NSA cuts don't worry Maryland officials

Minor impact on local economy predicted

October 28, 2005|By LAURA CADIZ | LAURA CADIZ,SUN REPORTER

Maryland leaders are confident that the National Security Agency and its thousands of workers will weather cutbacks in the budget for electronic information gathering under a new intelligence strategy that emphasizes human spying and domestic intelligence.

A senior intelligence official Wednesday said unspecified cuts in high-tech agencies such as the NSA are likely under the strategy unveiled by Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.

But state officials view any such cutbacks as a realignment of funds among the nation's intelligence agencies that won't drastically affect the local economy.

"We're really not all that concerned about it," said Chris Foster, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Foster said the agency spends about $2 billion a year in the state.

NSA is one of the state's largest employers, and agency officials have not disputed estimates that it employs more than 15,000 people in the region. The agency is hiring 7,500 workers through 2009 to expand its counterterrorism operations, many of them expected to be placed at Fort Meade.

Security analyst John Pike of Globalsecurity.org estimated that increased funding for human spying likely would come from elsewhere in the overall $45 billion intelligence budget and be spread among intelligence agencies.

"NSA's share of such a reallocation in the intelligence budget would not be noticeable," Pike said, estimating that the agency has a $7.5 billion budget.

In a statement, an NSA spokesman said: "We will not speculate concerning budget issues."

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens said she takes the suggestion of cutbacks "with a grain of salt" and is confident that her county will remain a "booming technological hub."

"We're going to continue to need the best minds and hearts we can get," said Owens, whose county houses the Chesapeake Innovation Center, a homeland security business incubator in Annapolis.

Any major cuts might not be felt until 2008, according to the senior intelligence official quoted anonymously in yesterday's Sun, and the agencies that likely would benefit from the new strategy would be those such as the CIA and FBI, which rely on human intelligence gathering.

That still puts Maryland companies in the position to benefit because the state has been encouraging them to diversify their business and contract with other intelligence agencies instead of just the NSA, Foster said.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat who serves on the intelligence committee, said building a budget is about "picking priorities" and human intelligence gathering needs to be a focus.

"The FBI needs more resources and manpower to do that job, which means you're going to have to put more money into the collection of human intelligence," he said.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, also a Maryland Democrat, said that an increase in human intelligence gathering shouldn't come at the expense of electronic intelligence gathering.

"The technology develops so rapidly, we have to stay ahead of it," he said. "It would be a major mistake if we were to cut back the commitment we've made to electronic analysis and administration."

laura.cadiz@baltsun.com

Sun staff reporter Larry Carson contributed to this article.

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