WASHINGTON The Bush administration said it had spent $43.5 billion on spying in fiscal 2007, as it bowed on Tuesday to a law ordering disclosure of a figure the government has kept secret for most of the past 60 years.
"Disclosure of the amount of the budget is a good first step toward accountability," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, which has campaigned for publication of the annual intelligence budget.
The figure, which is roughly equal to the entire economy of Croatia or Qatar, dwarfs the estimated intelligence budgets of any other country including the closest U.S. ally, Britain, which spends about 10 percent of the amount, he said.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence published the figure for overall U.S. intelligence spending in fiscal 2007, which ended last month.
Congress mandated the disclosure in a law passed in August to implement recommendations of a commission that investigated the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The intelligence office said it would keep secret other details about the budget. Intelligence agencies had long resisted disclosing their budgets on the grounds that enemies could learn from the information.
The $43.5 billion is about what outside experts had expected, Aftergood said, and is about 50 percent more than the government is believed to have spent in 2001.
"That's a large increase in spending that is difficult to spend wisely," Aftergood said. He said the figure does not include an estimated $10 billion or more in military intelligence spending.
The CIA, which previously oversaw all U.S. intelligence gathering, released a budget total of $26.6 billion in 1997, including for military intelligence, in response to a suit by the federation. Including the CIA there 16 U.S. agencies that are considered to be involved in intelligence gathering, such as the National Security Agency.
In 1998 the CIA also released its budget but the agency fought against disclosing its 1999 budget and won. Subsequent efforts to force a budget disclosure also failed.
The budget disclosure will help put intelligence spending in perspective, and inform public and congressional debate, Aftergood said. The figure is about 1.6 percent of the total U.S. budget for 2007 and equal to roughly 10 percent of the regular military budget before extra war spending is counted.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat John Rockefeller of West Virginia, said in a statement, "The American people have a right to know what their government's priorities are and whether we're spending too much or too little on intelligence matters."
The disclosure law requires release of the 2008 spending figure, but after that the U.S. president can waive the requirement for a valid national security reason, Aftergood said.