(Adds reaction, details from report)
By Adam Entous
WASHINGTON, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Intelligence activities across the U.S. government and military cost a total of $75 billion a year, the nation's top intelligence official disclosed on Tuesday, revealing publicly for the first time an overall number long shrouded in secrecy.
The disclosure by Dennis Blair, President Barack Obama's director of national intelligence, put a spotlight on the sharp growth in intelligence spending as well as on the huge and long obscured role of military intelligence programs, which, based on previous disclosures, would account for roughly $25 billion to $30 billion of the $75 billion total.
In comparison, when total intelligence spending was accidentally published in a congressional document in 1994, it totaled about $26 billion, including $10 billion for military intelligence programs, according to Steven Aftergood, an expert on intelligence spending with the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy.
Blair cited the $75 billion figure in releasing a four-year strategic blueprint for the sprawling, 200,000-person intelligence community.
In a conference call with reporters, Blair brushed aside as "no longer relevant" what he called the "traditional fault line" separating military programs from overall intelligence spending.
Blair's national intelligence post came into being in 2005 to oversee spy agencies after they failed to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and wrongly concluded that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
In an unclassified version of Blair's blueprint, intelligence agencies singled out as threats Iran's nuclear program, North Korea's "erratic behavior," and insurgencies fueled by militant groups including al Qaeda.
Blair said the "accumulation of knowledge" about al Qaeda has made the U.S. intelligence community more effective at preventing attacks.
The intelligence assessment also pointed to growing challenges from China's military modernization and natural resource-driven diplomacy.
Blair cited Beijing's "aggressive" push into areas that could threaten U.S. cyber-security.
'IT'S ABOUT TIME'
The $75 billion figure incorporated spending by the nation's 16 intelligence agencies, referred to collectively as the national intelligence program (NIP), as well as amounts spent by the Pentagon on so-called military intelligence program (MIP) activities in support of troops in the field in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, officials said.
Under pressure from Congress and advocacy groups, the U.S. government has taken some steps in recent years to open its books on some intelligence spending.
The Bush administration, for example, disclosed the amount spent by the 16 intelligence agencies under the NIP -- $47.5 billion in 2008 alone -- but those figures did not incorporate the military intelligence program, officials said.
Aftergood said there was "no good reason" to keep information about those military programs secret.
"Its disclosure does not reveal any sensitive sources, methods or operations," he said, adding that Blair's disclosure "suggests that a more rational approach to intelligence secrecy may be around the corner. And it's about time." (Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Paul Eckert; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)