Jack Devine: Don’t Cut the Intelligence Budget

By Jack Devine

On October 29, The New York Times published a major story entitled “Intelligence Agencies Face Austerity.” In the article, Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, is quoted as stating that spending on intelligence operations in 2007 increased by 9 percent, totaling $47.5 billion. Much of this increased funding understandably has been allocated to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the battle against Al Qaeda. All of these problems, as well as additional new threats including cyber warfare, will continue to dominate the intelligence budget over the coming year. That said, it is hard to predict just how the 2009 budget will play out in the context of the current economic crisis. In fact, there is speculation among some intelligence experts that the intelligence community might be vulnerable to significant cuts in future years.

This pressure needs to be resisted if we are to effectively face intelligence challenges of the future, described in my “Tomorrow’s Spygames” article in the 25th anniversary issue of World Policy Journal.

Intelligence history is replete with examples of scaling back intelligence spending only to pay a very steep price in the future. In fact, there is general agreement among intelligence professionals that the 1990s cuts to the CIA’s operating budget (which necessitated a serious cutback in personnel) helped to lay the foundation for a greatly weakened intelligence community that has faced 9/11, an ongoing terrorist threat, and two wars, with insufficient training, expertise, and capacity to effectively do so.

Resisting similar cuts today should include more than simple opposition to the move; we must make clear to the new decision makers how a reduction in budget will impact U.S. intelligence capability and national security. Hopefully, we will be able to put forth a convincing argument for why the intelligence budget in the future should remain as robust as it has been since 9/11.

Understanding that the United States is now officially in a recession, and that sacrifices need to be made, the intelligence community (almost more so than any) has strong grounds to argue that its funding should take priority.

Regardless of the exact budget dollar amount, it is important to make sure that increasingly scarce intelligence dollars are allocated appropriately. This will require the new administration to focus quickly on the challenges of the future, encouraging a bipartisan approach in Congress for the assiduous tracking of the use of intelligence dollars. The new budget must be sufficient to strengthen the analytical, operational, and technological foundations that if properly funded, will imbue the intelligence community with the expertise and flexibility to face a future full of challenges.

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Jack Devine, a career clandestine services officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, headed the agency’s Afghan Task Force from 1985–87, and served as the CIA’s acting deputy director of operations. He is currently president of The Arkin Group, a New York-based intelligence consulting firm. His articleTomorrow’s Spygamescan be found in World Policy Journal’s 25th anniversary issue, on newsstands now.

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