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Monday February 1 2:41 PM ET

The CIA's Budget? Sorry It's Secret

By JOHN DIAMOND Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - In the torrent of budget details from the federal government Monday, the billions of dollars President Clinton seeks for spying were conspicuously missing.

Releasing the budget request for national intelligence programs would give potential adversaries valuable information about the United States' sources, methods and priorities, CIA director George Tenet says.

And despite pressure from liberal lawmakers and public interest groups, the CIA appears to be moving toward releasing less, not more, information about its budget.

The total that Clinton seeks for national intelligence is believed to be near $29 billion, based on previously released figures and interviews with congressional staffers. That's almost 9 percent higher than intelligence spending for the fiscal year that ended last Oct. 1.

The sharp increase is a key reason why Tenet opposes releasing any details. Two years ago, pressured by a lawsuit by the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington watchdog group, the CIA released the spending figure on national intelligence for 1997: $26.6 billion.

And last March, Tenet released the 1998 total of $26.7 billion. The bulk of that pays for spy satellites, eavesdropping and military intelligence. It also includes the CIA budget.

Tenet decided he could make the totals public precisely because the numbers were so close.

Last fall, however, Congress approved an "emergency" increase of between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. The exact figure was not disclosed.

Disclosure of any increases, Tenet argued in a December court filing, "adds a piece to the intelligence jigsaw puzzle" and could help adversaries.

The Federation of American Scientists argues that if the CIA can release the spending total at the end of the budget debate, it should release the president's request at the beginning.

Twenty-six House members agree. In a Jan. 28 letter to Clinton, the lawmakers cited a "consensus of national security experts" who say the figures could be released without harm. Signers included Reps. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., Barney Frank, D-Mass., George Miller, D-Calif., Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

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