Official Reveals Budget for U.S.
by Scott Shane
November 8, 2005
In an apparent slip, a top American intelligence
official has revealed at a public conference what has long been
secret: the amount of money the United States spends on its spy
At an intelligence conference in San Antonio
last week, Mary Margaret Graham, a 27-year veteran of the Central
Intelligence Agency and now the deputy director of national intelligence
for collection, said the annual intelligence budget was $44 billion.
The number was reported Monday in U.S.
News and World Report, whose national security reporter, Kevin
Whitelaw, was among the hundreds of people in attendance during
Ms. Graham's talk.
"I thought, 'I can't believe she
said that,' " Mr. Whitelaw said on Monday. "The government
has spent so much time and energy arguing that it needs to remain
The figure itself comes as no great shock;
most news reports in the last couple of years have estimated the
budget at $40 billion. But the fact that Ms. Graham would say
it in public is a surprise, because the government has repeatedly
gone to court to keep the current intelligence budget and even
past budgets as far back as the 1940's from being disclosed.
Carl Kropf, a spokesman for the office
of the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte,
said Ms. Graham would not comment. Mr. Kropf declined to say whether
the figure, which Ms. Graham gave last Monday at an annual conference
on intelligence gathered from satellite and other photographs,
was accurate, or whether her revelation was accidental.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project
on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists,
expressed amused satisfaction that the budget figure had slipped
"It is ironic," Mr. Aftergood
said. "We sued the C.I.A. four times for this kind of information
and lost. You can't get it through legal channels."
Only for a few past years has the budget
been disclosed. After Mr. Aftergood's group first sued for the
budget figure under the Freedom of Information Act in 1997, George
J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, decided to
make public that year's budget, $26.6 billion. The next year Mr.
Tenet did the same, revealing that the 1998 fiscal year budget
was $26.7 billion.
But in 1999, Mr. Tenet reversed that policy,
and budgets since then have remained classified with the support
of the courts. Last year, a federal judge refused to order the
C.I.A. to release its budget totals for 1947 to 1970 - except
for the 1963 budget, which Mr. Aftergood showed had already been
In court and in response to inquiries,
intelligence officials have argued that disclosing the total spying
budget would create pressure to reveal more spending details,
and that such revelations could aid the nation's adversaries.
That argument has been rejected by many
members of Congress and outside experts, who note that most of
the Defense Department budget is published in exhaustive detail
without evident harm.
The national commission on the terrorist
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, recommended that both the overall intelligence
budget and spending by individual agencies be made public "in
order to combat the secrecy and complexity" it found was
harming national security.
"The taxpayers deserve to know what
they're spending for intelligence," said Lee H. Hamilton,
the former congressman who was vice chairman of the commission.
Even more important, Mr. Hamilton said,
public discussion of the total budgets of intelligence agencies
would encourage Congress to exercise "robust oversight."
The debate over whether the intelligence
budget should be secret dates to at least the 1970's, said Loch
K. Johnson, an intelligence historian who worked for the Church
Committee investigation of the intelligence agencies by the Senate
in the mid-1970's. Mr. Johnson said the real reason for secrecy
might have less to do with protecting intelligence sources and
methods than with protecting the bureaucracy.
"Maybe there's a fear that if the
American people knew what was being spent on intelligence, they'd
be even more upset at intelligence failures," Mr. Johnson
Military Budget watch