Oops - Official Reveals Budget for U.S. Intelligence

Bill Stewart bill.stewart at pobox.com
Tue Nov 8 11:35:34 PST 2005

$44B, up from $26.8 in 1998.

It's the usual NYTimes-registration-required article.

November 8, 2005

Official Reveals Budget for U.S. Intelligence


WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 - In an apparent slip, a top American intelligence 
official has revealed at a public conference what has long been secret: the 
amount of money the United States spends on its spy agencies.

At an intelligence conference in San Antonio last week, Mary Margaret 
Graham, a 27-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and now the 
deputy director of national intelligence for collection, said the annual 
intelligence budget was $44 billion.

The number was reported Monday in U.S. News and World Report, whose 
national security reporter, Kevin Whitelaw, was among the hundreds of 
people in attendance during Ms. Graham's talk.

"I thought, 'I can't believe she said that,' " Mr. Whitelaw said on Monday. 
"The government has spent so much time and energy arguing that it needs to 
remain classified."

The figure itself comes as no great shock; most news reports in the last 
couple of years have estimated the budget at $40 billion. But the fact that 
Ms. Graham would say it in public is a surprise, because the government has 
repeatedly gone to court to keep the current intelligence budget and even 
past budgets as far back as the 1940's from being disclosed.

Carl Kropf, a spokesman for the office of the director of national 
intelligence, John D. Negroponte, said Ms. Graham would not comment. Mr. 
Kropf declined to say whether the figure, which Ms. Graham gave last Monday 
at an annual conference on intelligence gathered from satellite and other 
photographs, was accurate, or whether her revelation was accidental.

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."

Only for a few past years has the budget been disclosed. After Mr. 
Aftergood's group first sued for the budget figure under the Freedom of 
Information Act in 1997, George J. Tenet, then the director of central 
intelligence, decided to make public that year's budget, $26.6 billion. The 
next year Mr. Tenet did the same, revealing that the 1998 fiscal year 
budget was $26.7 billion.

But in 1999, Mr. Tenet reversed that policy, and budgets since then have 
remained classified with the support of the courts. Last year, a federal 
judge refused to order the C.I.A. to release its budget totals for 1947 to 
1970 - except for the 1963 budget, which Mr. Aftergood showed had already 
been revealed elsewhere.

In court and in response to inquiries, intelligence officials have argued 
that disclosing the total spying budget would create pressure to reveal 
more spending details, and that such revelations could aid the nation's 

That argument has been rejected by many members of Congress and outside 
experts, who note that most of the Defense Department budget is published 
in exhaustive detail without evident harm.

The national commission on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, 
recommended that both the overall intelligence budget and spending by 
individual agencies be made public "in order to combat the secrecy and 
complexity" it found was harming national security.

"The taxpayers deserve to know what they're spending for intelligence," 
said Lee H. Hamilton, the former congressman who was vice chairman of the 

Even more important, Mr. Hamilton said, public discussion of the total 
budgets of intelligence agencies would encourage Congress to exercise 
"robust oversight."

The debate over whether the intelligence budget should be secret dates to 
at least the 1970's, said Loch K. Johnson, an intelligence historian who 
worked for the Church Committee investigation of the intelligence agencies 
by the Senate in the mid-1970's. Mr. Johnson said the real reason for 
secrecy might have less to do with protecting intelligence sources and 
methods than with protecting the bureaucracy.

"Maybe there's a fear that if the American people knew what was being spent 
on intelligence, they'd be even more upset at intelligence failures," Mr. 
Johnson said.

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