Mr. TORRICELLI. Mr. President, since the founding of our Republic, we have faced a dilemma as old perhaps as the concept of democracy itself. That is how the Nation is governed: With an informed electorate, but at the same time we can protect the national security by containing information which might be used against ourselves.
This debate has largely, though not exclusively, been settled by the judgment that we are best served by informing the people so they can make the proper judgments about choosing the leadership of our country.
Indeed, this is the philosophy that gave rise to the first amendment to the Constitution, but perhaps more exactly also to article I, section 9, which reads, `a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.'
There has, however, in spite of this general judgment of the need to govern the Nation based on the best possible information to the electorate, and in spite of this rather specific constitutional provision, been a notable and exceptional exception in the Nation's accounting.
I speak obviously of the Central Intelligence Agency in its half-century determination to keep its accounting, its expenditures, private from the people of the United States. And, indeed, during both times of national conflict and in the broad period of the cold war it was a policy with a considerable rationale.
The United States faced, in the Soviet Union, an adversary which if in possession of our expenditures of the intelligence community would learn a great deal about our national intentions and our capabilities. But now some 7 years after the end of the cold war, there is no longer a rationale for not sharing with the American people at least the aggregate amount of spending of the American intelligence community.
I do not speak, obviously, of specific requirements for expenditures in individual programs or even broad categories of expenditures but whether or not the American people should be informed of the total aggregate spending since the United States no longer faces an adversary which, if in possession of that amount of expenditures, could make real use of it.
Last Wednesday, George Tenet, the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, perhaps because of this changed situation, took a very important step. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Federation of American Scientists, Director Tenet ended 50 years of what may have been unconstitutional secrecy and finally disclosed the aggregate budget numbers of the U.S. intelligence community.
I take the floor today, Mr. President, to applaud President Clinton and Director Tenet for taking this first step, but note with some considerable regret that this judgment was made in response to a lawsuit filed against the administration not with the support of this Congress and, indeed, in spite of a vote taken in response to an amendment that I offered on the floor of this Senate.
While I applaud Director Tenet, I also speak with regret that while the budget numbers were offered this year, they specifically were not made as a change in permanent policy, therefore, raising the specter that the American people are being provided this information in 1997, with the possibility they may never be given this information again.
That perhaps leads to the most cynical interpretation of all, that what is really feared by the intelligence community is not the sharing of this aggregate amount of spending with foreign adversaries, but if the American people have this number they would be able to gauge this year to next, to next, and into the future whether or not the intelligence budget of this country is rising or falling, whether it is too large or too small.
What is feared is that the American people will be as engaged in this debate as they are about Social Security spending or health care or education spending or even defense spending, which routinely is a part of the American political debate.
A 1-year number provides precious little information for public debate about the adequacy or the excessive nature of our spending. What, of course, is peculiar about this inability to inform the public is that defense spending, equally or arguably far more important to national security, is so routinely debated. Perhaps that is the reason why defense spending in the Nation today, excluding intelligence, is now 4 percent lower than defense spending in 1980, why in real dollar terms there has been in the last 7 years such a dramatic reduction in defense expenditures, while according to the Brown report, intelligence spending since 1980 in the United States has risen by 80 percent, an increase in spending almost without parallel.
It is worth noting as well, Mr. President, that in the bipartisan Brown Commission report, the commission could find no systematic basis upon which the intelligence budget is even created. In the Commission's words, `Most intelligence agencies seemed to lack a resource strategy apart from what is reflected in the President's 6-year budget projection. Indeed, until the intelligence community reforms its budget process, it is poorly positioned to implement these strategies.'
Mr. President, other countries in the democratic family of nations have long recognized the need to include defense and intelligence priorities in their national debate over budgetary matters. Indeed, Australia, Britain, and Canada long ago lifted this veil of secrecy. I think, indeed, even the State of Israel, which today faces potentially more serious adversaries at the very heart of their democracy with a daily terrorist threat, long ago decided that its democracy was better served by sharing this information then continuing with the veil of secrecy.
So, Mr. President, in this notable year when for the first time the American people are given access to this information about intelligence spending, the burden now passes to this Congress whether or not we will allow this to be a single exception, or indeed we will now take the challenge and make this a permanent change in how we govern the national intelligence community.
I close, therefore, Mr. President, with the words of Justice Douglas, who in 1974 wrote in making a judgment about whether or not the budget should be revealed, `If taxpayers may not ask that rudimentary question, their sovereignty becomes an empty symbol and a secret bureaucracy is allowed to run our affairs.'
More than 20 years later, Mr. President, this Senate still faces the same judgment. Director Tenet has met his responsibilities. I am proud that President Clinton allowed him to proceed. Now the question rests with us.
I yield the floor.
Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Brownback). The clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.