FRINFORMSUM 9/5/2013: Secret Budget Reveals DNA Tests Confirm bin Laden’s Death, Operation Hemisphere Far Larger than NSA Surveillance Programs, and More
As the President, Congress, and the public debate US military intervention in Syria, the CIA has partially declassified a Top Secret 1985 report on Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities. The report concludes that Syria could produce 7.8 metric tons of the nerve agent sarin every month. However, the report argues that President Hafez al-Assad would only order the use of chemical weapons “if Syria’s defeat or an enemy chemical attack appeared imminent or in retaliation for a chemical attack. In the event of Assad’s death or removal from power, this policy would change little, if at all.”
While the CIA is disclosing timely and historically significant records, the Pentagon is fighting to keep some of the most significant documents on the war against Al Qaeda secret, including a list of Al Qaeda associated forces. By failing to provide the public the Pentagon’s current list of Al Qaeda associated forces, the Pentagon not only makes it difficult to determine whom the military is targeting in its citizens’ names; it also makes it hard to discern exactly how the Pentagon interprets and enacts its post-9/11 mandate.
Along with keeping the list of Al Qaeda associated forces secret, the Pentagon is attempting to obfuscate the existence of DNA tests proving that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed during the 2011 Navy SEAL raid on his Pakistani compound. Secret budget documents leaked by Edward Snowden prove that a US military laboratory in Afghanistan performed such DNA testing immediately after the Abbottabad raid, and reporters have sought the existence of these tests ever since President Obama announced bin Laden’s death. The Washington Post even filed a FOIA request for the tests the day after the announcement. However, the Pentagon lied to FOIA requesters, saying no such records existed. In the wake of secret budget leaks proving such records do, in fact, exist, the Pentagon claims that because the CIA conducted the SEAL raid, the CIA would have any responsive documents. The mystery behind why the government is hiding this evidence after providing Hollywood filmmakers a back-stage pass to CIA and DOD documents (documents neither agency will provide the public) to produce the blockbuster movie Zero Dark Thirty, is confounding.
The secret budget documents, leaked by Edward Snowden and made available by the Washington Post, chart “a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny.” Along with proving that DNA testing confirming bin Laden’s death took place, other revelations include further confirmation of joint National Security Agency(NSA)-CIA espionage programs, that the CIA’s budget outstrips the NSA’s by nearly $5 billion (likely reflecting the CIA’s growing involvement in drone warfare), and substantial concern at the NSA over insider threat problems. The summary reports that the NSA planned to investigate 4,000 cases of possible internal security breaches at the agency. In other words, nearly 1 in 10 of its employees were cause for concern. However, the NSA has since attempted to clarify the numbers, saying the “NSA planned to initiate 4,000 reinvestigations on civilian employees to reduce the potential of an insider compromise of sensitive information and missions,” as “[p]eriodic reinvestigations are conducted as one due-diligence component of our multifaceted insider threat program.” Secrecy News’ Steven Aftergood notes that it “would be hard to believe that one in every 10 NSA employees is a possible threat,” though the number is nonetheless striking.
Matthew Aid also dug through the secret budget summary, and noticed something interesting in the NSA’s budget numbers. Namely, the NSA spends $1.6 billion on facilities while the CIA, whose budget was revealed to be nearly $5 billion larger than the NSA’s, only spends around $171 million on facilities. Aid further notes that, “NSA’s top three budget line items, totalling more than $4.4 billion or 40% of NSA’s annual budget, have nothing to do with the agency’s core mission of SIGINT collection, processing, analysis and reporting, or protecting the security of the U.S. government and military’s computers and telecommunications systems.”
Presumably somewhere in the NSA budget is the $278 million the agency paid AT&T for access to the company’s communication networks for both foreign and domestic bound data. This begs the question why the government is paying AT&T for information communications companies are legally required to turn over anyway. However, AT&T is involved in more than just providing data, at a cost, to the NSA. For the past six years AT&T has also been providing federal and local drug agents access to its enormous databases for Operation Hemisphere, a project far larger than anything the NSA has underway. The New York Times reports that the scale and longevity (the records go back to 1987) of this collaboration “appears to be unmatched by other government programs, including the N.S.A.’s gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act.”