How big is the intelligence budget? Usually we don't know because it's
classified. Except this year we do know—it's $44 billion. How do we know?
Because someone accidentally let
it slip a few days ago:
At a public intelligence conference in San Antonio, Texas, last week, Mary
Margaret Graham, a 27-year veteran of the CIA and now the deputy director
of national intelligence for collection, said the annual intelligence budget
was $44 billion.
Big mistake? No, not at all. That $44 billion number shouldn't have been a
secret in the first place. Several former CIA directors have already come out
and said that the overall intelligence budget figures should not be classified,
that publishing these numbers wouldn't harm national security so long as individual
budget items were kept secret. The Brown-Aspin
Commission in 1996 concurred. Indeed, from time to time I do wonder why
no one ever takes article 1, section 9, clause 7 of the Constitution seriously:
No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations
made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures
of all public Money shall be published from time to time.
Yet this statement has obviously never applied to either the Department of
Defense or the Central Intelligence Agency. So why don't constitutional orginalists
ever start complaining about this? One explanation is that this clause has been
violated almost continuously since the country's founding. In 1790, Congress
$40,000 for "intercourse between the U.S. and foreign nations," but
didn't require George Washington to account for how he actually spent the money.
In 1794, Congress gave the president $1 million in a similar fashion—the
money ended up being used as ransom money for American hostages in Algiers.
Regardless of how useful these moves were, they were clearly unconstitutional,
allowing Congress to decide willy-nilly when and where it gets to spend money
without public oversight.
My preference would be to make everything related to intelligence and defense
fully public, and carve out exceptions only if absolutely necessary, after long
debate. Excessive secrecy has rarely served the country well. Now that the CIA
is getting in the business of running a secret network
of gulags around the world, and who knows what else, that holds doubly true.
But this will never happen, especially since Democrats seem to place a premium
on CIA secrecy these days. More realistically, Congress should at least publish
overall figures for the intelligence budget and the basic purposes for which
Meanwhile, the GAO, the government's auditing arm, still has only limited access
to reviewing CIA programs. At the time of the Pike
Commission in the early '70s, the agency had no access to any budgetary
information whatsoever. Today, the GAO has
"broad authority to evaluate CIA programs," but it still faces limitations:
it lacks access to the CIA's "unvouchered" accounts, and has no way
to "compel" access to foreign intelligence and counterintelligence
information. As I said, we're not likely to get sunlight anytime soon, but giving
the GAO increased access would be a good start.