The federal government is pouring almost $11 billion per year into a 35,000-employee program dedicated to encryption, including “groundbreaking” methods to decode encrypted messages such as e-mails, according to an intelligence black budget published by The Washington Post.
The 17-page document, leaked to the paper by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, gives an unprecedented breakdown of the massive amount of tax-payer dollars—which reached $52 billion in fiscal 2013—that the government pours into surveillance and other intelligence-gathering programs. It also details the changing priorities of the government’s most elite spy agencies. Not surprisingly, in a world that’s increasingly driven by networks and electronics, they are spending less on the collection of some hard-copy media and satellite operations while increasing resources for sophisticated signals intelligence, a field of electronic spying feds frequently refer to as “SIGINT.”
“We are bolstering our support for clandestine SIGINT capabilities to collect against high priority targets, including foreign leadership targets,” James Clapper, director of national intelligence, wrote in a summary published by the WaPo. “Also, we are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit Internet traffic.”
The document goes on to reveal that something called the Consolidated Cryptologic Program has received more than $10 billion annually for the past four years, and it employs about 35,000 people. It also shows that 23 percent of this year’s program funding supported collection and operations, 15 percent went to processing and exploitation, and 14 percent funded analysis and production. In addition to supporting cracking, the $10 billion presumably includes funding for so-called comsec, short for communications security, which is designed to prevent adversaries from accessing communications in an intelligible form.
The document and the WaPo reporting don’t detail the methods or specific capabilities of the program. As Ars reported earlier this month, some cryptographers are growing increasingly concerned that breakthroughs in discrete mathematics could soon spawn a so-called cryptopocalypse that could undermine the security of core encryption algorithms. Security expert Bruce Schneier and other cryptographers have publicly doubted the likelihood of such a scenario happening anytime soon, but since there’s no mathematical proof that the theory isn’t possible, there’s no way to dismiss the possibility. And if anyone were to find a way to break the RSA encryption algorithm and other widely used technologies, it would most likely be an army of 35,000 mathematicians and cryptographers with more than $10 billion per year at their disposal.
The document also shows that that CIA received about $14.7 billion in 2013, more than the $10.8 billion earmarked for the NSA. In all, there are more than 107,000 employees in various US intelligence programs, according to the WaPo. The paper also reported that the NSA employs 64 percent of all military personnel in the program, at 14,950.
The headline and content of this post updated were updated to make clear $10 billion most likely funds comsec, in addition to cracking.