Top Secret, Sometimes

In mid-May, under a front-page headline proclaiming, "Congress Moves
to Lift Intelligence Spending," The Washington Post reported that the total
budget for the CIA and Pentagon spy agencies had reached almost $35 billion.
Among Beltway epistemologists this created quite a buzz. How did the Post know
this figure? The government's total intelligence spending is supposed to be
classified. Apparently, it's an open secret. As Steven Aftergood of the
Federation of American Scientists tells us, the budget -- while "definitely still
secret" -- is "also relatively obvious."

In fact, despite the best efforts of this most secretive administration, the
classified part of the budget is hard to conceal. For one thing, you can reach a
fairly accurate total by "reverse-engineering" the Pentagon budget: Just add up
the enumerated unclassified expenditures and subtract that sum from the overall
official budget.

So why this fiction of secrecy? Indeed, in 1997 and 1998, the dollar amount of
the total intelligence budget was declassified. In 1999, however, it was
reclassified again, and remains so to this day. Presumably this keeps our enemies
from sizing up our secret ops, so long as they can't add or subtract.

But there may be other rationales for secrecy that we've only begun to plumb.
Aftergood says that his organization "is currently suing over the 1947
intelligence budget total -- which the CIA says would damage national security if
it were disclosed."

No wonder the CIA is under fire for failing to put two and two together in the
months before 9-11. It was busy protecting us from Josef Stalin.

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