by Siobhan Gorman
The nation’s spy chief will soon divulge one of the government’s most tightly-held secrets: the size of the national intelligence budget.
After decades of wrangling between the White House and Congress, lawmakers forced President Bush to approve the disclosure by including the requirement in a security bill he signed earlier this year.
So, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell will reveal the total intelligence spending for 2007 at the end of this month, said his spokesman Ross Feinstein.
"In government secrecy policy, the disclosure of the intelligence budget is the equivalent of the great white whale," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, who disclosed the imminent disclosure today.
McConnell is still working out how to announce the long-awaited number, but it will likely come in the rather understated form of a press release, Feinstein said.
The administration has never been eager to release this detail and protested in February that revealing this number would "provide significant intelligence to America’s adversaries and could cause damage to the national security interests of the United States."
The 9/11 Commission concluded in its 2004 report that shrouding the intelligence budget in secrecy allowed intelligence agencies to duck responsibility for the tens of billions of taxpayer dollars they spent each year. It recommended that the overall budget total be declassified.
Pressures to release the total date back at least to the mid-1970s, when it was recommended by the Church-Pike Commission, which investigated Nixon-era intelligence abuses.
But divining the intelligence budget has been something of a parlor game within national security circles in recent years.
Two years ago, a top intelligence official let a budget total of $44 billion slip when speaking at an intelligence conference open to the public, but some intelligence officials have disputed that number.
Blogger R. J. Hillhouse discovered that information embedded in a PowerPoint presentation dated May 2007 suggested that the 2005 budget was closer to $60 billion, though some intelligence officials critiqued the method she used to extrapolate that number.
The intelligence budget has only been disclosed twice before.
In 1997, the government provided the long-sought number-- $26.6 billion—in response to Aftergood’s lawsuit pursuing a freedom of information request. In 1998, he asked for the number again, and was told it was $26.7 billion. He tried again in 1999 but was denied.
The law requires that the government disclose the budget totals for 2007 and 2008, so this long-running dispute is not settled for good. It may just pick up where it left off under the next president.