Intelligence: Covering for Stupid Satellites

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November
16, 2005:
The United States has, once more, revealed (apparently accidentally)
the size of its intelligence budget. It's $44 billion a year. Normally, that
number is a state secret. For two years in the late 1990s, the size of the
budget was published (it was then about $30 billion a year in 2005 dollars).
The budget had been steadily growing, from the 1960s (when it was a few billion
dollars in current money), as more and more spy satellites were built. That's
where most of the money goes. Most of the increase, from the late 1990s (about
$12 billion), has gone into people. For the last two decades, less money was
spent for spies on the ground, while more was put into more expensive and
capable spy satellites. But ever since the spy satellites came on the scene,
many in the espionage community warned that, experience in World War II had
shown that the "eye in the sky" did not show everything, and was easy to
deceive. This was wise advice, for there was ample airborne photography
available during World War II (using aircraft) and captured enemy documents
right after the war to show how often, and by how much, the air photos were
misleading. This wisdom asserted itself once more after September 11, 2001. But
the satellite barons still have most of the money, although they are taking a beating
in Congress because of budget overruns and systems under-performance.

 


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