The cost of intelligence

One of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission was that the figure for overall U.S. spending on intelligence should be made public annually.

A law enacted this summer required that the Bureau of National Intelligence produce that number 30 days after the end of the federal fiscal year. That was Sept. 30, and Tuesday, 30 days later, came the figure — $43.5 billion for fiscal 2007.

If there is a surprise, it is that the total is lower than most outside experts had estimated. They put it at around $45 billion.

The figure does not include spending on intelligence by the individual military services that would put the aggregate above $50 billion.

The $43.5 billion covers the 16 intelligence agencies — CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, etc.; their 100,000 employees; and everything from satellites to software to actual spies. About 70 percent of the intelligence budget goes to contractors.

One think tank estimates that the intelligence budget has increased about one-third over the past 10 years in real terms. The figure isn’t broken down into the individual agencies, but in 1997 and 1998 the CIA, until the government reclassified the number, revealed that its budget was $26.6 billion and $26.7 billion, respectively.

While knowing how much we spent on intelligence gathering and analysis is interesting, it would be much more enlightening to know what we were getting for our money.