening to the BBC. The chart goes on to show Intel spending increases declined after 1989, but remained at a level 80 percent higher than the 1980 figure, yet the IC still could not warn of the African Embassy Bombings, the Cole Attack, or 9-11; nor could it get the Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) NEI right.

As damning as a chart like this seems, I would be the first to say return on investment (ROI) is a false metric for intelligence spending. The more relevant question for intelligence spending is what should the nation be spending to get the effects it needs from its intelligence capabilities? I am certainly not interested in any fool saving money at the expense of national security!

Still these budgetary numbers suggest to me, and I believe to the DNI, that getting the right effects is more about what the IC budget is spending on than on how much more it needs to spend to make us secure. Just the savings from being able to reuse intelligence through collaboration, improved business practices, better leveraging of private sector Research & Development (R&D), and making contractor security clearances less costly should free up money needed to recapitalize the IC and fund new initiatives. Not quite how Mike McConnell might put it, but in the end what I am describing is the business case rational behind his 500 Day Plan for the IC.

Based on observed behavior, I believe the current DNI has taken a hard look at the numbers and assessed that the American people are not overly concerned by what the IC is costing them year over year. It seems he also senses that when gas prices are rising and the stock market is dropping asking for more funding for intelligence will only lead to an unnecessary debate about how more money for intelligence will make the nation more secure. What do you think?

Share Your Thoughts:

I agree that the public appears not to be overly concerned about intelligence spending. The $43 billion announcement caused very little stir. And that's a good news story underappreciated by both the media and the intelligence profession: the public by and large accepts intelligence as a normal tool of American statecraft. But future increases may face harder scrutiny with the $43 billion number as a baseline. Such scrutiny is not a reality to fear, but it is one to consider. And consider fully.

Within the IC we used to refer to the concept of "need to know." Unfortunately the Nation tasks the IC to run the intelligence cycle on a catholic basis -- a need to know all things about all things. That is an impossiblity. Our National Security Objectives and National Security Policy are in disarray. As a consequence and in an effort to avoid political blame for any iota of ignorance, money is thrown about. The tyranny of "should have" applies.

We live in a world alive with open source material. Events are reported in the press in real time. Google Earth covers the globe and it is not alone.

All the highly classified technical means of collection as well as the readily available OSINT clog the the brain. We learn much about capabilities, but intentions can easily be concealed from the mechanisms we use to collect COMINT and PHOTINT, including the satellite servers.

Intentions come from inside the enemy's planning cycle. To get there requires something called HUMINT, which we gave up on long ago and are just now trying to reestablish. HUMINT will never provide the instant gratifications that intercepts and pictures provide. Networks are not responsive to required results in annual budget reviews.

The government throws money, the IC catches it and the blame that follows for gaps in information. It will always be that way..

Does Intelligence cost too much? That is not the right question, since the money ia appropriated in political fear and based on a National Security structure which has chosen tobe unselective itself.

I would like to see a similar chart listing percentage intel spending increase, dated 9/11 to present. Not a chart based on low-ball estimates, mind you, but a realistic one that includes all dollars devoted to all intel and intel-related spending. I suspect that the percentage number would skyrocket well above the +130% or so, shown in 1989. Though I agree with Joe Mazz that a numerical ROI approach is unacceptable, the next step must be to develop some metric that will offer a reasonable measure to show what that increase has bought us in terms of real national security. Instantaneous global communication and the Web have taken us long past the time where we depended upon blind acceptance by a benign public, of intelligence gathering, analysis, dissemination, and reporting. Public acceptance of mega-bucks spent on the I/C depends on public understanding and acceptance of the true benefits derived from that spending. Especially on this, the 66th anniversary date of one of our country's most profound intelligence failures, we must understand that the green door has to crack open enough to allow such public understanding and appreciation as is reasonable. We have seen, these past few years -- to the great consternation of many of its practitioners -- that the I/C does not exist in a vacuum, responsible only to its own membership for its daily outpourings. "Where," like the lady in the old commercial once said, "is the beef?"&m.

Intelligence on the cheap leads to cheap intelligence. At the time of 9/11 Al Quaeda had more covert operatives in the field than the CIA, and the NSA central control center was getting its information from CNN. What worked in the immediate postwar period, may no longer work. What works now with terrorism, may not work in a few years when China and a reemergent Russia are the focus. Yes, the intelligence community is vastly under-funded; but how to match funding to long-term needs? How to invest now for the threats of 5-7 years from now? How to invest for the long-term, without losing the ability to respond to immediate problems?