- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2012

Most of the recent battles over government spending have been dramatic, bloody and excruciatingly fought in public, but disputes over the approximately $80 billion budgeted every year for the intelligence community has generally been hidden — until now.

In a move that lifted the cloak ever so slightly, the White House this week issued a statement objecting to the House’s fiscal year 2013 intelligence-policy bill, saying it misses some good chances to cut spending and save money.

But what those savings are and what the rest of the money is going toward are kept shrouded.

“The administration objects to unrequested authorizations for some classified programs that were reduced in the president’s budget because they are lower in priority and would support deficit-reduction efforts,” the White House said in a vague statement.

The House rejected the administration’s concerns, passing the bill by an overwhelming 386-28 vote after making minor tweaks, all with unanimous support.

A few details about the bill are known: While it spends more than the president wanted, it reduces spending 4 percent compared with 2012 — though both years’ dollar amounts remain classified.

The bill keeps personnel costs static in 2013, but does put money into stepping up surveillance of foreign spies.

While this year’s spending isn’t yet known, the government has released a top-line figure for 2011, when the government spent $24 billion on military intelligence programs and an additional $54.6 billion on civilian programs such as the CIA, for a total of $78.6 billion.

That was the first drop in years, according to the Federation of American Scientists, which tracks the numbers. It said civilian intelligence grew $1.5 billion from 2010 to 2011, but military intelligence programs dropped by $3 billion, for a net drop of $1.5 billion.

The reason for the drop, like so much else in this debate, is unclear, said Steven Aftergood, a senior analyst at the federation.

“It’s supposed to be hard,” he said.

There is reportedly plenty of waste and overlap. After an exhaustive investigation, The Washington Post reported in 2010 that “51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.”

In a report accompanying this week’s bill, lawmakers on the House intelligence committee, which wrote the legislation, said they had scrubbed spending “where appropriate.”

Some program details are available in a classified annex to the legislation, which is kept in a secure place, Room 304 of the House Visitor Center complex.

Any House member is allowed to go to the room and review the annex, but it’s not clear how many of them bother to do that. The secrecy extends so far that a spokeswoman for the committee couldn’t answer how many members have been over to take a look.

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