The Bush Administration formally notified (pdf) the Senate this week that it objects to a provision in a pending bill on homeland security that would require publication of the annual intelligence budget total.
“The Administration strongly opposes the requirement in the bill to publicly disclose sensitive information about the intelligence budget.”
“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,” the White House statement said.
It is hard to find a serious intelligence professional who agrees with this White House view.
Because the intelligence budget total is a high-level aggregate of spending levels in more than a dozen different agencies, its intelligence value to U.S. adversaries is practically nil, since funding for any particular program is insulated many layers beneath the enormous top-line figure. On the other hand, disclosure of the total figure would provide the public with a reliable index of the magnitude of intelligence spending to compare with spending on other national priorities.
To critics and other observers, intelligence budget secrecy is the preeminent example of unnecessary and inappropriate classification.
For that reason, the 9/11 Commission recommended that budget disclosure is the best way to begin reversing the spread of bureaucratic secrecy that has undermined the performance of U.S. intelligence agencies. The 9/11 Commission recommendation was incorporated into the Senate bill (S.4), which is expected to pass the Senate next week.
In other important disputes, the new White House statement 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.