The Intelligence Community (IC) budget is only disclosed publically in the aggregate. In other words, only the top line total amount is revealed. As the Office Of the Director of National intelligence Media Release of 2 February 2015 puts it,
Consistent with 50 U.S.C. 3306(a), the Director of National Intelligence is disclosing to the public the aggregate amount of appropriations requested for Fiscal Year 2016. The aggregate amount of appropriations requested for the FY 2016 National Intelligence Program (NIP) is $53.9 billion, which includes funding requested to support Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).(“DNI Releases Requested Budget Figure for FY 2016 Appropirations for the National Intelligence Program,” 2015, p. 1)
The top line number is provided as a result of series of efforts that began with a Freedom of Information Act suit in 1997. The suit compelled DCI tenet to reveal the intelligence spending for fiscal year 1998. In July 2007 Congress passed a law which according to Lowenthal, “…Requires the DNI to disclose the aggregate amount appropriated in the NIP, beginning one month after the end of the previous fiscal year.” (Lowenthal, 2012, p. 235) The revelation is part of Congresses effort to improve its oversight of the intelligence committee that grew out of the examination of intelligence community performance as it related to 9/11 and the Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) investigation.
Control of the budget is a central mechanism for Congressional oversight of IC activities. As Lowenthal explains, “Control over the budget for the entire federal government is the most fundamental lever of congressional oversight.” (Lowenthal, 2012, p. 224). However, as Saturno points out, “The Constitution grants the ‘power of the purse’ to Congress, but does not establish any specific procedure for the consideration for budgetary legislation.” (Saturno, 2004) As a result, the nature of the use of the budget as a tool for Congressional oversight of the IC has evolved over time. As discussed above, the pressure for the revelation of the IC budget did not seriously grow until 1997. Prior to that, Congress had performed its oversight without requiring explicit revelation of the exact size of the IC budget, even as it criticized intelligence agencies and actors for intelligence failures.
Although pressure from Congress, the media and the public for more detailed information on the specific line items of the IC community budget has increase in the 21st century, additional details about the IC community budget should not be revealed. Doing so provides adversaries with insight into IC priorities and thus enables them to further refine their asymmetric attacks. For example, knowledge that the US is making huge investments in a certain technology could inform adversary budgetary decision making. By knowing where the US is placing investments, they can adjust their own investments toward technologies that promise them an advantage against the US efforts, ultimately rendering the US expenditure worthless.
Although Congress must perform its oversight role, the revelation of the budgetary numbers to the public is not necessary. Even in the absence of public awareness of the particulars of the intelligence budget, Congressional representatives can play their proper oversight and guidance roles.
DNI Releases Requested Budget Figure for FY 2016 Appropirations for the National Intelligence Program. (2015). [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.dni.gov/index.php/newsroom/press-releases/210-press-releases-2015/1168-dni-releases-requested-budget-figure-for-fy-2016-appropriations
Lowenthal, M. (2012). Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy (5th ed.). Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Saturno, J. (2004). The Congressional Budget Process: A Brief Overview. Retrieved from Washington, DC: