By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The combined budget for U.S. civilian and military intelligence operations has shrunk by more than 15 percent since 2010, official figures show.
The total U.S. intelligence budget was $67.9 billion in the fiscal year to Sept. 30, according to official figures. That was up only marginally from $67.6 billion the previous year, but followed a steady decline since a peak in 2010.
A variety of factors comes into play, official sources say.
The decline reflected the end of military operations in Iraq in 2011 and the drawdown in Afghanistan, said Bruce Riedel, a former senior intelligence official and security adviser to President Barack Obama.
"Those operations were extremely expensive, not just for the military but also all the civilian agencies. Now that military operations have resumed in Iraq and spread to Syria the costs for intelligence will go back up again," he said.James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, has warned that the United States is being exposed to increased risk.
"For the past year or so, the IC has been working through what I’ve referred to as the 'Perfect Storm' of factors that cut into our capabilities," Clapper said in a speech in July.
Apart from budget cuts, he cited a loss of intelligence sources because of "unauthorized disclosures," a reference to revelations by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, and policy decisions that excluded some areas of surveillance.
"We as a nation, in my considered professional opinion, are accepting more risk than we were three years ago, or even one year ago," Clapper said.
Steven Aftergood, an intelligence expert with the Federation of American Scientists, also linked the cutbacks partly with the end of engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Beyond that, I think hardware programs such as spy satellites are being extended beyond their original operating lifetime. New initiatives are being deferred, hiring has slowed, and so forth. To manage these kind of reductions well is a challenging task. Some loss of capability is to be expected," Aftergood said.
The overall 2013-2014 budget included $50.5 billion for "National Intelligence Program" activities, which include such agencies as the CIA, and another $17.4 for military intelligence activities, officials said.
Figures laying the long-term trend were compiled by the Federation of American Scientists and validated by an intelligence official.
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by David Storey and Gunna Dickson)