For the first time since it began debating the issue more than three decades ago, Congress is now poised to adopt legislation that will require — not merely recommend — public disclosure of the total national intelligence budget.
“Not later than 30 days after the end of each fiscal year beginning with fiscal year 2007, the Director of National Intelligence shall disclose to the public the aggregate amount of funds appropriated by Congress for the National Intelligence Program for such fiscal year,” states the House-Senate conference agreement on H.R. 1 (section 601), the massive bill to implement recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
Excerpts from the conference report concerning intelligence budget disclosure, declassification and related issues are posted here.
The conference bill has already been approved in the Senate and is expected to win final approval in the House as early as today.
If enacted into law, it would lead to the first authorized disclosure of current U.S. intelligence spending since the aggregate budgets were disclosed in 1997 ($26.6 billion) and 1998 ($26.7 billion) in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Federation of American Scientists. (Those figures included spending on “national” as well as “tactical” intelligence.)
The Bush White House has expressed opposition to intelligence budget disclosure but is not expected to veto the entire 9/11 bill on that basis.
“The Administration strongly opposes the requirement in the bill to publicly disclose sensitive information about the intelligence budget,” according to a February 28 statement of administration policy (pdf).
“Disclosure, including disclosure to the Nation’s enemies and adversaries in a time of war, of the amounts requested by the President and provided by the Congress for the conduct of the Nation’s intelligence activities would provide no meaningful information to the general American public, but would provide significant intelligence to America’s adversaries and could cause damage to the national security interests of the United States.”
Hardly anyone agrees with that assessment.
The bipartisan 9/11 Commission came to almost the opposite conclusion: “The top-line figure by itself provides little insight into U.S. intelligence sources and methods…. But when even aggregate categorical numbers remain hidden, it is hard to judge priorities and foster accountability.” (Final Report, p. 416)
In a compromise with Administration opponents, the House-Senate conference agreed that, beginning in 2009, the President could waive the disclosure requirement by submitting a statement to Congress that budget disclosure in that particular year could damage national security. The legislation does not allow for a waiver in 2007 or 2008.
The conference legislation also includes provisions to strengthen the Public Interest Declassification Board, and to require declassification of the executive summary of a CIA Inspector General report on events leading up to 9/11.