A mystery of many “spy” movies – notably the more over-the-top films such those involving a suave British secret agent – is where does the money come from to buy the various gizmos and gadgets. Even shows more grounded in reality, like Homeland, Berlin Station, and Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan may have viewers questioning who is footing the bill for the excessive travel and money to “acquire” assets.

This part of the world of “secret agents” isn’t actually all that secret.

Last week, the Department of Defense (DoD) released its Military Intelligence Program (MIP) top line budget request for Fiscal Year 2021. The total, which the DoD noted included both the base budget and the Overseas Contingency Operations funding, was $23.1 billion and is aligned to support the 2018 National Defense Strategy.

While many parts of the DoD’s budget are broken down and made public, in the case of the MIP, few details have actually been shared. The department determined that even releasing this top line figure was acceptable as it didn’t jeopardize any classified activities within the MIP.

However, no other MIP budget figures or program details could be released, as they remain classified for national security reasons.


The DoD’s MIP budget is just one that was making its way to lawmakers on the Hill, and the Office of the Director Intelligence (ODNI) also released its own budget request for the National Intelligence Program (NIP), which was for $61.9 for FY21 – combined total of $85 billion, which is a slight decrease from last year’s request of $85.8 billion. Yet, the $85 billion is significantly higher than every year over the past decade, with it steadily on the rise since 2015 after slightly dipping in 2014.

MIP is overseen by the Pentagon and includes the spending for the intelligence components of the military services, as well as funding for the intelligence agencies that are under the DoD – and this includes such agencies as the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). According to a Congressional Research Service report from 2019, the MIP is used to fund defense intelligence activities intended to support operational and tactical level intelligence priorities supporting defense operations.

The CRS report noted that the money is used to facilitate the dissemination of information that relates to a foreign country or political group, as well as covert and/or clandestine activities. The MIP money is also used to fund the U.S. Special Operations Command, and used to pursue current acquisition efforts such as outfitting aircraft.

The NIP by contrast pays for the “traditional intelligence agencies” including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), portions of the FBI, and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, along with some portion of the agencies that are under DoD control.

Can’t Follow the Money

While what exactly that money is spent on still remains classified, a large portion of the intelligence community’s (IC’s) budget goes to contracting. Given that the budgets are in decline, it means that companies will have to compete for fewer dollars in the future. Historically, the share of the budget devoted to contracting have been reported at about 70%, according to Bloomberg Government.

Additionally, competition for IC work can be challenging due to the fact that there are a limited number of contractors that have cleared personnel authorizations, and solicitations are often released with a prerequisite for organizations to have certain security clearances.

Bloomberg Government also noted that for many contractors seeking to participate in the IC market, it may be necessary to partner with companies already in the market or to hire personnel with experience working with the IC. However, if the budgets are on a downward trajectory it is likely the market will be far more competitive in the years to come.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.