The United States has spent a lot of money on counterterrorism since the 9/11 attacks. But nobody has been keeping good track of just how much, until now.
A bipartisan group of national security and budget experts convened by the Stimson Center estimated in a new report on May 16 that the cumulative tally is at least $2.8 trillion, and that the annual spending rate — while less than it used to be — still amounts to about 15 percent of the nation’s discretionary budget.
The pace has slowed since 2008, when counterterrorism expenditures by the State, Defense, Homeland Security and other federal departments reached an estimated $260 billion — or 277 percent more than the rate in 2002, the report said. In 2017, that annual spending rate stood around $175 billion.
But there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding these tallies, partly because no one in the government is assigned to produce an official account of all that spending. And it’s clear that what can be gleaned from public documents about U.S. counterterrorism activities doesn’t include classified spending, and also that some military, intelligence and domestic security spending lies in a gray zone with multiple purposes.
Luke Hartig, one of the report’s authors and a former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council under the Obama Administration, suggested at a panel discussion at the Stimson Center that the absence of transparency was partly deliberate.
“Transparency would force harder questions about appropriations” from Congress, Hartig said. While the relatively low number of attacks and casualties does not equate to a tiny threat, Hartig said, “it still merits the question of whether $2.8 trillion is the optimal amount of resources it takes to mitigate that threat.”