from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 80
September 10, 2004


For the first time, a sitting Director of Central Intelligence has given his conditional endorsement to routine annual disclosure of the size of the national intelligence budget.

"If there is a separate appropriation for the foreign intelligence program, the National Foreign Intelligence Program, as distinct from the current arrangement where that appropriation is buried in the larger Defense Department bill, I think it would make some sense to declassify the overall number for the foreign intelligence program," said Acting DCI John E. McLaughlin, testifying before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on September 8.

"I would not go so far as to declassify the numbers for the individual agencies," as the 9/11 Commission unanimously recommended.

"But I don't think that declassifying the top line would be a major security threat," Mr. McLaughlin said in response to a question from Senator Joe Lieberman. See:

This is a remarkable reversal on the part of the CIA, which has made budget secrecy an article of faith, contending that even half-century-old intelligence budget figures would damage national security if disclosed. (Aggregate intelligence budget figures from 1997 and 1998 were released under pressure of litigation.)

In making his statement, the Acting DCI abandoned two flimsy but longstanding CIA arguments against intelligence budget disclosure: (1) the "slippery slope" argument, referring to the claim that if the total budget figure were disclosed, the government would then be powerless to stop other, more sensitive budget disclosures; and (2) the claim that sensitive programmatic information could somehow be discerned by hostile analysts from the annual increases or decreases in the total budget figure.

Acting DCI McLaughlin's support for budget disclosure was, however, conditioned on the establishment of a separate budget appropriation for the National Foreign Intelligence Program. This reflects the CIA view that the current concealment of intelligence spending within the Defense Department budget is itself an "intelligence method" that must be protected, and that routine annual disclosure of the budget total would lead to exposure of exactly where the funding is concealed.

But this is a circular argument that amounts to saying that the budget must remain secret so that it can remain secret. Aside from that, it is objectively false: prior declassifications of intelligence budget totals in 1997 and 1998 could not be "reverse engineered" so as to locate exactly where the funds were hidden in the Defense budget. (We tried.)

Interestingly, Mr. McLaughlin expressed support for declassification of the national intelligence (NFIP) budget rather than the aggregate total of all intelligence spending. But by leaving out tactical and joint military intelligence spending, this form of disclosure would actually be more revealing of the national intelligence budget than the aggregate figure; it would provide a finer level of detail, or "granularity."

"We have not heard a compelling argument for maintaining overall classification," said 9/11 Commission member John F. Lehman, at a September 7 hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"The American public would be shocked if they knew the misallocation of resources between HUMINT and other aspects of our intelligence budget," he said. "They need to know that. How can you carry on a debate on the floor of the Senate without talking about those kind of gross numbers?" See:


Bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate this week that would implement nearly all of the 41 recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

A summary of the 280 page bill is available here:

The introductory statements of Senators McCain, Lieberman and others may be found here:

The White House endorsed the creation of the National Intelligence Director with full budget authority over the National Foreign Intelligence Program. See this White House fact sheet:


South Korea's acknowledgment that it conducted experiments involving the laser enrichment of uranium four years ago (and earlier experiments with plutonium) came as an unwelcome surprise, particularly since these appeared to be a violation of the country's obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But a considerable amount of information has long been available in the public domain regarding South Korea's interests and capabilities in the field.

A survey of that information was produced in 1996 by independent researcher Mark Gorwitz. See "The South Korean Laser Isotope Separation Experience":

Related source materials, including publication abstracts and patents, also compiled by Mr. Gorwitz, may be found here:


The U.S. State Department has published a new documentary account of atrocities committed in the Darfur region of Sudan. The Secretary of State said this week that the systematic abuses constitute genocide.

The new report, entitled "Documenting Atrocities in Darfur," was produced by the Department's intelligence organization, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). It is available here:


Unrestricted access to the genetic makeup of lethal biological agents serves the best interests of science and public health, according to a new report from the National Academy of Sciences, and existing policies should not be modified to limit such access.

To see the issue as a choice between security and openness involves "a false dichotomy," the NAS authors wrote. "Openness has enhanced security in the past and is the best way to ensure security in the future."

"The committee believes firmly that the policies currently in place for genome data -- immediate release and free access -- are correct because openness is essential to maintain the progress needed to stay ahead of those who would attempt to cause harm."

See this September 9 news release:

The full text of the new report, "Seeking Security: Pathogens, Open Access, and Genome Databases," is available here:


A group of whistleblowers led by Daniel Ellsberg yesterday called on government employees to "expose governmental wrong-doing, lies and coverups" by leaking documents, including classified documents, that reveal such misconduct. (The call for leaks excludes several narrow categories of classified information such as the names of intelligence officers under cover that are protected by statute.)

The initiative "aims to change the norms and practices that sustain the cult of secrecy, and to de-legitimize silence that costs lives." See:

While unauthorized disclosures of government information are essential to daily news gathering and are obviously morally justified in various circumstances -- "an expression of a higher loyalty," as Ellsberg put it -- they can also place the leaker in legal jeopardy.

Even the unauthorized disclosure of unclassified information may in some circumstances entail criminal prosecution.

"The improper release of such information can be prosecuted as a crime under the general theft of government property statute 18 U.S.C. section 641," noted David Berry of the National Labor Relations Board office of the inspector general in a journal article last year.

See "Theft and Misuse of Government Information," Journal of Public Inquiry, Fall-Winter 2003 (thanks to MJR):


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

To SUBSCRIBE to Secrecy News, send an email message to with "subscribe" (without quotes) in the body of the message.

To UNSUBSCRIBE, send a blank email message to

OR email your request to

Secrecy News is archived at:

Secrecy News has an RSS feed at: