Sunday, November 13, 2005


The cost of intelligence

The annual intelligence budget of the United States? $44 billion. As in $44,000,000,000. The unexpected and apparently accidental release of this figure shows a sharp rise in the expenditure since 1998, one of the few years for which the intelligence budget has been revealed. Back then it was $26.7 billion.

Over seven years intelligence funding has increased by $17.3 billion or 65%. The Law of Diminishing Returns must have set in because there is no indication that the government now knows 2/3 more about the rest of the world than it did in 1998. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest it knows less.

Scott Shane reports in the NY Times,

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 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.

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.

Actually the taxpayers deserve to know what they're getting for all the money they're spending on intelligence.

The debate over whether the intelligence budget should be secret dates to at least the 1970's, said Loch K. Johnson, an intelligence historian.... 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 said.

That last sentence suggests to me that the number may have been released to make it easier for the Republicans to go fishing for red herring. Now that the Senate Democrats have forced them to agree to investigate the use of prewar intelligence leading to the invasion of Iraq those same Republicans will be wanting to point an angry finger at the intelligence services in an effort to divert attention from the administration's abuse of intelligence. The Republicans will be working once again to convince us that the Iraq debacle was the result of an "intelligence failure"—and an expensive one at that!

Related post
KidSpy — Sold out! (8/2/2004)

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