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Nov. 2, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

U.S. intelligence funding of $100 billion questioned

By Bill Gertz
Annual intelligence spending for civilian and military spy agencies was made public this week and shows that the combined budget for fiscal year 2023 intelligence programs was $99.6 billion.

The Pentagon released its figure for what is called the military intelligence program for the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, showing $27.9 billion that is said to be aligned with the Biden administration’s national defense strategy. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, in a separate announcement, revealed that the national intelligence program budget for last year was $71.7 billion.

Both intelligence budgets were formerly secret, but topline amounts are now made public under a 2019 federal law.

The funds are spent by 18 organizations, including the Office of Director of National Intelligence, the CIA, nine Pentagon agencies and seven elements of other departments or agencies.

The annual spending figures raise new questions among critics about whether taxpayers are getting their money’s worth from the intelligence community, one that has been implicated in a decades-long list of intelligence failures.

Ambassador Pete Hoekstra, a former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he doubts the money is being well spent.

“It’s hard to believe American taxpayers are getting their money’s worth on the investment into the intelligence community,” the former Republican lawmaker told Inside the Ring.

The list of failures outlined by Mr. Hoekstra includes what he said is a “totally useless” investigation into the Chinese origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. intelligence analysts were also surprised by the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel that have put the Middle East on the verge of a regional conflict, he said.

Mr. Hoekstra also faulted U.S. intelligence for its weekly meetings with social media companies in a bid to counter disinformation before the 2020 election, which he called a questionable political exercise.

“It’s time [for intelligence agencies] to get back to the hard stuff that keeps America safe,” he said. The list of failures is long and significant, including bad intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, a key reason for the 2003 U.S. invasion; the bureaucratic turf battles and failure to share information on the activities in the U.S. of the terrorists behind the September 11 attacks; the loss of a recruited CIA agents in China beginning in 2010 because of poor counterintelligence; the failure to detect the betrayals of CIA officer Aldrich Ames and FBI Agent Robert Hansen, who spied for Moscow for years and caused the deaths of several recruited Russian officials; the penetration of the Defense Intelligence Agency by Cuban spy Ana Montes, who shared military secrets with Havana; and the theft and compromise of an estimated 1.7 million classified documents by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who defected to Russia.

Despite these and additional failures, critics say the CIA, the NSA and the DIA have failed to adopt needed internal reforms, in part a reflection of weak congressional oversight.

Charles Faddis, a 20-year veteran of the CIA’s operations branch, spoke last month about the problems at the agency and how to fix them.

“We need the CIA, but we also need to recognize the uncomfortable reality that the CIA is not performing at the level we require,” Mr. Faddis said at Hillsdale College on Oct. 3. “It is not keeping us safe. It must be repaired, and it must be repaired quickly.”

Mr. Faddis said the CIA was originally set up to prevent a repeat of the failure to detect the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and never allow another surprise attack. Similarly, al Qaeda was known to officials before 2001 but U.S. intelligence lacked a single source inside the organization.

CIA also tried to characterize the COVID-19 outbreak as a natural outbreak when it was clear the virus was the result of gain-of-function laboratory research in Wuhan, Mr. Faddis contended.

“The existence of the lab from which COVID emerged was not a secret,” Mr. Faddis said. “Neither was the fact that the Chinese were working overtime to make coronaviruses more dangerous to humans.”

Yet the CIA was unable to provide any warning of the pandemic outbreak and also failed to provide any useful information on its origins.

Mr. Faddis said the CIA’s problem is “bureaucratization and politicization” — intelligence bureaucrats failed to appreciate the vital need for stealing secrets from people.

Politicization at CIA was evident when acting CIA Director Michael Morrell blamed agency analysts for the Obama administration narrative that the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya arose from a peaceful demonstration that went bad, a characterization that quickly proved false.

“In short, the director of central intelligence had injected himself into a domestic political dispute, covering for a blatant lie concocted by the administration,” Mr. Faddis said.

Mr. Faddis’s critique included the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation into the campaign of candidate Donald Trump that grew out of the 2016 presidential campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton, and the 51 former intelligence officials who went public just before the 2020 election wrongly asserting that the Hunter Biden laptop was likely a Russian disinformation ploy.

Doubts on benefits of revived Chinese military contacts
Larry M. Wortzel, a former Army colonel and a leading specialist on the Chinese military, recently weighed in on the debate over the Pentagon’s push to resume military exchanges with China.

Mr. Wortzel told Inside the Ring he does not expect the U.S. and Chinese militaries to produce productive exchanges even if Beijing resumes contacts cut off to protest a congressional visit to Taiwan last year.

People’s Liberation Army Gen. Zhang Youxia, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, said Monday in Beijing that China may end its 15-month boycott of talks with U.S. counterparts under certain conditions of “mutual respect.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been pushing for renewed direct contacts that he believes will help alleviate growing tensions and reduce misunderstandings. The secretary attempted to meet with his Chinese counterpart earlier this year but had to settle for a handshake with Gen. Li Shangfu, who has since been ousted as defense minister.

The vague mention by Gen. Zhang of resuming talks is not likely to change Chinese Communist Party principles or operating methods, said Mr. Wortzel, a veteran China hand formerly with the Army War College, Heritage Foundation and, most recently, a commissioner with congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

The PLA and China are still pursuing expansive maritime territorial claims in international waters of the South China Sea, he noted. Beijing also still reacts angrily harshly to U.S. Navy freedom of navigation flights, warship passages and exercises in the Taiwan Strait, East China Sea and South China Sea, he said.

“Even if some form of hotline or emergency communications is established, given the top-down management system in the PLA and fears of angering [Chinese President and Central Military Commission Chairman] Xi Jinping will mean that even if someone answers the communications system, that officer will not be in a position to make decisions or help defuse a crisis,” Mr. Wortzel said. “Exercises and threats around Taiwan will continue as coercive measures in reaction to any U.S. arms sales, and the PLA will react to high-level congressional visits.”

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday that the PLA dispatched 43 warplanes and seven navy vessels around Taiwan in the latest war games U.S. officials say is military intimidation of the island’s democracy.

Mr. Wortzel said military-to-military exchanges won’t change the PLA position or that of the ruling Communist Party, which will continue to view U.S. military actions as the source of the problem. The PLA is demanding U.S. concessions on its regional activities as a pre-condition for better military-to-military ties, he said.

Military using new device to test Havana syndrome victims
The U.S. military is using a new diagnostic tool to screen military personnel affected by what the U.S. government is calling “anomalous health incidents,” or AHI, according to a person with knowledge of the device.

The new tool also has become the latest twist in the saga over a mysterious ailment affecting overseas U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence personnel, first detected in Havana and dubbed the Havana Syndrome. Victims suspect they were struck with some type of beam weapon that causes brain injuries and other neurological problems.

The new tool is said to be used at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for testing those who show symptoms of brain and other damage that could be the result of some type of electronic beam or sonic weapon.

However, the tool is not being used to test a growing number of intelligence officials and diplomats who are reporting Havana Syndrome-like symptoms, raising fairness concerns among personnel in those camps.

“While the tool appears helpful, it raises more questions and should be the focus of new congressional hearings,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official U.S. intelligence community view is that the medical cases are not the result of a hostile action, although the cause remains unknown despite known research by the Chinese military in brain disruption weaponry.

The Special Operations Command and the Army Research Laboratory are engaged in research on the possible weapons effects of brain weapons.

So far initial results indicate the mysterious attacks around the world are continuing and the military currently has no defensive technology, as current sensors and technology are of limited use.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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