Center for Strategic Communication

On Tuesday, the FY2012 topline intelligence budgets in the form of the National Intelligence Program (NIP) and Military Intelligence Program (MIP) were released by the DNI and DoD, respectively. Though programming or line-item allocations remain classified for security purposes, the downward trend in the cumulative intelligence budget, which peaked in 2010, raises some interesting questions pertaining to national security.

According to the recently released figures, the total intelligence budget was reduced for the second consecutive year, from the FY2011 total of $78.6 billion to FY12’s allocation of $75.4 billion, a 4.1% reduction. Of those cuts, a disproportionate amount pertained to military intelligence, as the MIP allotment was reduced by 10.4% from $24 billion in FY2011 to $21.5 billion in FY2012.

Source: Stimson Center: “The Will and the Wallet” Blog, 11/1/2012

The civilian portion of the intelligence budget, the NIP, declined from $54.6 billion in FY11 to $53.9 billion in FY12, a 1.3% reduction.  According to the Washington Post’s Greg Miller, the majority of the NIP is allocated to the civilian “big boys” CIA and NSA, however allocations for technology-driven intelligence collectors like the NRO are also significant. What lessons can we draw by thinking critically about the intelligence budget cuts, both as an isolated example and vis-à-vis national defense expenditures?

The DoD’s topline (051) discretionary budgetary allocation also decreased from FY2011 to FY2012, reflecting the traditional parallel trajectory of defense and intelligence spending. The Pentagon’s FY2013 Budget Request lists the decline from FY11 to FY12 at $41.3 billion (from $687 billion to $645.7 billion in current-year dollars, including Overseas Contingency Operations allocations). This 6.1% decline is partially attributable to the same pressures imposed by the national deficit, but not statutorily mandated under the sequester to kick in as of January 2, 2013 barring Congressional intervention. So what do these numbers really mean in light of the newly published intelligence cuts?

Source: DoD Comptroller

Post 9/11 defense and intelligence spending peaked in 2010, as fueled by ten years of buildup from contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but has reverted to a phase of cyclical adjustment. The subsequent decline is a factor of not only (the lack of) economic inputs and wavering public support for military objectives abroad, but also the merging of many intelligence community missions.

Whereas DoD’s topline went down roughly 6% and military intelligence funding over 10% from FY11-FY12, civilian intelligence spending cuts encapsulated in the NIP were only slightly greater than 1%. Why?

Despite the threats imposed by sequestration on both the intelligence community and DoD, the civilians agencies within the IC arguably cannot withstand the same level of cuts due to their collective, preventative mission. Whereas the DoD’s lengthy planning and procurement processes allow the military the capability to overwhelm adversaries even when threats are not predicted perfectly, the “all-or-nothing” expectations on the IC require constant information collection across intelligence categories.

A gap in HUMINT collection or a failure to develop and implement advanced technology cannot necessarily be remedied by manpower and a generation of superior fighting equipment available to the armed services. Of the 16 member intelligence community, the civilian agencies represent the proactive element of the “security” function from various cabinet departments – DHS, DOE, State, Treasury, and DOJ – whose core missions vary widely. None of them, however, benefit from the monopoly of force or funding afforded to DoD. Hence, the necessity to “get it right” with their intelligence spending is paramount. Considering the smaller margin of error, smaller intelligence cuts to intelligence (4.1% overall, 1.3% among civilian agencies) compared with defense (6%) from FY2011 to FY2012 perhaps make greater sense.