Tuesday, November 8, 2005

That’s a Lot of Secret Decoder Rings

From the New York Times:

In an apparent slip, a top American intelligence official has revealed at a public conference what has long been secret: the amount of money the United States spends on its spy agencies.

At an intelligence conference in San Antonio last week, Mary Margaret Graham, a 27-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and now the deputy director of national intelligence for collection, said the annual intelligence budget was $44 billion.

The number was reported Monday in U.S. News and World Report, whose national security reporter, Kevin Whitelaw, was among the hundreds of people in attendance during Ms. Graham’s talk.

“I thought, ‘I can’t believe she said that,’ ” Mr. Whitelaw said on Monday. “The government has spent so much time and energy arguing that it needs to remain classified.”

The figure itself comes as no great shock; most news reports in the last couple of years have estimated the budget at $40 billion. But the fact that Ms. Graham would say it in public is a surprise, because the government has repeatedly gone to court to keep the current intelligence budget and even past budgets as far back as the 1940’s from being disclosed.

The only reason I can think of that they would want to keep that number a secret — after all, any good forensic accountant could figure it out — would be that it would be embarrassing to see how much money we spend on intelligence gathering and still screw it up.