US Intelligence Community: The World’s 4th Largest Military?

America’s intel budget is larger than the defense spending of every nation except the US, China, and Russia.

The Washington Post has the latest blockbuster report derived from the documents that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked to media outlets. In a series of articles posted on Thursday, Wapo breaks down the various components of the U.S. “black budget”—that is, the money given to the 16 U.S. spy agencies that make up the intelligence community (IC).

One of the parts of the report that is not classified information is the actual size of the black budget itself. Although the U.S. does not release information on how much funding each agency receives, much less what it goes to, it does publish the aggregate of the 16 spy agencies’ budgets, albeit only after the fiscal year has ended.

For FY 2013 the Obama administration requested US$52.6 billion dollars for the intelligence community. Although Congress might not have approved that much money (we find out September 30), this was actually a decrease from the $53.9 billion the U.S. spent during FY 2012, and the $54.6 billion spent during FY 2011.

It’s interesting to compare this figure to other nation’s defense spending. Based on the Stockholm Independent Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) data on global defense expenditures, as presented by Wikipedia, if the U.S. intelligence community was instead a separate national military, it’d have the 8th largest budget of any military in the world. The IC’s budget is in other words about $6 billion more than India spent on defense last year.

If the “separate $23 billion devoted to intelligence programs that more directly support the U.S. military” (Military Intelligence Program) is included, the U.S. IC would be the 4th largest military by expenditures in the world, right after the U.S., China, and Russia. Indeed, its budget is over $10 billion more than the UK spent on defense in 2012, according to SIPRI (of course the UK has a separate intelligence apparatus as well). With the separate $23 billion calculated in, last year the U.S. IC spent well over double the $32.07 billion the ten nations that comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) spend on defense, according to the latest SIPRI figures and, in the case of Myanmar (which SIPRI doesn’t list), newspaper articles. The IC’s budget was about 7 times as much as Iran spent on defense in 2012.

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The Central Intelligence Agency’s budget ($14.7 billion) alone would make it the 17th largest military spender in the world, just a few tens of millions of dollars more than Israel spent on defense last year. The money that the U.S. requested for the IC’s counterterrorism operations this year, $17.2 billion, was over $2 billion more than Israel spent on defense in 2012. It was just short of double the $9 billion Iran spent on defense in 2012.

Not surprisingly, despite this enormous investment in intelligence, the U.S. still has some critical gaps according to Wapo. These are especially in the Indo-Pacific region.

For example, Wapo reports that “The governments of Iran, China and Russia are difficult to penetrate, but North Korea’s may be the most opaque. There are five ‘critical’ gaps in U.S. intelligence about Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, and analysts know virtually nothing about the intentions of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.”

Other blank spots include, according to Wapo, “questions about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear components when they are being transported” and “the capabilities of China’s next-generation fighter aircraft.”