Tuesday, November 08, 2005

US spends $44b on intelligence

WASHINGTON: The United States government spends $44 billion a year on its spy agencies, according to a senior official of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The revelation is seen giving ammunition to critics of the Bush administration who have been accusing Washington of misusing intelligence agencies and doctoring intelligence documents related ot the Sept.11, 2001 attack as well as reasons for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The $44 billion amount was seen as an apparent slip by , Mary Margaret Graham, a CIA veteran and deputy director of national intelligence for collection, at an intelligence conference in San Antonio last week.
Journalists who attended the conference was shocked.
Kevin Whitelaw of the News of the World said:
"I thought, 'I can't believe she said that.' The government has spent so much time and energy arguing that it needs to remain classified."
Reports in the last couple of years have estimated the budget at $40 billion but that Graham would say it in public was 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 1940s from being disclosed.
Carl Kropf, a spokesman for the office of the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, said Graham would not comment. Kropf declined to say whether the figure 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 out, according to the New York Times.
"It is ironic," Aftergood told the paper. "We sued the CIA four times for this kind of information and lost. You can't get it through legal channels."
The Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists 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 Tenet did the same, revealing that the 1998 fiscal year budget was $26.7 billion.
The New York Times quoted d Loch K. Johnson, an intelligence historian, as saying that the debate over whether the intelligence budget should be secret dates to at least the 1970s.
He 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," Johnson said.