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November 2, 2009
Confusion or worse
The invaluable Secrecy News reports a disconcerting confusion in the Administration's national security secrecy rulings:
The decision last week by the Director of National Intelligence to declassify the FY2009 budget for the National Intelligence Program is inconsistent with other ODNI classification actions and highlights the confusion over the proper scope of national security secrecy that prevails in the U.S. intelligence community today.
On October 30, DNI Dennis C. Blair announced that the total appropriation for the National Intelligence Program (NIP) in FY 2009 was $49.8 billion. (Under the terms of a 1997 law, the President could have withheld the FY 2009 budget figure if he filed a statement with Congress declaring that revelation of the number "would damage national security." But he did not do so.) Yet at the same time, the Office of the DNI refuses to reveal the NIP budget figure from FY 2006 -- three years earlier -- on grounds (pdf) that its disclosure would damage national security and jeopardize intelligence sources and methods.
Can these two conflicting evaluations of the same information from two different years be reconciled? It is hard to see how, especially since the budget number that was withheld is the older of the two, and is even farther removed from current operations. One of the DNI's classification actions appears to be in error.
The DNI's October 30 statement announcing the latest budget figure for 2009 also makes some other questionable assertions that suggest internal confusion and fuzzy thinking about secrecy and disclosure.
"I'm hopeful that this [budget] information will give the American people a better understanding of how their tax dollars are being used to help protect the country and keep Americans safe," DNI Blair said. But disclosure of the budget figure reveals nothing about "how tax dollars are being used" for intelligence -- which is one reason why such information could not be properly classified.
Worse than that, the DNI's disclosure is incomplete and misleading,