Intelligence Spending Drops for a Second Year

10.31.12 | 3 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

For the second year in a row and for only the second time in the post-9/11 era, total intelligence spending declined last year to $75.4 billion, according to figures released yesterday by the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Defense (Bloomberg, Wash Times, Reuters).

Total spending had peaked in FY2010 at $80.1 billion, and declined in FY2011 to $78.6 billion.

“We are looking at some pretty steep budget cuts across the board in the Intelligence Community,” DNI James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee last January.

“Never before has the Intelligence Community been called upon to master such complexity on so many issues in such a resource-constrained environment,” he said then. “We’re rising to the challenge by continuing to integrate the Intelligence Community, … taking advantage of new technologies, implementing new efficiencies, and, as always, simply working hard. But, candidly, maintaining the world’s premier intelligence enterprise in the face of shrinking budgets will be difficult. We’ll be accepting and managing risk more so than we’ve had to do in the last decade.”

But while intelligence budgets are shrinking, they remain very high by historical standards, having more than doubled over the past decade.

Total intelligence spending is comprised of two budget constructs:  the National Intelligence Program (NIP) and the Military Intelligence Program (MIP).  The large defense intelligence agencies — including NSA, NRO, and NGA — receive funding through both budget programs.

For the first time ever in FY2012, both the budget request for the NIP ($55 billion) and the subsequent budget appropriation ($53.9 billion) have been disclosed.  (The MIP request was disclosed for FY2013, but not for FY2012.)  This is something of a breakthrough in intelligence classification policy.

Hypothetically (or so it was long asserted), a hostile intelligence analyst could derive valuable insight from the gap between each year’s budget appropriation, or between the appropriation and the request, to the detriment of U.S. security.

“Disclosure of the budget request or the total appropriation reasonably could be expected to cause damage to the national security in several ways,” wrote Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet in 1999 in a successful effort to keep the budget secret at that time. “First, disclosure of the budget request reasonably could be expected to provide foreign governments with the United States’ own assessment of its intelligence capabilities and weaknesses. The difference between the appropriation for one year and the Administration’s budget request for the next provides a measure of the Administration’s unique, critical assessment of its own intelligence programs. A requested budget decrease reflects a decision that existing intelligence programs are more than adequate to meet the national security needs of the United States. A requested budget increase reflects a decision that existing intelligence programs are insufficient to meet our national security needs. A budget request with no change in spending reflects a decision that existing programs are just adequate to meet our needs.”

But this longstanding official position has now lost any semblance of cogency.

“In my view, this argument does not stand up to even a few minutes of serious analysis,” wrote former 9/11 Commission executive director (and Romney campaign adviser) Philip Zelikow in the latest issue of the CIA journal Studies in Intelligence.

But with serious analysis evidently in short supply, total intelligence budget secrecy remained the norm for many decades until recently.

See all publications
Nuclear Weapons
New Voices on Nuclear Weapons Fellowship: Creative Perspectives on Rethinking Nuclear Deterrence 

To empower new voices to start their career in nuclear weapons studies, the Federation of American Scientists launched the New Voices on Nuclear Weapons Fellowship. Here’s what our inaugural cohort accomplished.

11.28.23 | 3 min read
read more
Science Policy
Expected Utility Forecasting for Science Funding

Common frameworks for evaluating proposals leave this utility function implicit, often evaluating aspects of risk, uncertainty, and potential value independently and qualitatively.

11.20.23 | 11 min read
read more
Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear Notebook: Nuclear Weapons Sharing, 2023

The FAS Nuclear Notebook is one of the most widely sourced reference materials worldwide for reliable information about the status of nuclear weapons and has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by the staff of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project: Director Hans […]

11.17.23 | 1 min read
read more
Social Innovation
Community School Approach Reaches High of 60%, Reports Latest Pulse Panel

According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ August 2023 pulse panel, 60% of public schools were utilizing a “community school” or “wraparound services model” at the start of this school year—up from 45% last year.

11.17.23 | 4 min read
read more