Even before the crisis in the Persian Gulf underscored the importance of accurate, timely information from the far corners of the world, it was clear that Congress was in no mood to squeeze the nation's intelligence budget for a post-Cold War "peace dividend."

While Capitol Hill may argue vehemently about defense spending cuts as it wrangles over a 1991 federal budget, the first installment of a 1991 intelligence authorization package totaling about $30 billion passed through the Senate without a word of debate or discussion by the handful of members present during the wee hours of an early August morning.

"It's what you'd like to do with every bill that you handle," said a staff member who worked on the measure. Skeptics who want less spending on intelligence are far outnumbered by congressional supporters who see no end of "emerging national security concerns" on the horizon.

Even so, in the years ahead, allocations to individual intelligence agencies are sure to change, especially in light of waste and duplication in the military, lawmakers say, but regardless of the overall size of the defense budget the grand total probably will stay about the same or even increase.

To many members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, most of whom were interviewed for this article, that is only prudent.

"I don't see any shortage of tasks," said Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Maine), vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "You're not going to get much of a reduction in intelligence {spending}. You're probably going to get an increase."

The U.S. intelligence budget, most of it hidden within the Pentagon budget, is classified. But informed sources say it includes $18.6 billion for the National Foreign Intelligence Program -- called En-fip or NFIP -- subject to the approval of Director of Central Intelligence William H. Webster and action by the Senate intelligence panel.

About $11 billion more goes to the military services for Tactical Intelligence and Related Activities -- TIARA -- under the control of Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney and the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, by contrast, reports out a single bill encompassing both NFIP and TIARA. It had ordered a big cut in tactical intelligence spending early this summer, but much of the money was restored after the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The House measure, at $29 billion about $1 billion less than the Senate package, is scheduled for a floor vote this week, with stiff debate expected on the CIA's covert action program for Angola.

But the vaunted Central Intelligence Agency gets only a minor share of the money.

"When average Americans think of 'intelligence,' they think of the CIA," said Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.). "Little do they know that most of the money goes elsewhere. And as the money goes, so goes the influence."

A former high-ranking Pentagon intelligence official puts it more bluntly. "The CIA," he said, "is not very big, not terribly important in the intelligence community."

More than 85 percent of the annual U.S. intelligence budget -- NFIP and TIARA together -- goes to a bewildering array of Defense Department agencies.

Of the $18.6 billion NFIP budget, the biggest chunk, about $6 billion a year, sources say, goes to the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), a "black" agency under Air Force cover that builds and launches spy satellites for the entire intelligence community. It celebrated its 30th anniversary this summer in complete secrecy.

Next is the Pentagon's National Security Agency (NSA), whose $4 billion budget makes it the hub of a worldwide network of listening posts eavesdropping on friends and foes alike.

Another $2 billion in NFIP money is spent on the General Defense Intelligence Program (GDIP), a grab bag of activities from clandestine human intelligence collection assignments for the military (HUMINT), to the work of Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) attaches openly stationed in U.S. embassies around the world, to military counterintelligence operations, to studies of foreign weapon systems, such as the next Soviet tank. Still another $2 billion, one source said, is for "odds and ends," apparently including the Navy's submarine intelligence collection missions around Soviet waters.

The CIA, by contrast, gets $3.5 billion, including about $600 million for covert actions; the FBI's counterintelligence program gets $400 million; and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, $23 million.

The military also gets another $11 billion for tactical intelligence, which military commanders need to be prepared for war.

The need for good intelligence is demonstrated daily now as U.S. spy satellites and other "assets" watch the unfolding gulf crisis. CIA officials, whose reports predicted the Iraqi invasion, say such regional espionage is a prime requisite of what one writer calls "intelligence in the age of glasnost." The House intelligence committee sees this and other "less traditional threats" -- such as international terrorism, drug trafficking, weapons proliferation and economic competition -- as posing "potentially greater peril than the Cold War."

Some critics call such talk a bureaucratic exercise in self-perpetuation, creating a ledger of new dangers to justify old expense accounts. They argue that the U.S. intelligence apparatus, assembled after World War II to help contain the Soviet Union and counter the spread of communism, has accomplished its mission and can be reduced.

"There is nothing more painful than to see Cold War institutions looking for another job," said Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), a former intelligence panel vice chairman. He favors big cuts in intelligence spending.

"There should be a peace dividend," Moynihan said. "There is no analytic organization that doesn't automatically improve by a reduction of one-third of its staff."

The debate comes after a decade of tremendous expansion in U.S. intelligence budgets. NFIP spending grew "at least" 16 to 17 percent annually during some of the Reagan years, say several former senior officials.

