Black Budget: The $52 Billion Security Budget You Know Nothing About


The Washington Post released a series of interactive graphics on Thursday revealing previously classified information about the secret $52.6 billion budget of a collection of U.S. intelligence agencies. While this information about the secret budget, particularly its growth over the past decade and relative concentration within the CIA, is illuminating, there is little indication the release of these "secrets" will harm U.S. security goals. 

The budgets for these agencies, collectively referred to as the Black Budget, indicates federal expenses that were kept confidential for "reasons of national security." Many countries classify the budgetary breakdown of intelligence and security operatives as secret in order to fend off those who may use the information to orchestrate attacks. The Post's infographics are allegedly based on leaked information from former NSA agent Edward Snowden. 

The graphics outline intelligence spending across a whopping 17 agencies, but do not include additional military intelligence spending. 

The multi-billion dollar intelligence budget is concentrated within the CIA, NSA, National Reconnaissance Office, National Geospatial Intelligence Program, and the General Defense Intelligence Program. The CIA, the federal agency tasked with gathering intelligence information internationally, receives the most funding. In 2013 it received $14.7 billion.

By comparison, the NSA, which is primarily concerned with collecting, decoding, and analyzing intelligence signals, has $4.2 billion less in its budget despite some theories that the NSA receives the most funding.


The graphics indicate that the the greatest portion of the funds are directed towards fulfilling the "mission" of informing U.S. officials of global military, social, and economic threats. Counterterrorism efforts, cyber security, anti-espionage, and thwarting the spread of illicit weapons receive proportionally smaller amounts of funding.


Most interesting about the "Black Budget" information is the amount it has increased over the past decade. While a post-9/11 increase in intelligence spending may not be surprising, the exponential growth of the agency since 2001 is shocking. The overall intelligence budget in 2013 is nearly twice that of the 2001 budget in constant dollars. Much of the expansion has occurred recently. According to the Post, the current budget is 25% more than it was in 2006, despite the global economic crises that calls for budget cuts.  

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Security Scientists believes that having public access to this type of budgetary information is remarkable. "This kind of material, even on a historical basis, has simply not been available," he said.

The release of this information, however, is not without significant concern as people fear this disclosure of Black Budget details will compromise national security even further. "Our budgets are classified as they could provide insight for foreign intelligence services to discern our top national priorities, capabilities and sources and methods that allow us to obtain information to counterthreats, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said.

Still, while this new information removes a much of the mystery surrounding intelligence programs, there is no major indication that the release of the Black Budget details will be of significance to potential attackers. The Post claims its information stems from a 178-page leaked budget summary about intelligence spending. If this report is released in further detail, it may then be more cause for alarm.  


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Rachel George

Rachel is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics. She holds a BA in Politics from Princeton and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard. Her interests include journalism, U.S. foreign policy, human rights, and international law.

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