Intelligence Spending Dropped Sharply Last Year

11.01.13 | 3 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Total U.S. intelligence spending last year declined by more than 10%.

Intelligence spending has been on a downward slope for the last few years since its peak in 2010.  But last year’s drop, disclosed yesterday in newly declassified budget data for FY2013, was the steepest one-year decline in intelligence spending since at least the end of the Cold War, and maybe longer.

The reduction in spending was accelerated by the budget sequester which deprived intelligence agencies of billions of dollars beyond the intent of congressional appropriators, who were already cutting intelligence spending anyway.

The Director of National Intelligence said that the 2013 budget appropriation for the National Intelligence Program was $52.7 billion, but that it was reduced by sequester to $49.0 billion.

The Department of Defense disclosed that the 2013 budget for the Military Intelligence Program was $19.2 billion, but that it was reduced by sequester to $18.6 billion.

The aggregate appropriation for 2013 (NIP plus MIP) was $71.9 billion, reduced by sequester to $67.6 billion. This is a decline of more than 10% from the 2012 aggregate figure of $75.4 billion.

According to ODNI intelligence budget documents obtained by the Washington Post, the FY2013 budget request of $52.6 billion for the National Intelligence Program was intended to be “a decrease of $1.3 billion, or 2.4 percent, below the FY 2012 enacted level.” But the actual NIP number for 2013, post-sequester, ended up being a decrease of $4.9 billion, or 9 percent, from the year before.

Intelligence community officials said that the abruptness and severity of the cuts complicated their efforts to manage an orderly drawdown of intelligence programs.

“Unlike more directly observable sequestration impacts, like shorter hours at public parks or longer security lines at airports, the degradation to intelligence will be insidious,” said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper at a hearing last April. “It will be gradual, almost invisible, until, of course, we have an intelligence failure.”

“We recognize that in the current budgetary environment, the IC, along with the rest of the government, will have to endure some cuts,” said Robert S. Litt, General Counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, at an American Bar Association conference yesterday.  “The problem with sequestration is that, rather than allowing us to make cuts in a sensible manner, based on mission needs, it requires us to cut everything across the board.”

“We were able to deal with sequestration in the past year by delaying or deferring some activities and reprogramming funds to cover critical gaps. But this fiscal year, sequestration will require another round of cuts, and we won’t have the same flexibility to deal with them.”

“Instead of short-term delays or creative mitigation strategies, we will be forced to cut capabilities. Instead of determining what capabilities we need to keep the country safe, we will be forced to determine what capabilities we can afford to provide. The impact of sequestration will likely open new intelligence gaps and prevent us from mitigating existing ones,” Mr. Litt said.

For decades, intelligence officials insisted that public disclosure of intelligence budget totals would cause intolerable damage to national security and that the total budget figures must therefore be classified. Eventually it was recognized that this was not true, and that it probably had never been true. If anything, unclassified budget numbers now serve the interests of intelligence by enabling officials to publicly advocate in defense of their budgets.