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February 15, 2011

U.S. civilian intelligence program budget request made public for first time

$55 billion.

That's how much the Obama administration wants from Congress in FY 2012 for the National Intelligence Program, which funds civilian U.S. intelligence agencies and activities. It is the first time that any administration has ever made that request public.

"Any and all subsidiary information concerning the National Intelligence Program (NIP) budget, whether the information concerns particular intelligence agencies or particular intelligence programs, will not be disclosed," said a news release issued on Monday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The administration was required to make the FY 2012 NIP budget request public under a 2010 law, although President Barak Obama had the option of using a waiver to keep the figure secret.

Steven Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy over at the Federation of American Scientists, hailed the disclosure as "a new milestone in the 'normalization' of intelligence budgeting."

"It sets the stage for a direct appropriation of intelligence funds, to replace the deliberately misleading practice of concealing intelligence funds within the defense budget.  Doing so would also enable the Pentagon to (accurately) report a smaller total budget figure, a congenial prospect in tight budget times," Aftergood said in Tuesday's issue of his blog Secrecy News.

As Aftergood noted, the disclosure follows years of contentious debate and litigation, including an unsuccessful 1999 court suit brought by FAS. In a sworn declaration to the court, then Director of National Intelligence George Tenet insisted that revealing the intelligence community's budget request would undermine U.S. national security by providing "foreign intelligence services with a valuable benchmark for identifying and frustrating United States' intelligence programs."

"From our perspective, Mr. Tenet was wrong in 1999, and the damage he foresaw would not have resulted from the disclosure that he prevented," wrote Aftergood. "More fundamentally, the changing official assessment of the need to classify this information reflects the subjectivity that is inherent in the classification process, which makes it possible for two intelligence community leaders to reach opposing conclusions."

The administration's request for the Military Intelligence Program remains classified.

 

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"Nukes & Spooks" is written by McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon).

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