According to retired admiral Bobby R. Inman, a former director of the Defense Department's code-breaking National Security Agency and later deputy CIA director, the increases were long overdue, coming after numerous money and personnel cuts that began during the Vietnam War "when we moved from trying to keep a 'classified encyclopedia of the world' to asking what we could do without."

Inman outlined various reasons for the cuts, including the advent of expensive "real time" spy satellites in 1971, intelligence failures during the Yom Kippur war in 1973, and President Jimmy Carter's campaign promises in 1976 to reduce defense spending.

Although personnel were cut, spending remained relatively high because of the shift from people to costly satellite and electronic intelligence-gathering systems. This trend continues, says the Senate Armed Services Committee, despite "the vastly changed threat and . . . severe budget constraints."

Another NSA veteran, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, sharply criticized the burgeoning budgets of the 1980s.

"They've grown too much. Way too much," he said. "You cannot overestimate the bureaucratic pressures to spend more, regardless of the impact on the actual intelligence product. They'll spend you into penury."

This source said, for example, that the National Reconnaissance Office judges its success by the number of enormously expensive spy satellites it puts up. But more satellites mean more signals for NSA to decipher, study and submit to government policy-makers. The deluge of raw data can be overwhelming.

"NSA never sees" the money for NRO's satellites, a source of endless strife and waste, the NSA veteran said. "If you are a director of NRO, your success is indicated by the size of your budget. That's not true for NSA." At NSA, he said, success is measured by the quality of intelligence it delivers -- "because if you don't deliver intelligence to your consumers, they bitch."

"There is a lot of structural fragmentation in the intelligence community," the source continued. "If the Joint Chiefs of Staff needed reorganization {which took place in the late 1980s}, the intelligence community needs it twice as badly."

Experts say big savings are possible, at least within the military intelligence establishment where most of the money is spent. The Senate intelligence committee's report on the fiscal 1991 authorization bill sharply criticized the Pentagon's intelligence empire-building.

"Every echelon," the committee complained, from the Office of Secretary of Defense, to the Army, Navy and Air Force, to the regional commanders in chief around the globe and even units beneath them, has its own intelligence arm, with "separate buildings, separate security, separate communications, separate support services."

The military services have 4,000 intelligence analysts studying foreign weapon systems and drafting "basic threat documents" that each service uses to justify new weapon programs. By contrast, DIA, charged with taking a broad view for the entire department, has about 200 such analysts.

Outnumbered 20 to 1, all DIA can do, Cohen said, is "validate" the threats the services conjure up.

The overabundance of intelligence agencies in the Pentagon, the Senate intelligence panel said, fosters redundancy, inadequate sharing of information and, at the same time, big gaps in intelligence coverage; each agency has overemphasized the Soviet Union and shortchanged the rest of the world.

The Senate committee said that except in times of crisis, such as the gulf confrontation, tactical and national intelligence communities become isolated from one another. Military commanders, the committee said, contend they cannot rely on the national systems for support while the national community "emphasizes its peacetime missions and pays scant attention to the commander's need."

But in the Cold War's aftermath, lawmakers want improvements. "This is the time to reorganize," said Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.). "We've put off our requirements, in Africa and the Middle East, for example. That left us shortchanged. You don't need just a change in titles. . . . You've got to look at the organization. Are they prepared? I argue that they are not."

For the moment, calls for reform are strongest in the Senate, where Cohen, Warner and Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) -- all members of both the Armed Services and intelligence panels -- want legislative remedies for the Pentagon's activities. Senate intelligence committee Chairman David L. Boren (D-Okla.) supports them, saying, "U.S. intelligence is clearly in a period of transition."

The Armed Services Committee has voted for a 25 percent personnel cut in Department of Defense intelligence-related activities starting Oct. 1, 1992, unless significant consolidations are made. The Senate intelligence committee staff has been ordered to draft a reorganization bill.

"I understand the Pentagon is looking into DOD intelligence to address these problems," Cohen said, "but there is every reason to believe that the parochial interests within DOD are so powerful that little will come of the study."

Warner agreed, and he and Cohen said the most dramatic proposal under consideration is to replace all existing defense intelligence entities with a new Defense Intelligence Command, headed by a senior flag officer with deputies for signals intelligence, imagery and human intelligence.

Reorganization, Cohen said, could eventually bring huge savings "both in terms of intelligence and weapons acquisition."

Any intelligence savings, however, are likely to be spent on intelligence, with DIA and CIA reaping the most benefits. Warner, a former Navy secretary, said "a major reallocation of assets" from the military to the CIA is possible. But, he said, "We've got to be extremely careful in this atmosphere, given the situation in the Middle East."