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August 30, 2013

US spying successes, failures, objectives detailed in top secret 'black budget'

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WASHINGTON —

The black budget illuminates for the first time the intelligence burden of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For 2013, U.S. spy agencies were projected to spend $4.9 billion on what are labeled "overseas contingency operations." The CIA accounted for roughly half of that figure, a sum factored into its overall $14.7 billion budget.

Those war expenditures are projected to shrink as the U.S. withdraws forces from Afghanistan. The budget also indicates that the intelligence community has cut the number of contractors it hires over the past five years by roughly 30 percent.

Despite the vast outlays, the budget blueprint catalogs persistent and in some cases critical blind spots.

Throughout the document, U.S. spy agencies attempt to rate their efforts in tables akin to report cards, generally citing progress but often acknowledging that only a fraction of their questions could be answered — even on the community's foremost priority, counter-terrorism.

In 2011, the budget assessment says intelligence agencies made at least "moderate progress" on 38 of their 50 top counterterrorism gaps, the term used to describe blind spots. Several concern Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, an enemy of Israel that has not attacked U.S. interests directly since the 1990s.

Other blank spots include questions about the security of Pakistan's nuclear components when they are being transported, the capabilities of China's next generation fighter aircraft, and how Russia's government leaders are likely to respond "to potentially destabilizing events in Moscow, such as large protests and terrorist attacks."

A chart outlining efforts to address key questions on biological and chemical weapons is particularly bleak. U.S. agencies set themselves annual goals of making progress in at least five categories of intelligence collection related to these weapons. In 2011, the agencies made headway on just two gaps; a year earlier the mark was zero.

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