Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

  US Intelligence budget has nearly doubled in last decade

Compelled by Congress this year (H.R. 1, sect. 601) to reveal the size of the annual intelligence budget, the Director of National Intelligence issued a terse statement putting the figure for Budget Year 2007 at $43.5 billion. Walter Pincus has sources who tell him that if you add in the other intelligence budgets not included in Mike McConnell's tally (tactical intelligence for the individual military branches), the total would reach $50 billion.

In 1997 and 1998, the last years for which we have an official figure, the intelligence budgets were $26.6 and $26.7 billion. Thus the annual intelligence budgets are approximately double what they were a decade ago.

In 2005, an intelligence official speaking at a public conference in San Antonio inadvertently disclosed that the annual budget (including military services) was $44 billion.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, expressed amused satisfaction that the budget figure had slipped out.

"It is ironic," Mr. Aftergood said. "We sued the C.I.A. four times for this kind of information and lost. You can't get it through legal channels."

The $44 billion figure never was officially confirmed, but we can now see that it is in line with the figures we do have. So the intelligence budget exploded in size (up about 63%) sometime between 1999 and 2005, and has grown another 14% since then. This vast and rapid expansion in the government's intelligence apparatus is paralleled only by a similarly steep rise during Reagan's presidency. During the 1990s, however, intelligence budgets had stopped growing. It was only in 1999 that the CIA asked for a significant increase in its budget (of unknown size).

Hence the vastly inflated figure released today is almost certainly, in brief, the story of the National Security State that George Bush and friends have been building since 2001.

The White House was far from happy to have this information brought out into the light of day:

Disclosure, including disclosure to the Nation's enemies and adversaries in a time of war, of the amounts requested by the President and provided by the Congress for the conduct of the Nation's intelligence activities would provide no meaningful information to the general American public, but would provide significant intelligence to America's adversaries and could cause damage to the national security interests of the United States.

That was Bush's position as of February. And yet, despite the grave danger that Bush said was presented by H.R. 1 (the bill to implement the Sept. 11 Commission's recommendations), never the less he signed it into law in July. Governmental hypocrisy—it's a hallmark of secrecy for its own sake.

the new White House statement [in February] also took sharp exception to provisions in the bill that would strengthen the Public Interest Declassification Board, enhance whistleblower protections for intelligence community employees, and require increased intelligence and information sharing with state and local officials.

H.R. 1 required McConnell to disclose the annual intelligence budget by Oct. 30, and he waited to do so until the very last moment. His news release states bluntly that the public should expect no further information than the single budget figure he provides.

Any and all subsidiary information concerning the intelligence budget, whether the information concerns particular intelligence agencies or particular intelligence programs, will not be disclosed. Beyond the disclosure of the top line figure, there will be no other disclosures of currently classified budget information because such disclosures could harm national security. The only exceptions to the foregoing are for unclassified appropriations, primarily for the Community Management Account.

After 2009, we probably will find that the annual budget becomes a state secret again. A House-Senate conference on H.R. 1 introduced a "compromise" provision that permits the President to refuse to disclose intelligence budget figures beginning in 2009 merely by submitting a statement declaring that disclosure could harm national security. What is the likelihood that that will not occur?

Not great, to judge by the arm-twisting that has done on up until now. The 1997 and 1998 budget information was made public only because Steve Aftergood of FAS filed FOIA requests. Thereafter, the CIA refused to release any further budget figures:

Although the aggregate intelligence budget figures for 1997 and 1998 ($26.6 and $26.7 billion respectively) had previously been disclosed ... , intelligence officials literally swore under oath that any further disclosures would damage national security.

"Information about the intelligence budget is of great interest to nations and non-state groups (e.g., terrorists and drug traffickers) wishing to calculate the strengths and weaknesses of the United States and their own points of vulnerability to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies," then-DCI George J. Tenet told a federal court in April 2003, explaining his position that disclosure of the intelligence budget total would cause "serious damage" to the United States.

Even historical budget information from half a century ago "must be withheld from public disclosure... because its release would tend to reveal intelligence methods," declared then-acting DCI John E. McLaughlin (pdf) in a 2004 lawsuit, also filed by FAS.

Deferring to executive authority, federal judges including Judge Thomas F. Hogan and Judge Ricardo M. Urbina (pdf) accepted these statements at face value and ruled in favor of continued secrecy.

McConnell belongs to that school of thought by which democracy thrives through ignorance. Although little noted, last week he took another step to save the public from the burden of having too much information about its government's activities:

U.S. intelligence agencies will release summaries of national intelligence estimates only if Americans are in direct and immediate danger, or if police and fire departments need the information, the top intelligence official says.

NIE summaries will not be published if doing so would complicate U.S. policy interests "by revealing negative assessments of leaders or countries whose cooperation is essential for the attainment of policy objectives," or otherwise affect military, diplomatic or spy operations, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in an Oct. 24 memo to the intelligence agencies.

McConnell is reversing the recent trend of releasing key judgments from NIEs, the forward-looking analyses prepared for the White House and Congress that contain the views of the nation's 16 spy agencies on a single issue.

McConnell argues that making the Key Judgments of NIEs public may make analysts worry that their words will be scrutinized by those outside government, and may permit the NIEs to become fodder in political debate. Evidently, then, there was a Golden Age of government in which an ignorant public placed all its trust in wise and good leaders. That was the same Golden Age in which NIEs were anything but politicized.

The government began releasing NIEs about four years ago, most notably with the White House's July 2003 disclosure of key judgments from a controversial NIE on Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction program. The White House was pressured to release those findings after parts of the NIE that supported the Bush administration's case for war against Iraq were leaked to the press.

Again, government secrets are critical to national security until they're not.

crossposted from

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