Friday, September 18, 2009

Secretive spending on US intelligence disclosed

Secretive spending on US intelligence disclosed

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Intelligence activities across the U.S. government and military cost a total of $75 billion a year, the nation's top intelligence official said on Tuesday, disclosing an overall number long shrouded in secrecy.

Dennis Blair, the U.S. director of national intelligence, cited the figure as part of a four-year strategic blueprint for the sprawling, 200,000-person intelligence community.

In an unclassified version of the blueprint released by Blair's office, intelligence agencies singled out as threats Iran's nuclear program, North Korea's "erratic behavior," and insurgencies fueled by militant groups, though Blair cited gains against al Qaeda.

Blair also cited challenges from China's military modernization and natural resource-driven diplomacy, as well as from efforts by Russia to reassert its power.

"I think for the first time we have a good understanding of the world that we're in," Blair said.

Officials said the $75 billion total figure cited by Blair incorporated spending by the nation's 16 intelligence agencies, as well as the amounts spent by the Pentagon on military intelligence activities.

The United States has taken some steps in recent years to open the books on some of its secretive intelligence spending activities.

It has disclosed the amount spent by the 16 intelligence agencies -- $47.5 billion in 2008 alone -- but those figures did not incorporate the military's intelligence activities, officials said.

Blair, in a conference call with reporters, explained that his four-year strategy was not set up on the "traditional fault line ... between military intelligence and national intelligence."

"This whole distinction between military and non-military intelligence is no longer relevant," Blair said.

Spending for most intelligence programs is described in classified annexes to intelligence and national defense authorization and appropriations legislation. Members of Congress have access to these annexes but must make special arrangements to read them.

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