The Washington Post has learned from documents leaked by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden that the United States' spy program is unbelievably expensive while being still relatively poor at providing definitive info on a number of crucial topics.
The government has never released how exactly it spends intelligence funds in the past, although it has shared the total amount spent on intelligence each year since 2007. The "black budget" for 2013 totals $52.6 billion being spent by the 16 government agencies connected to spying, according to the Washington Post.
Much of the information that was given to the paper is being withheld after writers at the Post spoke with government officials. The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, explained to the paper why it is necessary to keep the budget of the intelligence programs secret.
"The United States has made a considerable investment in the Intelligence Community since the terror attacks of 9/11, a time which includes wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technology, and asymmetric threats in such areas as cyber-warfare," Clapper said.
"Our budgets are classified as they could provide insight for foreign intelligence services to discern our top national priorities, capabilities and sources and methods that allow us to obtain information to counter threats," Clapper said.
The "black budget" shows that by far the bulk of the spending is attributed to the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA requested $14.7 billion in funding for 2013, significantly more than what the NSA spends on their much maligned surveillance program, according to the Washington Post.
When spying on foreign countries the intelligence community seems to spend almost as much time and money looking into allies as much as enemies. Pakistan is listed as an "intractable target" while China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel are considered to be "priority targets," reports the Washington Post.
While it is taxing to obtain information about the governments of China, Iran and Russia the country that the U.S. has the most difficulty learning about is North Korea. In particular they are "critical gaps" in the United States' knowledge of the North Korean nuclear weapons program, according to the Washington Post.
Perhaps the most interesting thing revealed by the documents is that the intelligence community was aware that there was a potential threat to leak classified information on the inside. In fact, the NSA planned on investigating 4,000 possible insider threats, according to the Washington Post.
It was learned that in order to obtain some of the files that Snowden did he impersonated some of the highest ranking NSA officials, according to NBC News.
"Every day, they are learning how brilliant [Snowden] was," a former intelligence official with knowledge of the case told NBC News. "This is why you don't hire brilliant people for jobs like this. You hire smart people. Brilliant people get you in trouble."
The NSA still is unsure of exactly which information, and how much of it, Snowden was able to get his hands on and turn over to journalists.