Jane Mayer's recent New Yorker piece on the criminal prosecution of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake reveals a sliver of the intelligence industrial complex costing Americans their money and their freedom.
Drake blew the whistle on the NSA wasting billions and sacrificing Americans' privacy on what The New Yorker describes as a "$1.2 billion flop." The program, Trailblazer, though intended to collect and analyze massive amounts of data, was merely a funding vehicle with "nothing to show for [itself] other than mounting bills." NSA management rebuffed and retaliated against Drake and other public servants who pointed to a cheaper, ready-to-deploy program that contained privacy protections for Americans.
Trailblazer's failure is a prime example of the endemic revolving-door intelligence spending policy that wastes taxpayer dollars by the billions. Mayer's article describes the problem:
As the [Trailblazer] system stalled at the level of schematic drawings, top executives kept shuttling between jobs at the agency and jobs with the high-paying contractors. For a time, both [former NSA Director] Hayden's deputy director and his chief of signals-intelligence programs worked at SAIC, a company that won several hundred million dollars in Trailblazer contracts.
The billions wasted on Trailblazer are a fraction of massively bloated intelligence budget - of which NSA makes up a third. The Washington Post's Top Secret America profiled how, post-9/11, the intelligence industrial complex exploded, growing into something that cost American taxpayers $80.1 billion dollars in the Fiscal Year 2010. The details of where that money went are still classified, save to say $53.1 billion was the National Intelligence Program, which includes most intelligence agencies, and $27 billion was for the Military Intelligence Program. We also know it's more than double what was spent in 2001, which is no surprise considering the statistics the Post revealed last year:
1,271 government organizations
1,931 private companies working on counter-terrorism, homeland security, and intelligence at about 10,000 locations across the U.S.;
since 9/11, 33 new building complexes built or under construction - that's 17 million square feet of space;
50,000 intelligence reports a year, many of which are routinely ignored;
and over 850,000 people with top-secret security clearances.
Despite the staggering numbers, the request for Fiscal Year 2012 - made public for the first time in history in February - is even greater: $55 billion for the National Intelligence Program.
However, even with tens of billions of their dollars at stake, the American people are still largely in the dark about how their money is spent, with a few exceptions thanks to whistleblowers who couldn't stand to see Americans' privacy and security sacrificed for money.
The Department of Defense Inspector General Report substantiating Drake's concerns about massive NSA waste and illegality is still secret.
The total amount being spent on Intelligence this fiscal year is still secret.
The details of the FY 2012 appropriations request are secret because the Office of the Director of National Intelligence claims disclosing the details "could harm national security." (By the way, that's the same argument former CIA director George Tenet employed to keep secret even the total budget request number, a number that, as Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists highlighted, the current Director of National Intelligence released.)
When the first total intelligence spending number was released for FY 2010, after a decades-long battle led by transparency advocates, Congressional leaders committed to reducing overspending. Then-Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) assured taxpayers that:
I intend to identify and remove any waste and unnecessary duplication in the intelligence budget and to reduce funding for lower-priority activities . . . it is clear that the overall spending on intelligence has blossomed to an unacceptable level in the past decade.
Yet, Feinstein sat on the Intelligence Committee during the Trailblazer debacle, when the total intelligence budget numbers were secret. Meanwhile, the whistleblower who helped expose Trailblazer for the money pit that was has been charged with violating the Espionage Act and is set to stand trial on June 13th. Taxpayers are funding the retaliatory prosecution.