Secrecy News

Declassification Board Weighs Intel Budget Disclosure

The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), an advisory body whose members were appointed by the President and the Congress, held its eleventh meeting on February 24 to receive public input on potential improvements to national security classification and declassification policy. Much of the session was devoted to discussion of whether the annual intelligence budget total should be declassified.

Intelligence budget disclosure was first advocated by Congress more than thirty years ago. More recently, it was recommended by the 9/11 Commission as an indispensable first step toward eliminating counterproductive secrecy in the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy. Currently, there are at least three bills pending in the U.S. Senate that would require such disclosure. The step is opposed by the Bush Administration.

“There is no one who is better positioned than the PIDB to win favorable presidential reconsideration of the question of intelligence budget disclosure and to catalyze a final resolution of this perennial classification dispute,” I told the PIDB members (pdf). “I hope you will seize the opportunity.” My written presentation on that and other subjects is here.

“I am already on record in favor” of disclosure, said former Congressman David Skaggs (D-CO), who chaired the meeting, noting that he had supported legislation to that effect.

“I’ve been on both sides of the debate,” said Martin Faga, former director of the National Reconnaissance Office, who recalled that he had approved the declassification of the NRO’s existence in 1992.

The intelligence budget total probably “does not meet the criteria for classification,” admitted former Deputy DCI Adm. William Studeman and former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer Joan Vail Grimson, but they said it should remain classified anyway since its disclosure, they feared, could lead to further uncontrolled releases of more sensitive information.

But that kind of approach “undermines the integrity of the classification system,” warned Bill Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office.

“As an intelligence professional, I can’t see a way that disclosure of the intelligence budget total could hurt me,” said former CIA analyst Bruce Berkowitz, who was also invited to address the Board.

“I would like to hear more,” said Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein, who endorsed another FAS proposal to engage agency Inspectors General in oversight of classification and declassification.

The Board members were scheduled to meet later in the day with national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

The first annual report of the Public Interest Declassification Board is available here.

The problem of secret spending was examined by the Las Vegas Sun in the context of allegations that Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons took improper advantage of the secret “black budget” while serving in Congress to reward friends and supporters. See “Bush budget contains many secrets” by Lisa Mascaro, Las Vegas Sun, February 25.

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