The Director of National Intelligence today disclosed the 2008 budget for the National Intelligence Program: $47.5 billion. That figure does not include spending for the Military Intelligence Program, which is at least another $10 billion.
The disclosure marks only the fourth time that the intelligence budget has been officially disclosed. The aggregate intelligence budget figure (including national, joint military and tactical intelligence spending) was first released in 1997 ($26.6 billion) in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Federation of American Scientists. It was voluntarily released in 1998 ($26.7 billion). The National Intelligence Program budget was next disclosed in 2007 ($43.5 billion), in response to a Congressional mandate, based on a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. And then there was today’s release for 2008.
In recent years, the most passionate opponent of intelligence budget disclosure has been none other than Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), whose own financial non-disclosure practices have recently earned him multiple felony convictions.
In an October 4, 2004 Senate floor debate, Senator Stevens usefully marshaled all of the traditional arguments against disclosure. Most of them were false at the time. Others have since been disproven.
“No other nation, friend, or ally, reveals the amount that it spends on intelligence,” Sen. Stevens said then.
In fact, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands and other countries have published their intelligence budgets for many years without adverse effect.
“Determining classification is the responsibility and duty of the chief executive of the United States, the President, who is also Commander in Chief,” said Sen. Stevens. “Presidents Truman through Bush has determined that the overall intelligence budget top-line figure is, and shall remain, classified, and I believe we should not overrule that judgment.”
But Congress shares responsibility for defining the terms of the classification system. And as a factual historical matter, President Clinton approved disclosure of the intelligence budget total.
The hoariest myth of all, renewed by Sen. Stevens, is that “This is a slippery slope. Reveal the first number and it will be just a matter of minutes before there will be a call to reveal more information.”
The notion of a “slippery slope” resulting from disclosure of the top-line budget figure has been asserted for decades even by officials who are not convicted felons. But by now, it has been conclusively disproven. Disclosure of the intelligence budget total has not led to uncontrolled further disclosures. The 9/11 Commission’s 2004 recommendation that budgets for “component agencies” should also be disclosed was not accepted and such further disclosures have not occurred despite release of the total figure.
But today the intelligence budget continues to serve as a useful barometer of the incoherence of official secrecy policy. Thus, even after declassifying the FY 2007 intelligence budget figure last year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded last summer (pdf) that “The size of the National Intelligence Program budget for Fiscal Year 2006 is properly classified.”
It seems unlikely that both positions are correct.