from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 106
October 25, 2002


Annual disclosure of the total intelligence budget would significantly threaten U.S. national security. Or else it wouldn't.

Those conflicting views are held, respectively, by the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department, and are reflected in their answers to questions for the record from a February 6, 2002 Senate Intelligence Committee Worldwide Threat Hearing, published last week.

"For a number of years, individuals have advocated the public disclosure of the aggregate intelligence budget," the Senate Intelligence Committee noted. "In your opinion, what would be the specific threat to U.S. national security from publicly disclosing the aggregate intelligence budget?"

CIA gave a traditional Cold War answer: "Disclosure of the aggregate intelligence budget would assist foreign governments in evaluating the extent of US intelligence activities. Specifically, a sophisticated analysis combining intelligence budget figures with media reports, Congressional debates, and previous intelligence budgets could enable hostile intelligence services to: identify intelligence areas, or even specific classified programs, receiving larger or smaller appropriations; determine present US intelligence priorities and predict future trends; discover the location, nature, and extent of individual intelligence appropriations embedded in the federal budget; and develop more effective countermeasures against US programs," according to the April 8, 2002 CIA response transmitted by CIA director of congressional affairs Stanley M. Moskowitz.

"Of particular concern this year are the increases to the aggregate intelligence budget as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks," the CIA added. "Comparing this year's budget figures with previous years would help foreign governments and other hostile elements determine more precisely how much additional funding the US devoting to counter-terrorism initiatives."

That's nonsense, the State Department said in effect.

"Hostile intelligence services already know a great deal more about US intelligence community budgets, resources and capabilities than would be revealed by public confirmation of an aggregate number that is reported with varying accuracy in media accounts," according to Carl W. Ford, Jr., director of State's Office of Intelligence and Research.

"A decision on this matter is a policy call," Mr. Ford concluded.

In fact, however, it ceased to be merely "a policy call" and became a legal issue as soon as budget disclosure was sought under the Freedom of Information Act, which mandates disclosure unless the requested information could reasonably be expected to cause damage to national security.

Mr. Ford's new statement constitutes useful expert testimony that budget disclosure would cause no such damage.


The role of information sharing and public disclosure in the successful apprehension of the Washington-area sniper is suggestive and instructive, particularly in contrast to the rigid secrecy and compartmentation that characterized pre-9/11 information policy on terrorism.

Not only did public access to official information enable an alert trucker to identify the fugitives' vehicle, but it was apparently a "leak" that made the key difference.

"In the end, it was television reports of information that was not released by the police -- the type of car and license plate of the sniper suspects -- that helped crack the case."

See "The Leak That Sank the Suspects" by Howard Kurtz in the October 25 Washington Post here:

"Security by disclosure is the future of open societies," said Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, speaking at a Fund for Constitutional Government board meeting yesterday.

Mr. Blanton described a pattern of events in which access to relevant information had empowered citizens to act in the interests of security, and he noted a growing schism within the national security bureaucracy between those officials who recognize this reality and those who reject it.

(Among the former can be counted Bill Leonard of the Information Security Oversight Office, who stated recently that "leveraging the power of information... can often be achieved only by widening its dissemination.")

A related observation was made last week by Eleanor Hill, staff director of the congressional joint inquiry into September 11:

"The record suggests that, prior to September 11th, the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities were fighting a war against terrorism largely without the benefit of what some would call their most potent weapon in that effort: an alert and committed American public. One need look no further for proof of the latter point than the heroics of the passengers on Flight 93 or the quick action of the flight attendant who identified shoe bomber Richard Reid. While senior levels of the Intelligence Community as well as senior policymakers were made aware of the danger posed by Bin Ladin, there is little indication of any sustained national effort to mobilize public awareness of the gravity and immediacy of the threat prior to September 11th," Ms. Hill said.

The point is not to "deputize" the public or to render it subservient to the national security bureaucracy, as some thought the Justice Department TIPS Program might do. To the contrary, the goal is to ensure that the national security agencies transcend their bureaucratic biases and fulfill their function of serving the public.


President Bush declared a characteristically expansive view of executive authority over classification policy this week, as he dismissed a perceived congressional constraint on the establishment of highly classified special access programs:

"The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the President's authority to classify and control access to information bearing on national security flows from the Constitution and does not depend upon a legislative grant of authority," the President said in his October 23 statement upon the signing of the gargantuan fiscal year 2003 defense appropriations bill. See:

It is true that the President's classification authority derives from his constitutional status as commander-in-chief, but it is arguably not the whole truth, according to the 1997 Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy:

"The Necessary and Proper Clause in Article I, section 8, of the Constitution, which grants the Congress the authority to 'make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval forces,' provides a strong basis for Congressional action in this area," the Commission found.

"As an area in which the President and the Congress 'may have concurrent authority, or in which its distribution is uncertain,' the security classification system may fall within the 'zone of twilight' to which Justice Robert H. Jackson referred in 1952 in his famous concurring opinion in Youngstown Sheet and Tube v. Sawyer (the 'steel seizure' case)."

See Chapter One of the Commission Report (near the end) here:


The Defense Department does not covet the intelligence turf occupied by the CIA, said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday, notwithstanding reports of a new Pentagon intelligence team focusing on Iraq.

"George Tenet and I couldn't have a closer relationship," Rumsfeld said. See:


The item entitled "UFO Cult Resurfaces" in the previous edition of Secrecy News included regrettable errors of commission and omission, such as these:

Proponents of UFO-related declassification are not literally a "cult," and it was gratuitously insulting to use that term; there are at least some historically or otherwise significant documents that remain classified (e.g. records on Project Moondust) that could be considered UFO-related; there is nothing intrinsically disreputable in the investigation of peripheral phenomena; and under the Freedom of Information Act, anyone is free to ask for anything, as they should be.

But the fact remains that the interests of those focused on UFOs are not the same as those concerned with the larger problem of public access to government information. Though UFO disclosure advocates have acquired the internet domain name "," it does not accurately represent their narrow goals. (For a more faithful match between domain name and content, see, the online network of freedom of information advocates.)

The latest UFO declassification campaign is again reported in "UFOs: Seeking the Truth Through Savvy Marketing," by Leonard David in, October 25:

Since that story repeats the unfortunate "UFO cult" remark, let this serve as an apology for that as well.


"Nuclear Reactions: The Politics of Opening a Radioactive Waste Disposal Site" by Chuck McCutcheon (Univ of New Mexico Press, 2002) describes the political, environmental and technical controversies surrounding the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the nation's premier nuclear waste dump. See:

"Unmatched Power, Unmet Principles: The Human Rights Dimensions of US Training of Foreign Military and Police Forces," by Lora Lumpe and others at Amnesty International (2002). Among other things, the authors call for "increased transparency and accountability of the training provided to foreign militaries." See:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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