Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

U.S. spying: The 61st largest country

I see where the U.S. government has disclosed that its total intelligence budget is $80.1 billion. (I was surprised to see that the military chunk of that is so big — $27 billion. I am guessing that a lot of that goes to satellites, probably the part of defense spending most neglected by reporters.) That ...

Salah Malkawi/Getty Images
Salah Malkawi/Getty Images

I see where the U.S. government has disclosed that its total intelligence budget is $80.1 billion. (I was surprised to see that the military chunk of that is so big — $27 billion. I am guessing that a lot of that goes to satellites, probably the part of defense spending most neglected by reporters.) That means the U.S. intelligence community as a whole has a larger economy than any these countries, going by the IMF’s estimates for nominal GDP, 2009:

  • Angola
  • Croatia
  • Iraq
  • Libya
  • Ecuador
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Luxembourg
  • Belarus
  • Slovenia
  • Bulgaria
  • Dominican Republic
  • Oman
  • Tunisia
  • Serbia
  • Sri Lanka
  • Guatemala
  • Lithuania
  • Lebanon
  • Burma
  • Uzbekistan
  • Ethiopia
  • Uruguay
  • Kenya
  • Costa Rica
  • Latvia

Maybe the CIA and NSA should demand their own U.N. seats, like Stalin did for certain Soviet republics after World War II. But then the DIA would want one…

U.S. military intelligence spending all by itself is bigger than the economies of Panama, Yemen, or Jordan — which reminds me of the old journalists’ joke that that last country is a wholly owned subsidiary of the U.S. intelligence community.

Jokes aside, my gut feeling is that we could halve the size of intelligence spending without losing much security. The question is which half?

I see where the U.S. government has disclosed that its total intelligence budget is $80.1 billion. (I was surprised to see that the military chunk of that is so big — $27 billion. I am guessing that a lot of that goes to satellites, probably the part of defense spending most neglected by reporters.) That means the U.S. intelligence community as a whole has a larger economy than any these countries, going by the IMF’s estimates for nominal GDP, 2009:

  • Angola
  • Croatia
  • Iraq
  • Libya
  • Ecuador
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Luxembourg
  • Belarus
  • Slovenia
  • Bulgaria
  • Dominican Republic
  • Oman
  • Tunisia
  • Serbia
  • Sri Lanka
  • Guatemala
  • Lithuania
  • Lebanon
  • Burma
  • Uzbekistan
  • Ethiopia
  • Uruguay
  • Kenya
  • Costa Rica
  • Latvia

Maybe the CIA and NSA should demand their own U.N. seats, like Stalin did for certain Soviet republics after World War II. But then the DIA would want one…

U.S. military intelligence spending all by itself is bigger than the economies of Panama, Yemen, or Jordan — which reminds me of the old journalists’ joke that that last country is a wholly owned subsidiary of the U.S. intelligence community.

Jokes aside, my gut feeling is that we could halve the size of intelligence spending without losing much security. The question is which half?

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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