Intelligence is like statistics. Both can be manipulated to tell you anything you want to hear, and you seldom get the real story from either one. But there is one major difference between intelligence and statistics: we didn’t spend $80 billion on statistics last year.
Our government announced on Thursday that it has spent $80.1 billion on intelligence activities in the last 12 months. Over $53 billion of that was rendered into thin air by the CIA and other agencies that report to the director of national intelligence, and the Military Intelligence Program blew the remaining $27 billion chasing hot tips on which Muslim weddings to bomb next.
Eighty billion dollars is almost 10 times the size of Iran’s entire military budget ($9.2 billion). In 2009 the entire Department of Homeland Security budget was a piddling $51 billion. The proposed 2011 budget metes out the paltry sums of $43 billion for transportation, $38 billion for education, $18.39 billion for border and transportation security, $10 billion on energy, and $2.13 billion for higher education.
This is the first year the government has told us how much it spends on intelligence. How much we’ve spent on War on Ism intelligence before that will probably remain secret for national security purposes. We wouldn’t want our enemies to know how much money we’ve already spent to deceive ourselves.
Whatever we’ve spent on intelligence since 9/11/01, you can bet a pretty penny it was a pretty penny, and one that we might as well have tried to throw across one of the oceans we sit between. Signs of intelligence in our intelligence conglomerate are as rare as one of Monty Python’s clever sheep.
Let’s start with the 9/11 attack itself, a plot the spies from Mad magazine could have stopped in its tracks before the hijackers finished flight training. After a showing that pathetic, our intelligence structure should have been pared down to hard tissue with chain saws. Instead, we made an already bloated calf even fatter, creating even more parochial sub-ministries to withhold vital information for the sake of ensuring that some other sub-ministry didn’t take credit for discovering it.
Then we passed the PATRIOT Act and gave the people who failed to protect us extra-constitutional powers so they could listen in on our obscene phone conversations. We also created a budget for an Office of the Director of National Intelligence but didn’t give the director himself any meaningful budget authority over the people who supposedly answer to him, meaning that nobody really answers to him.
Then we got cooked intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. Then we got cooked intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s non-connections with al-Qaeda and 9/11. Then we got bad intelligence on what the bad guys were or what they were up to or who they were even.
Since Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld first gave our spy programs the special sacrament behind the altar, we have used bad intelligence to demonize Iran and to bolster corrupt regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have used bad intelligence to assassinate “suspects” and to slaughter untold thousands of innocent civilians. In the pursuit of that bad intelligence we have shredded every law of armed conflict enacted by humanity. When we want to get some dirty deeds done that are too dirty for our official dirty workers to do, we hire mercenaries from outfits like Blackwater to do our dirty work for us. Our spy outfits would tell you all the important stuff they’ve found out that way, but then they’d… Well, they wouldn’t have to kill you, but they’d have to fly you off to some offshore rabbit hole and rough you up some. You’re not allergic to water or electricity or anything like that, are you?
Our dysfunctional intelligence behemoth has turned our already polluted information toxic. The lines between intelligence and news and punditry and tabloid sensationalism and propaganda – already gossamer thin prior to 9/11 – have gone the way of the pager. It may never be safe or sane to believe anything you read or hear regarding U.S. foreign policy again. In post-Orwellian America, the mainstream information providers are every bit as untrustworthy as their sources.
If you think all this illegal, immoral, and otherwise downright deplorable activity is justified because our intelligence services are protecting us, consider what they did this past year to justify their $80 billion price tag.
Last December we had the Panty Bomber, whose “weapon of mass destruction,” supposedly designed for him by a famous Yemeni bomb designer, didn’t even leave third-degree burns on his wee-wee. The kid never should have made it on to the airplane. His father made a report to two CIA officers at the U.S. embassy in Nigeria regarding his son’s “extreme religious views” the month prior to the incident. The kid’s old man is one of the richest men in Africa, former chairman of First Bank of Nigeria, and former Nigerian federal commissioner for economic development. You’d think the CIA bozos would have paid attention to him, but no, they blew him off like he was just another Yusuf Sixpack looking to collect his 15 minutes of fame.
On May 1 (“Mayday,” get it? 9/11 was already taken) we met the Times Square Screw-Up. His “weapons of mass destruction,” fashioned from firecrackers and supposedly crafted from a Pakistani design, failed to ignite as well. In the course of attempting to execute his “attack,” the Screw-Up managed to lock himself out of his bomb car, his getaway car, and his apartment. The kid had been on a U.S. government travel lookout since 1999, yet he not only managed to get into the U.S. and set up his Rube Goldberg car bomb caper unobserved, the Screw-Up darn near managed to escape back to the Middle East two days after he screwed up. U.S. agents snagged him up at JFK airport on an airplane headed to Dubai moments before it left the gate. The Screw-Up supposedly told the agents he’d been expecting them. It’s a wonder he didn’t say, “What took you so long?”
This past week we experienced the Rapture of the Airmail Bombing plot, and oh my God, if there’s a single substantiated syllable in that entire narrative, I have yet to encounter it in the New York Times. In a series of articles from 29, 30, and 31 October, our newspaper of tarnished record created enough cognitive dissonance to drive the Dalai Lama to a therapist’s couch.
We had President Obama telling us that two bombs found on airplanes underscored “the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism.” Mr. Obama said, “The American people should be confident that we will not waver in our resolve to defeat al-Qaeda.” But there’s some question not only as to whether al-Qaeda was behind the attempted airplane bombings, but as to whether any actual bombs were involved. The bomb they found in or around the plane in Dubai was similar to the package found in England, but maybe the package found in England wasn’t actually a bomb.
Maybe uber-evildoer Anwar al-Awlaki was involved, which might connect the Airmail Bombing to the Panty Bomber and the Screw-Up, but maybe not because maybe al-Awlaki had nothing to do with the Airmail Bombing nor with the Panty Bombing nor with the Screw-Up Bombing neither. Intelligence officials and government officials and generic officials say the Airmail Bomb deal has all the earmarks of an al-Qaeda plot but al-Qaeda might not be involved at all. Whoever mailed the bombs that might not be bombs was probably trying to target synagogues in Chicago unless they were trying to target passenger aircraft or unless they were trying to target cargo aircraft. Yemeni students studying English or computers or maybe both English and computers might have been behind the plot but maybe they weren’t.
The take-away from all this is that in the last year $80 billion of your tax dollars went toward a self-preserving continuum that aggressively feeds you disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda designed to keep you confused and afraid and on board with a war against a phantom adversary that has no army or navy or air force and no budget to speak of at all.
The really sad part is that nothing you do at the polls today is going to cause the national disgrace that our intelligence structure has become to get fixed, or even make it less expensive.