Nuclear Weapons

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.

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