U.S. “Intelligence” Spending: A Whale of a Bad Joke

The government has announced that total spending on “intelligence activities” in fiscal year 2010 was $80.1 billion. According to a report in the Washington Post,

The National Intelligence Program, run by the CIA and other agencies that report to the Director of National Intelligence, cost $53.1 billion in fiscal 2010, which ended Sept. 30, while the Military Intelligence Program cost an additional $27 billion.

Although this is the first time that the total amount has been made public, analysts have long pegged it with fair accuracy. Of course, this species of spending is now at an all-time high. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, affirms that it is also more than twice the amount spent in 2001. It increased 7 percent in the past year alone.

In recent years, we have become accustomed to reading reports of enormous government spending — billions, trillions, gazillions. These numbers mean practically nothing to ordinary people. Out here in peasant-land, we have trouble enough in trying to figure out how we’ll pay a $400 bill for the electricity used in August.

So, let’s try to bring the “intelligence” spending into comprehensible focus by using a little arithmetic and asking a few questions.

First, the $80.1 billion the federal government spent on “intelligence” activities in fiscal 2010 translates to approximately $1,000 for each family of four persons. You can imagine the sort of benefit you get from spending that much money, say, to purchase about 400 gallons of fuel for your car — enough to drive the car 8,000 miles, at a 20 mpg rate of fuel consumption. Or enough to purchase electricity while your air conditioner is running flat out through the summer months. You get the idea: $1,000 is not an amount the average family can afford to sneeze at; the family must take care to get a substantial benefit in exchange for that much of its money.

Now, think of all the concrete benefits you get from the government’s spending for “intelligence.” Go on, think about them — not in vague terms, such as “protection from terrorists,” in but concrete terms that you can relate directly to your family’s well-being. Go on. I’m waiting.

If you are honest, you will admit that you cannot think of any concrete benefit whatsoever that you are getting — unless, of course, a member of your family happens to be employed in one of the thousands of so-called intelligence operations run by the government and its vast corps of “national security” contractors. The government constantly assures you, of course, that you are “being protected,” but the protectors do not spell out exactly how all of this spying is protecting you or from whom in particular you are being protected. All you are expected to do is to credit the government’s vague statements to the effect that it is working day and night to protect you from nameless “terrorists” who are said to be equally devoted to the destruction of your family.

What these nameless terrorists expect to gain by, say, wiping out my family, ensconced here in rural St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, I cannot fathom. No doubt your family has a higher priority than mine does on the terrorists’ hit list, yet if you are honest, you will be compelled to admit that the chance that you and yours will be harmed in any way by a handful of homicidal maniacs lurking “out there” somewhere is much, much less than the chance that you will die in an automobile accident or a household mishap, such as a fire.

Moreover, the so-called intelligence gathering that the government bankrolls so lavishly is aimed in great part, not at Muslim madmen, but at you and me. The government’s banks of super-computers and legions of apparatchiki are busily gleaning data on your telephone calls, Internet messages and Web searches, financial and other business transactions, and virtually everything else that touches your life in a way that can be snatched into data banks by soulless bureaucrats and techno-flunkies. Yet, while every nook and cranny of your privacy is being invaded, at your expense, you are being assured that these official crimes are all legitimate means of protecting you from grave, impending harm. Should we also believe in fairy tales and ghost stories?

Let’s face it: this “intelligence” gambit is nothing but the latest government hoax to extract money from your bank account and to subject you to wholly unjustifiable deprivations of your just rights. If you think it’s anything else, you probably have not paid it much attention or given it much thought.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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