from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 31
April 5, 2005


A federal judge yesterday ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to disclose its 1963 budget, marking the first time that a court has compelled the CIA to surrender intelligence budget information.

It is "ORDERED that the defendant [CIA] shall disclose the CIA budget figure for 1963 by May 6, 2005," wrote Judge Ricardo M. Urbina.

The April 4 order was issued in response to a motion from the Federation of American Scientists, and over the opposition of the CIA, in the Freedom of Information Act proceeding Aftergood v. CIA. (D.C. District Case No. 01-2524).

In fact, the 1963 CIA budget figure -- $550 million -- is already known. Although CIA said it could not be disclosed, FAS showed (with the assistance of Prof. David Barrett of Villanova University) that it had been quietly declassified and released years ago. As a result, Judge Urbina determined that it was no longer exempt from disclosure under the FOIA.

Meanwhile, the 1962 CIA budget and the 1964 CIA budget, like most other intelligence budget figures since 1947, continue to be withheld.

It is CIA's contention that disclosure of such budget figures could lead to the compromise of an intelligence method, namely the method by which Agency funding is hidden in the published budget. The court accepted this argument, based on the sworn declaration of Acting Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin in September 2004.

But as it happens, CIA's argument is false. It is methodologically impossible to deduce or infer the clandestine funding mechanism from the total Agency budget figure, since there are too many variables involved. First of all, the number and identity of budget line items used to channel CIA funds is not constant. But even if those were somehow known, which they generally are not, there is no way to determine how the budget total is allocated among them.

Judge Urbina rejected this critique of ours, concluding that it is a subjective opinion that is not legally compelling. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the disclosure of the CIA 1963 budget figure has not compromised the funding mechanism for that year. (Whether it would matter if it had been compromised is a separate question.)

The larger issue here is the transparency and accountability of the intelligence budget process.

The Silberman-Robb WMD Commission said last week that the new Director of National Intelligence needed to revamp the budget process in order to effectively assert his presumed powers over the intelligence bureaucracy:

"The leverage that these [new DNI] budget authorities were intended to provide, however, cannot be effectively exercised without an overhaul of the Intelligence Community's notoriously opaque budget process, which obscures how resources are committed to, and spent against, various intelligence programs."

"The DNI could wield his budgetary authorities with far more effectiveness if he were to build an end-to-end budgetary process that allowed for clarity and accountability -- a process similar to the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System employed by the Department of Defense" (chapter 6, page 314).

Although the WMD Commission -- unlike the 9-11 Commission -- did not explicitly say so, budget disclosure is almost certainly a prerequisite to this kind of intelligence budget restructuring.


A 2003 interagency Memorandum of Understanding on Information Sharing spells out that "preventing, preempting, and disrupting terrorist threats to our homeland" is an "overriding priority" that takes precedence over "the protection of intelligence ... Sources and methods" (sect. 3a).

While this might seem self-evident to any sensible person, it is almost unheard of for an intelligence agency to concede that protecting intelligence sources and methods is a lower priority than anything at all.

But the CIA endorsed this language in a March 4, 2003 "Memorandum of Understanding Between the Intelligence Community, Federal Law Enforcement Agencies, and the Department of Homeland Security Concerning Information Sharing."

While the signatories' intention of overcoming past prejudices is clear, the twenty page memorandum is so dense and complex that it may itself be an obstacle to information sharing.

The unclassified interagency memo was released under the FOIA on March 29, 2005 following a one-year review process, whose duration is another sign of a defective information policy. A copy is available here (875 KB PDF file):

As some readers have noticed, the FAS web site has been experiencing "technical difficulties" for much of the past week, with slow loading times and some files inaccessible. Normal service should be restored within a day.


The Information Security Oversight Office, which oversees the national security classification system government-wide, issued its 2004 annual report to the President yesterday.

ISOO reported a total of 15,645,237 classification actions, up from 14.2 million in 2003.

The latest report, full of illuminating detail on agency classification and declassification practices, can be found here:

or here (925 KB PDF file):


"On or about September 2, 2003 and October 2, 2003, ... Defendant Samuel R. Berger... knowingly removed classified documents from the National Archives and Records Administration and stored and retained such documents at places... which... were unauthorized locations for storage or retention of such classified documents," according to a March 31 statement of charges against the former national security adviser.

On April 1, Mr. Berger pled guilty to the charges.


Some recent publications of the Congressional Research Service include:

"U.S. Defense Articles and Services Supplied to Foreign Recipients: Restrictions on Their Use," updated March 14, 2005 (thanks to Colby Goodman of Amnesty International USA):

"VXX Presidential Helicopter: Background and Issues for Congress," April 1, 2005:


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

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