Austin American-Statesman

The report put out recently by the Senate Intelligence Committee was a stunning indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies.

The committee unanimously concluded that the flawed intelligence assessments that led to the Second Iraq War were “either overstated or were not supported by” the underlying evidence.

The report pointed to “systemic weaknesses” as well as “lack of information sharing, poor management and inadequate intelligence collection.” It also said the CIA was so eager to claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that it failed to consider other points of view or question the veracity of its sources.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said that without the bad intelligence, “the war would have been different” — one that was more akin to the bombing campaigns in Bosnia or Kosovo than a full-scale invasion.

So far, hundreds of America soldiers have died. Thousands more have been injured or maimed. Thousands of Iraqis are dead. America continues to spend $1 billion per week on an occupation force that could be in Iraq for many more years.

While those costs in human lives and dollars are enormous, the real corruption is this: Despite the murderous mistakes by the CIA and its sister agencies, American taxpayers are not allowed to know how much of their money the agencies are spending. And the spooks at the CIA want to keep it that way.

In March 2003, then-CIA director George Tenet gave a sworn deposition in a lawsuit brought by the Federation of American Scientists that sought to compel the agency to disclose its annual budget. (The FAS case was dismissed by a federal judge in Washington, D.C. on February 6. Tenet announced his resignation from the CIA last month, far ahead of the Senate report.)

In his deposition, Tenet said that disclosing his agency’s budget could “cause serious damage to the national security and would tend to reveal intelligence sources and methods.” He swore that the budget-making process for the intelligence agencies should be kept secret because there are a “finite number of places where intelligence funds may be hidden in the federal budget.” (Read his full deposition at

It’s astonishing to see a federal employee saying that he is actively looking for ways to keep hidden the amount of tax money he’s spending. And yet, in the Alice in Wonderland world of the CIA, it makes perfect sense: Americans don’t get to see what the CIA does — its work is far too important to be trusted with mere citizens — nor do taxpayers get to know how much that secrecy costs.

Amid all this cloak and dagger business, it’s difficult to imagine any thing causing more damage to America’s long-term security than what the CIA has done to itself. For instance:

•It was Tenet who sat next to Secretary of State Colin Powell during Powell’s testimony before the General Assembly of the United Nations to make the case that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Tenet was there to bolster the Bush Administration’s claims that Iraq had WMD.

•The CIA — wittingly or unwittingly — went along with the White House’s claim that Hussein’s government had tried to buy enriched uranium from Niger.

•Tenet was the one who told George W. Bush that the case for invading Iraq would be a “slam dunk” when it came to convincing the American people of the need for war.

Of course, no WMD have been found. The Niger issue was a canard. And the slam dunk has turned into a quagmire.

The best guesses — and that’s all they are, guesses — of America’s intelligence spending put the figure at about $40 billion per year. Before Sept. 11, total intelligence spending was estimated to be $30 billion per year. That 30 percent increase makes intelligence spending one of the fastest-growing parts of the federal budget.

In his first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan said that it was “time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.”

No other part of the federal government provides a better example of having “grown beyond the consent of the governed” than the CIA and its fellows. It’s time for American taxpayers to get a full accounting so that we may know exactly how much this secrecy-obsessed colossus is costing us.


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