You Can Now Buy Saddam Hussein's Rifle Online

The rifle above belonged to a brutal dictator who gassed to death thousands of his own citizens and had the gall to erect a giant arch modeled after his own fists. Now it can be yours for an estimated $7,500 to $15,000.

The Rock Island Auction Company is auctioning off Saddam Hussein's personal Ruger M77 bolt-action rifle, which has changed hands several times since the days when  Hussein allegedly held the gun aloft during rallies (the Illinois-based firearms auction house is also selling a pocket pistol "attributed to Adolf Hitler," if you're in the market). According to an affidavit posted on the company's website, a Sufi militia group found the rifle in the rubble of the presidential palace in Baghdad soon after the beginning of the American invasion in 2003. The group then "turned over" the rifle to the CIA in 2004. When the Baghdad station chief at the time retired from the agency in 2012, the CIA gave him the rifle. He is now putting it up for auction, as he explains in signed documents on Rock Island's site.

Whoever wrote the language hawking the item apparently didn't think this history spoke for itself, choosing instead to describe Hussein rather like a wrestler about to enter the ring. "This brutal dictator needs NO introduction to the American people, as he is one of the most despised and hated Middle East leaders of the 20/21st Century," the description observes. After noting that the rifle "was the one used ceremoniously in numerous worldwide newsreels shown on national TV," the pitch finishes strong, promising an "impeccably well documented historic rifle that once belonged to one of the most known bad guys of recent times, the late Saddam Hussein!"

Saddam Hussein-related artifacts have been circulating around the world for quite some time now. In 2009, the U.S. Army returned to the Iraqi government a chrome-plated AK-47 that was part of a collection of chrome- and gold-plated weaponry that Hussein gave out as gifts. Former president George W. Bush kept in his private study the pistol found when Hussein was captured, and proudly showed it to visitors.

Among the more bizarre items in the genre is a bronze buttock from iconic Saddam statue in Baghdad, recovered when Marines and Iraqis symbolically toppled the monument in 2003. The section, which Iraq later argued was part of its "historical and cultural heritage," was auctioned in Britain in 2011 but failed to sell when bidding stopped at £21,000, short of the six-figure minimum price.

Compared to that asking price, Saddam's bolt-action rifle is a steal.  

(h/t: Borzou Daragahi)

Rock Island Auction Company


NSA Fears There Are 3,999 More Snowdens

Few documents have been more closely held by the U.S. intelligence community, but now the "black budget" -- the detailed breakdown of how American spies spend their money -- has largely been made public.

Courtesy of NSA leaker Edward Snowden, the Washington Post on Thursday described large portions of the 178-page document for fiscal year 2013, and released selection of pages from the budget itself. The materials depict an expanding intelligence apparatus that is struggling to respond to myriad challenges despite enjoying unprecedented levels of funding. Here are five key insights from Thursday's report.

The NSA saw Snowden coming and couldn't stop him

According to the Post, American intelligence agencies budgeted for a major effort in 2012 to prevent intrusions by foreign intelligence agencies and to guard against betrayals by their own employees. But most of that money was diverted into an "all-hands, emergency response" to deal with secrets disclosed by WikiLeaks. For the following year, 2013, the budget pledged that the intelligence community would carry out a "review of high-risk, high-gain applicants and contractors" -- contractors like Snowden, for example. The NSA, specifically, said it would carry out a "minimum of 4,000 periodic reinvestigations of potential insider compromise of sensitive information."

Somewhere in those 4,000 reinvestigations, the agency missed Snowden.

SIGINT is the holy grail of U.S. intelligence

In the aftermath of the Iraq war and the erroneous intelligence assessment of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, the American intelligence community was frequently criticized for being overly reliant on signals intelligence at the expense of effectively recruiting agents and defectors. Judging by the black budget, the U.S. intelligence community remains extremely reliant on its digital surveillance tools and hasn't taken to heart the criticism that it needs to invest more in human sources. Even in the fight against al Qaeda, now in its second decade, signals intelligence remains "often the best and only means to compromise seemingly intractable targets," according to the leaked documents. And in just about every example of a difficult problem facing the intelligence community, the Post describes a technical solution. With Iran, new surveillance methods have enabled U.S. intelligence officials to identify nuclear sites missed by orbiting satellites. With North Korea, U.S. intelligence agencies have surrounded the country with surveillance tools, including air sniffers, infra-red imaging, and seismic monitoring.

Going forward, the NSA is pursuing what might be considered the holy grail of signals intelligence. Here's how the intelligence budget puts it: "We are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit internet traffic." Translated into English, the NSA is seeking the ability to decrypt any and all encrypted communications, which would vastly expand the agency's capacity to comb through global communications.

To underscore U.S. intelligence agencies' reliance on signal intelligence, the summary list of proposed targeted investments for the entire intelligence community in 2013 makes no reference to human intelligence efforts. Of the CIA's $14.7 billion budget, $2.3 billion goes to human intelligence operations, with another $2.5 spent in support of those operations. But even the CIA has now gotten in on collecting signals intelligence and spends $1.7 billion annually on what is described as a smaller version of the NSA's massive data collection activities.

The gaps in U.S. intelligence are scary

Even as U.S. intelligence agencies tout their ability to collect digital communications, there remain frightening gaps in what the U.S. government knows about several critical threats. U.S. officials, for example, understand little about security for Pakistani nuclear parts during shipment, nor do they have a good sense of the abilities of China's new fighter jet -- or how Russian leaders would react in the face of "potentially destabilizing events in Moscow, such as large protests and terrorist attacks," for that matter. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence agencies have made little progress on figuring out how to respond to homegrown terrorists, which the budget describes as one of "the more challenging intelligence gaps."

As for surrounding North Korea with a slew of surveillance technologies, that decision seems to have come at least in part because the United States knows next to nothing about Kim Jong Un or his intentions, despite the fact that he has now been in power for a year and a half and has already managed to spark a crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

The NSA is spending millions of dollars to figure out how to cope with the mountains of data it collects

The NSA doesn't have much of a sense of irony. The agency is currently spending nearly $50 million on figuring out how it can best cope with "information overload." In other words, the NSA is collecting so much data that it doesn't know what to do with it all. It's a research project that yet again underscores the degree to which signals intelligence now dominates the American intelligence community. As the Snowden revelations have broadly demonstrated, the NSA is engaged in a massive data-mining project in which it collects as much information as possible in order to ferret out threats before they metastasize.

The U.S. intelligence apparatus is unprecedented in scale

In total, the black budget for the U.S. intelligence community amounts to $52.6 billion dollars, which in all likelihood is the single largest annual outlay on intelligence operations in American history. Given the classified nature of the intelligence budget, historical comparisons are difficult to make. But according to the Post, combined intelligence spending -- both within the agencies and for the military -- likely surpasses the Cold War peak of the late 1980s. Combining the black budget and military intelligence spending, the Post puts the total intelligence budget at $75.6 billion. That figure is higher than the entire military budgets of the United Kingdom, Japan, and France, who, respectively have the fourth- through sixth-largest military budgets in the world. Only China and Russia spend more on their militaries than the United States spends on its intelligence gathering.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images