Congress Mandates Disclosure of National Intelligence Budget

As part of a conference report to a bill (H.R. 1) to implement the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission, Congress has included a provision that will require public disclosure of the total national intelligence budget. On July 27, the Senate approved the conference report to H.R. 1, by a vote of 85-8. The next day, the House approved the conference report by a vote of 371-40.

“Not later than 30 days after the end of each fiscal year beginning with fiscal year 2007, the Director of National Intelligence shall disclose to the public the aggregate amount of funds appropriated by Congress for the National Intelligence Program for such fiscal year,” states the House-Senate conference agreement on H.R. 1 (section 601).

Excerpts from the conference report concerning intelligence budget disclosure, declassification and related issues are posted at the Federation for American Scientists (FAS) website. The FAS has been a long-time advocate of disclosure of the intelligence budget and was instrumental in its inclusion in the final conference report.

If enacted into law, it would lead to the first authorized disclosure of current U.S. intelligence spending since the aggregate budgets were disclosed in 1997 ($26.6 billion) and 1998 ($26.7 billion) in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the FAS. (Those figures included spending on “national” as well as “tactical” intelligence.)

In a Statement of Administration Policy issued in February, the Bush administration expressed strong opposition to intelligence budget disclosure. However, President Bush is expected to sign the bill, despite those reservations.

The bipartisan 9/11 Commission came to almost the opposite conclusion: “The top-line figure by itself provides little insight into U.S. intelligence sources and methods…. But when even aggregate categorical numbers remain hidden, it is hard to judge priorities and foster accountability.” (Final Report, p. 416)

In a compromise with Administration opponents, the House-Senate conference agreed that, beginning in 2009, the President could waive the disclosure requirement by submitting a statement to Congress that budget disclosure in that particular year could damage national security. The legislation does not allow for a waiver in 2007 or 2008.

The conference legislation also includes provisions to strengthen the Public Interest Declassification Board, and to require declassification of the executive summary of a CIA Inspector General report on events leading up to 9/11.