As required by law, the Director of National Intelligence today disclosed (pdf) that the budget for the National Intelligence Program in Fiscal Year 2007 was $43.5 billion.
The disclosure was strongly resisted by the intelligence bureaucracy, and for that very reason it may have significant repercussions for national security classification policy.
Although the aggregate intelligence budget figures for 1997 and 1998 ($26.6 and $26.7 billion respectively) had previously been disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Federation of American Scientists, intelligence officials literally swore under oath that any further disclosures would damage national security.
“Information about the intelligence budget is of great interest to nations and non-state groups (e.g., terrorists and drug traffickers) wishing to calculate the strengths and weaknesses of the United States and their own points of vulnerability to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” then-DCI George J. Tenet told a federal court in April 2003, explaining his position that disclosure of the intelligence budget total would cause “serious damage” to the United States.
Even historical budget information from half a century ago “must be withheld from public disclosure… because its release would tend to reveal intelligence methods,” declared then-acting DCI John E. McLaughlin (pdf) in a 2004 lawsuit, also filed by FAS.
But now it appears that such information may safely be disclosed after all.
Because the new disclosure is so sharply at odds with past practice, it may introduce some positive instability into a recalcitrant classification system. The question implicitly arises, if intelligence officials were wrong to classify this information, what other data are they wrongly withholding?
Some historical background on U.S. intelligence spending may be found here.
And see “2007 Spying Said to Cost $50 Billion” by Walter Pincus, Washington Post, October 30.