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Intelligence Failure

Thursday, September 30, 2004; Page A24

THE SEPT. 11 commission recently recommended that the amount of money this country spends on intelligence no longer be kept secret. That makes sense, but before holding your breath for glasnost at the CIA, consider the case of Steven Aftergood. Mr. Aftergood is an anti-secrecy activist with the Federation of American Scientists who since 1995 has been pushing for openness on the intelligence budget. Earlier this month, responding to a lawsuit he filed seeking historical budget data, the CIA even refused to turn over material concerning spending from fiscal 1947 though fiscal 1970. The acting director of central intelligence, John E. McLaughlin, said that release of such data "would tend to reveal intelligence methods."

This is not the first time the agency has taken this absurd position. An earlier Aftergood lawsuit got the agency to disclose the total intelligence spending figure for fiscal 1997: $26.6 billion. The next year, the agency released the aggregate budget -- $26.7 billion -- again. After that, however, George J. Tenet, CIA director until recently, consistently refused to do so, and the agency has prevailed in two of Mr. Aftergood's lawsuits to force release of contemporary figures.

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One might hope that the CIA's incoming leadership would finally bring some perspective to this question. But again, don't hold your breath. Though the Senate's intelligence reform bill contains a requirement for greater openness, the administration opposes this provision. And when new CIA Director Porter J. Goss was asked at his confirmation hearing whether he favored such transparency, he responded: "My preference is no."

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