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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

The Baltimore Sun October 27, 2005

Cutbacks likely ahead for NSA

Negroponte aims to achieve 'a new balance' among intelligence agencies

By Siobhan Gorman

WASHINGTON // The National Security Agency and other agencies that rely heavily on technology to collect information are likely to lose a portion of their budget as the nation's intelligence chief moves to implement a new strategy that emphasizes human spying and domestic intelligence, officials said yesterday.

The strategy, unveiled at a briefing for reporters by Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, also directs all 15 intelligence agencies to focus on bolstering democracy around the world, in addition to fighting extremist enemies and combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Negroponte told reporters that his goal is to establish "the best possible integration of our intelligence efforts." But there will be winners and losers, a senior intelligence official said later in the briefing.

Agencies such as the Anne Arundel County-based NSA, which uses a variety of technologies to eavesdrop around the world, would probably lose out as new budgets are drawn up, the senior intelligence official said. Under Negroponte's new blueprint, the government will draft a plan for "achieving a new balance" among the agencies that collect intelligence.

The intelligence official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, likened the logic of cutting the budget at NSA, and other high-tech agencies, to that of notorious bank robber Willie Sutton.

"Why do you rob banks? Because that's where they keep the money," he said.

The same is true of the high-tech agencies. With annual spending of around $7.5 billion each, the NSA and the National Reconnaissance Office, which buys expensive satellite systems, are the intelligence agencies with the largest budgets, according to security analyst John Pike of Globalsecurity.org, who called his spending figures an educated "guesstimate."

The high-ranking intelligence official said that "without prejudging anything, that's where they keep the money" in intelligence. And if dollars are to be redirected, he added, "It's got to come from somewhere."

The agencies facing losses are resisting the change, the official acknowledged.

"It's no surprise to anybody that there's a lot of momentum to keep those slices [of the budget] just about the way they are," he said.

The new intelligence blueprint will be used by Negroponte's staff to shape more detailed plans, which Negroponte said he expects to be completed by "early next year." As a result, there's been no final determination made yet about the size of the cuts and which agencies will see the largest spending increases.

The "winners" are likely to be agencies such as the CIA and FBI that are best positioned to fight shadowy extremist enemies who cannot be easily tracked by satellites orbiting the earth. Pike estimated the CIA's budget is now about $5 billion and the FBI's intelligence budget is $1 billion.

Also expected to benefit is a new office that Negroponte will inaugurate next week. Its mission is to develop sophisticated computer programs to mine public data for information useful to intelligence analysts.

Because the evaluation of a given year's budget begins more than a year before it would take effect, any major cuts might not be felt until 2008, said the senior intelligence official.

Negroponte has already made some "hard decisions" on early cuts to some satellite-dependent programs, the official said, adding that there are more to come. "We're just getting under way," he said.

Pike disputed the notion that Negroponte has made difficult decisions, however. He noted that Negroponte recently restructured a major satellite program, known as the Future Imagery Architecture, and reassigned it to a new contractor, Lockheed Martin, without making major cuts in spending.

"If you wanted to double the [human spying] budget, canceling a big piece of FIA, rather than giving it to Lockheed Martin, would be a good way to do it," Pike said.

Negroponte told reporters his full strategy would take "several years to fully implement, but we hope to see some early results taking place as early as 2006."

In addition to pushing U.S. intelligence agencies to realign their priorities toward post-9/11 threats like terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Negroponte's strategy directs the intelligence community to "bolster the growth of democracy."

Intelligence officials yesterday were vague about exactly what that meant.

Negroponte said it was an effort to "align" intelligence priorities with the White House's National Security Strategy. The role of intelligence agencies would be to look for indicators of "how countries are progressing toward democracy."

Pike said that goal has political overtones, and promoting democracy would necessitate covert action to overthrow governments "we don't like."

A senior intelligence official said the intent was not to imply an increased use of covert action.

Democracy-building has become a central component of the rationale for the war in Iraq.


Copyright 2005, The Baltimore Sun