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Down The NSA Rabbit Hole

What does spending $100 billion over the last ten years get you? It gets one huge, bloated, ineffectual agency of government — the NSA (National Security Agency).

While the actual budget of this spy apparatus is secret, Jeanne Sahadi on June 7, 2013 (CNN Money) reported the estimate at a mere $10 billion dollars a year. Keep in mind that this agency was created in 1952. Who knows how much treasure has been thrown into this black hole? It is, after all, widely labeled for Congressional budgetary purposes as a “black program.” So, it is reasonable to assume that the total cost of this monstrous apparatus is larger than $100 billion (that is B for billions). Also keep in mind that the NSA represents only about $14% of the budget for the 15 elements of the security apparatus that the national leadership rubber stamps every year, without effective oversight, concern, or accountability. The Federation of American Scientists, a nonpartisan group, has tried to add up the costs and concluded that these figures are close, but admittedly not exact.

NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland
NSA Headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, has an estimated 18,000 parking spaces. The main building, alone, contains more than 68 acres of floorspace. Its exterior one-way glass is lined with copper shielding to prevent eavesdropping.

But wait, the argument is that the NSA has been instrumental in keeping Americans safe. In recent testimony, the outgoing #2 at the agency testified before Congress that they have thwarted, prevented, interdicted (any number of superlatives can be applied) something like 49 terror plots. However, on the NPR news on January 10, 2014, the same #2, who goes out the door next week with a big fat retirement package, admits that only one, that’s right, one, actual thwarted plot can be reasonably attributed to NSA efforts. No one should be surprised that the National Public Radio reporter did not follow up with the logical questions that scream for answers. What did we get for all that money? Was it worth it? Why is it that our leaders do not demand answers and accountability?

NSA at Ft. Meade is Maryland's largest employer and consumer of power.
NSA at Fort Meade is Maryland's largest employer and consumer of power. The Fort Meade complex is only one of the many NSA facilities found around the world.

It is not easy to consider the alternatives. That is, could that $100 billion expense have been better applied to feeding the hungry? Could diplomatic and peacemaking efforts have indeed thwarted more than one terrorist plot? How many miles of road, electrical grid improvements, training programs, childhood nutrition initiatives, research on life-saving drugs, and the alleviation of pollution could have been funded with that kind of money? No one, it seems, really wants to talk about the pragmatic choices that must be considered when taxes are involved. But the fact is, any ordinary citizen can think of a whole basket full of ways to apply $100 Billion to make the lives of American citizens safer and better.

Radomes (antennae housings) at Menwith Hill, England, the largest electronic monitoring station in the world.
Radomes (antennae housings) at Menwith Hill, England, the largest electronic monitoring station in the world. During the 2009 G-20 London Summit, NSA intercept specialists based at Menwith Hill attempted to target and decode the encrypted telephone calls of the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

Unfortunately, we live in an age when fear can be used as a weapon to extract the wealth of the many for the benefit of questionable programs, without any political will to do otherwise.

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