3 Things You Should Know about the Intelligence Budget

6 mins read

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper

The budget for the nation’s myriad of intelligence activities is bucking the historical trend in three important ways.

First, unlike overall defense spending, which is expected to flat-line or decline in the coming years, the intelligence budget, which has doubled in the past 10 years, is growing and will likely continue to do so.

The uprisings around the world — Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya — highlight the need for improved intelligence as opposed to the heavy footprint of kinetic investment.

Second, for the the first time ever, we know more about the intelligence budget than we ever did before. That’s because the Director of National Intelligence, an old hand at the intelligence till, who served in a number of intel agencies and in the private sector, James Clapper, has released the top-line numbers for the intelligence budget in an unprecedented move

Finally, Clapper’s release of the intel budget is tied to his efforts  to execute more authority over the IC’s budget, which has long been scattered throughout the Defense Department’s budget to preserve a semblance of secrecy.

The intel budget’s growth is clear — when funding for the CIA and other national intelligence programs are added to military intel programs, the bottom line inches closer to $80 billion, which is more than double what it was before 9/11.

And the current budget request for fiscal-year 2012 represents a modest, but significant, increase of 4 percent.

The issues — the (likely continued) growth of the intelligence budget and its first public disclosure — are inextricably intertwined.

For example, we realize the growth of the intelligence budget, in part, because of Clapper’s release of the document during the budget process, an unheard-of move: It’s the first time the top-line numbers for the National Intelligence Program have ever been revealed.

“The disclosure of the budget request constitutes a new milestone in the ‘normalization’ of intelligence budgeting,” said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. “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.”

Funding for intelligence programs used to be scattered throughout the overall defense budget to maintain secrecy.

Clapper provided hints of his current budget moves last year when he retroactively released the 2010 intel budget numbers. That move was also hailed by anti-secrecy advocates, and Clapper said at the time he wanted to make the release of the intel budget a “standard practice.”

The intelligence budget’s disclosure is also tied to Clapper’s wanting to take a larger role over intelligence-activities funding.

At a conference last year, Clapper said he and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had reached a “conceptual agreement” to allow Clapper greater authority over the DNI’s budget.

Clapper, who notably said, that as the leader of the Intelligence Community, he wouldn’t be a “hood ornament,” or figurehead is making good on that promise.

But, Clapper and Gates aren’t the only players in the intelligence game.

With the influx of Republicans on the Hill, the makeup of the House Select Committee on Intelligence has also changed and could play a role in trimming the intel budget.

“The panel is now operating in a climate of fiscal austerity,” The Washington Post reported recently. “Even the Pentagon budget, sacrosanct for the past several years, is expected to shrink.”

But, not necessarily the intel budget, which, when combined with funding for military intelligence, stands at a current annual level of $80 billion, The Post reported.

The Republican chair and the ranking Democratic member of the committee have both said “everything is on the table” in terms of cuts, including to intel.

However, Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) also said he wasn’t going to “cut anything that impacts the mission.”

Others are far less certain the intel budget, newly released from its days buried away in the defense budget, is due for any trimming.

Especially not when issues like the Egyptian protests point to the increasing need — now more than ever — for high-level and high-value intelligence as a vital tool of both statecraft and defense.

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