Albion Monitor

+ Something important and historic happened in mid-October, but almost every newspaper in the U.S. ignored it. For the first time ever, the government revealed the staggering amounts of money spent on spying by the CIA, NSA, and other snoops. The magic number for fiscal year 1997: $26.6 billion.

The disclosure came on October 15, and ended a three-decade struggle by individuals and civil liberty groups that filed lawsuits to pry the information from the CIA. Organizations like the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) have long maintained that the secret "black budget" violated the Constitution's requirement for the government to regularly publish an account of all spending.

As lawyer for FAS, Kate Martin told the New York Times afterward: "Now we can begin to have some real democratic debate on the size of the intelligence budget. The CIA's refusal to disclose the figure didn't protect the national security. It shut citizens out of the debate about the usefulness and future of the CIA."

That the Times was one of the few papers to report on the disclosure may be the most surprising detail of all; as we noted in an editorial last May, the paper has long shielded the Agency from criticism. Even in their Oct. 16 story, it's noted that the amount was "one of the CIA's worst-kept secrets," that Congressional overseers repeatedly didn't force disclosure, and that the $26 billion is overshadowed by the annual $36 billion spent in Reagan's heyday.

The Times also avoided anything that would embarass the Agency when reporting on the CIA's 50th anniversary last month. Missing from any daily newspaper were the odd remarks by ex-President (and former CIA Director) George Bush at the September 17th celebration: "To those who say we no longer need CIA, I say you are nuts. To those who want to dismantle CIA or put it under some other department, State Department or anybody else, you are nuts, too. And to those who feel the 'right to know' takes precedence over legitimate classification of documents or overprotecting our most precious asset, our people, same to you. You're nuts and so is the horse you came in on." (October 27, 1997)

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