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US CIA Role Escalates Since 2001 Terrorist Attacks

  • VOA News

FILE - Lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in Langley, Virginia, in 2008.

FILE - Lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in Langley, Virginia, in 2008.

A newly leaked document from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden shows the increasing role that the country's Central Intelligence Agency plays in American spy operations.

The document disclosed Thursday by The Washington Post reveals that the government has a $52.6 billion "black budget" for spying, covert military actions and intelligence gathering for the year ending in September. More than a quarter of that goes to the CIA, surpassing spending for any of the other 15 U.S. spy agencies, including the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office.

A national security expert at the Federation of American Scientists, Steven Aftergood, said the role of the CIA has expanded in the 12 years since al-Qaida's September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S. from intelligence gathering to clandestine battlefield attacks. As a result, he said, the CIA is claiming a bigger share of the U.S. intelligence budget, up perhaps from about 10 percent in the 1990s.

"The CIA has taken on an extensive paramilitary and operational role post-9/11 that it did not have in the 1990s," he said. "It is providing direct support to military operations and carrying out operations of its own, including drone strikes and others that help to explain the surge in funding that it has received post-9/11."

Aftergood says U.S. spending on intelligence operations far exceeds that of other individual countries — perhaps by 10 times the amount. He said that is partly because of American security commitments to other nations and the U.S. role as the world's biggest military superpower.

"No other country really comes close," he said. "Part of the explanation for that, I suppose, is no other country has global committments of the same sort that the United States has or military engagements in so many different parts of the world. So, you know, the U.S. intelligence operation, activity, bureaucracy, whatever you want to call it, is far larger than any of our our allies or adversaries."

Although the U.S. government annually reveals overall intelligence spending, the 178-page document Snowden leaked breaks down how much money goes to which agency and, to a certain extent, what those agencies do with the funds.

Although the newspaper published graphs and charts tracking the spending of each of the intelligence community's 16 agencies, it said it withheld "some information after consultation with U.S. officials who expressed concerns about the risk to intelligence sources and methods."

The funding pays for an array of spy satellites, high-tech equipment and employees, including analysts, linguistic experts, cryptologists and an increasing number of cyber specialists.

The 30-year-old Snowden, the source behind one of the most significant intelligence leaks in U.S. history, fled Hawaii three months ago with a trove of secrets. He is now living in temporary asylum in Russia, leaving U.S. authorities unsuccessful in their efforts to have him expelled to face espionage charges.