Taxpayers spent $43.5 billion on spying last year

WASHINGTON — Forced by law to reveal how much the nation spends on its spy agencies, the Bush administration disclosed Tuesday that the country’s intelligence budget was $43.5 billion last year, an increase of about 50 percent since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The disclosure marked the first time in nearly a decade that the U.S. government has offered even a partial glimpse of how much it spends on the CIA and the other 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community. Only the overall figure was provided, without breakdowns.

The Bush administration had opposed releasing even that number, arguing that doing so would give the nation’s enemies valuable insight into how much money the United States was spending on clandestine activities.

But the release fulfills one of the recommendations of the commission that investigated the intelligence failures surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks. The commission urged the government to disclose the figure to foster greater public scrutiny of the nation’s spending priorities. The recommendation was included in legislation passed by Congress earlier this year.

But Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell declined to provide further details on spy spending, saying that there “will be no other disclosures of currently classified budget information because such disclosures could harm national security.”

The government must also disclose the figure for 2008. Beginning in 2009, the president may waive the disclosure requirement if he can convince Congress it would harm national security.

The figure represents spending on an array of intelligence activities, but the CIA and two other agencies account for the bulk of the budget. The others include the National Security Agency, which eavesdrops on phone calls and e-mails around the world, and the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds the spy satellites that orbit the Earth sending images and other data back to analysts on the ground.

Those two offices each might account for as much as $10 billion of the total, according to intelligence experts. The CIA’s budget is believed to be between $5 billion and $8 billion annually.

The $43.5 billion does not include spending by the Army and other armed services on intelligence equipment and activities for military operations in the field, including the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Total spending on the nation’s spy programs was disclosed voluntarily in 1997 and 1998 by then-CIA Director George Tenet. The figure for 1997 was $26.6 billion, and for 1998 it was $26.7 billion. But the numbers again were kept classified in succeeding years, although experts estimate that the budgets probably approached $30 billion annually leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.

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