America's spies and its intelligence agencies stand between the American public and a nuclear 9/11. They stand between the American and several thousand other hideous threats as well.
Less morally compelling and many downright criminal motives for spying are now putting that core mission at risk. Edward Snowden's revelations and the appearance of limitless electronic snooping have shaken public trust in U.S. intelligence agencies. That's unfortunate. America needs trustworthy spies, and "trustworthy spy" is not an oxymoron.
America needs lots of trustworthy spies. Identifying, assessing and deflecting thousands of threats, requires diverse skills. All told, the U.S. has 16 different intelligence agencies within its "national intelligence community," or at least 16 that the government admits exist.
As German chancellor Angele Merkel well knows, the National Security Agency focuses on electronic eavesdropping. The National Reconnaissance Office handles imagery (think satellite photos). The Federal Bureau of Investigation's counter-intelligence section spies on foreign spies who are spying on America. The Defense Intelligence Agency focuses on military threats. The Central Intelligence Agency works cloak-and-dagger with the State Department and the Department of Defense. The CIA also works the globe's sewers. Unfortunately, Mafia kingpins, Guatemalan drug dealers, Iranian gangsters, Somali smugglers and Russian mobsters know stuff. CIA fights an endless war and a particularly dirty one, but the truth is every intelligence agency is a warfighter in an endless war.
A vast bodyguard of bureaucratic and fiscal lies protects America's annual cloak-and-dagger budget. Open source estimates run from $70 billion to $80 billion a year. However, these immense figures may not fully account for the cost of Department of Defense and Department of State intelligence support operations.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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