What does America do with its $70 billion intelligence budget?

Do we really need to spend such a mind-bogglingly huge amount of money on surveilling the world (and the American taxpayers) to find a terrorist-needle in a global-haystack?

Brian Posen: It is an unclassified number—and has been for several years—what the United States spends on intelligence every year. It’s an unclassified number. They don’t really break out what they’re spending it on, they break it out only in terms of two categories: general intelligence and military intelligence. And the totals for many years now have been around $70 billion. Seven-zero billion dollars. $70 billion. About 20 billion for military, which helps you fight, about 50 billion, “just because”, to surveil the world.

Now I have to say, I’m skeptical that we need to spend $70 billion on intelligence. I’m skeptical about what some of this intelligence is buying and doing. I’m skeptical.

Intelligence in general is what you need for defense or offense; you need it for restraint, you need it for hegemony. Intelligence you need to run a great power strategy. But I’d like to unpack what it is that we’re doing a little bit better, and look at some of these activities and ask, “Is this really necessary?”

Because my impression is we pretty much spy on everything given the chance: friends, enemies, whomever. During the peak of our 9/11 anger and hurt we spied on ourselves. And we spied on ourselves without really sorting out the legal ramifications of it. We collected vast amounts of metadata, stored it. This is spying on Americans! We’re doing a little bit less of it now, but it’s not very hard for an American who has friends abroad to get caught up in surveillance. There’s just a lot of collection, a lot of collection.

And a lot of this information is stored so that if something happens, the IC, using fancy algorithms, can backtrack communications among individuals to figure out who was implicated and who knew who. If you have the big library and you have the guilty party, you can then reverse engineer to try to figure out who else was implicated. It doesn’t prevent the terrorist attack, but it does allow you to prosecute the group.

But all the rest of us end up compromising our privacy for this purpose, and this is another thing where we should have a conversation. And it’s not an easy and straightforward conversation, because some people would privilege safety and say, “Fine, they can have that metadata on me, the traffic, the numbers I called. As long as they’re not collecting the text of my phone calls they can collect the origins of my phone calls and emails, keep them in a library, anonymized until they need to de-anonymize them.”

Some people say, fine, if that’s what we need to be able to backtrack a terrorist event and break up a network, they’re fine with that. I’m a little uncomfortable with it, I have to say. But I don’t think it’s an open and shut, straightforward matter, I think these things about the magnitude of the American intelligence effort worldwide, what that effort is focusing on, how much information it ends up collecting at home—this is something that really needs to be discussed, because I think it has something to do with American liberties.

And this is not particularly what I spend my days doing, but I do feel uneasy about it, and I do tend to believe that the more active we are in international politics, the more this machine grinds on, the more we collect abroad, the more we’re going to collect at home, and the bigger the kind of amorphous mass of information waiting to be misused by someone is, and that’s the thing that kind of concerns me.

Americans have gotten so used to being surveilled by the intelligence community that they barely register it as an invasion of privacy, says MIT professor Barry Posen. He goes further to say that the kind of data collection used by the government could very easily be used in nefarious ways (should someone nefarious get their hands on it). Another big issue he suggests is the price tag that this surveillance costs American taxpayers. At $70,000,000,000... that so-called "security" might be priced way too high. The Charles Koch Foundation aims to further understanding of how US foreign policy affects American people and societal well-being. Through grants, events, and collaborative partnerships, the Foundation is working to stretch the boundaries of foreign policy research and debate by discussing ideas in strategy, trade, and diplomacy that often go unheeded in the US capital. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org.

How to make a black hole

Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.

Videos
  • There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
  • CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
  • Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
  • Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.

Russian reporters discover 101 'tortured' whales jammed in offshore pens

Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.

(VL.ru)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Russian news network discovers 101 black-market whales.
  • Orcas and belugas are seen crammed into tiny pens.
  • Marine parks continue to create a high-price demand for illegal captures.
Keep reading Show less

China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
Keep reading Show less