Richard Posner has a new piece in the New Republic complaining about WaPo’s Dana Priest’s excellent Top Secret America series (seriously, if you haven’t read it, read it already). He mostly kvetches that the series doesn’t analyze in detail the shortcomings of the intelligence community and that the series is almost entirely a complaint about size. But, of course, size does matter; and money does matter, too.
Posner asks a rhetorical question:
Although the national security state has about 100,000 employees and annual expenditures of $75 billion, IBM has four times as many employees and yearly costs approaching the same amount. Is IBM too large? Is $75 billion, which is roughly one-half of one percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, too much to spend on the full range of intelligence activities in which the world’s most powerful and globally committed nation—a nation at war and struggling against terrorism on many fronts, including the home front—is compelled to engage?
The answer, of course, is YES. If we’re talking about perspective, Race to the Top — an education grant for which states fundamentally reorganized their education systems — totaled 4.3 billion dollars. NASA (you know, those guys that put things in space) has a budget of 18 billion dollars (and never has enough money to stay afloat). In combined humanitarian and military foreign aid (minus Afghanistan and Iraq), the U.S. spends about 50 billion dollars. The entire State Department budget is only 16 billion dollars.
Besides, Posner misses the point of the articles themselves. The solution to all of America’s intelligence problems since 9/11 has been to simply throw money at the failure. This has ballooned the size of the National Security State, but it has done little to actually improve security. I would argue that better trained diplomats with actual knowledge of the languages and cultures of the areas they serve would be a much better use of our money.
Just as the growth of the military-industrial complex prompted Eisenhower to give his fateful warning, so should we be vigilant of the growth of the security-industrial complex. As we pile more and more money into our security and intelligence networks, we should probably ask how and why our money is being spent.
No matter what Posner says, size and complexity do matter.