Jeffrey LewisMapping the Intelligence Budget

In the debate over the National Intelligence Director, news stories often report that the Secretary of Defense “currently controls up to 80 percent of the estimated 40-billion-dollar intelligence budget.”

This estimate is either asserted, phrased in the passive voice or attributed to unnamed “experts.”

So, where does the estimate come from?

The 80 percent part is easy: The the Report Of The Joint Inquiry Into The Terrorist Attacks Of September 11, 2001 disclosed that:

The DCI already has authority to review and approve budgets, personnel, and resources for virtually every aspect of the national intelligence program. Yet, despite this authority, the DCI still actually controls only about 15 to 20 percent of the actual intelligence budget. (p.635)

The $40 billion is more complicated. The total for the National Foreign Intelligence Program (NFIP) is classified. Slam Dunk George Tenet testified that disclosing the current aggregate intelligence budget “could be expected to damage the national security,” although he released estimates for 1997 ($26.6 billion) and 1998 ($26.7 billion). Combined with a chart from the Joint Inquiry, we can see that funding was essentially flat (when adjusted for inflation) through FY 2000.

(For real budget geeks, $1 in FY 1990 should be about $1.20 FY 1997 and $1.23 FY 1998.)

After September 11, the press reported large increases in the intelligence budget. For example, the FY2003 Appropriations bill contained that “the largest one-year increase in intelligence spending in over two decades.”

How we get to $40 billion is a little dicey. Assuming the NFIP budget merely kept pace with inflation, it would be around $32 billion. If it kept pace with overall defense budget increases, it would be about $41 billion. The closest thing that I’ve seen to a leak appeared in the Boston Globe, which reported that:

“Lawmakers have been told that the [FY 2003 Intelligence legislation] includes between $35 and $40 billion for various intelligence operations. But only members of the House Intelligence Committee, who have been given security clearance, will be allowed to see the details.”

The subject of the intelligence budget has also come up in the discussion of the classified major acquisition program mentioned by Senator Rockefeller and widely presumed to be an overbudget NRO satellite.

How big is the NRO budget? We know the rough relationship of the CIA budget to NRO and other major agencies funded out of the NFIP in the late 1990s. The Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community provided this chart:

Of course, there are no numbers on the chart but, as Steven Aftergood points out, “This figure helpfully includes the budget of the Defense Mapping Agency [DMA]. According to DMA Fact Sheet Defense Mapping Agency Today:

“DMA operates under a total annual budget appropriation of some $826 million (Fiscal Year 1995)…. DMA’s work force includes approximately 7,100 civilians and 260 military personnel.”

“This permits ready calibration of the X and Y coordinates of this graph.”

Assuming the NRO was at $6.2 billion in FY 1996, the NRO budget should be about $10 billion today. Press estimates seem to hover around $7 billion—I don’t know what to make of the discrepancy, other than to note the possibility of Congressional reductions to programs such as the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) and MISTY.

Such reductions would come out of NROs acquisition account, which we know is quite large thanks to an NRO official who told Defense Daily that:

The NRO also is making a “major push” in research and development, [Col. Donald] Langridge [chief of the Army element at NRO] notes. The breakdown of the FY ‘02 NRO budget, the exact details of which are classified, is 57.7 percent for acquisition activities, 8 percent for launch, 9 percent for research and development, 18.1 percent for operations and 7.2 percent for infrastructure, he says. “NRO’s goal is to get to 10 percent in R&D,” he says. More than 90 percent of the NRO goes to contractors for programs and support, he adds. (“Defense Watch: R&D Push …” Defense Daily 211:15 23 July 2001.)

Additional information about the strcuture of the NRO budget is available from a heavily redacted Congressional Budget Justification for NRO (FY 1998-1999) that was recently declassified.


  1. Bill Robinson (History)

    Minor technical note: the aggregate intelligence budget figures discussed include not only the National Foreign Intelligence Program (NFIP), but also the Joint Military Intelligence Program (JMIP) and Tactical Intelligence And Related Activities (TIARA).

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    A good point.

    Steven Aftergood adapated a chart from the Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community to provide FY 06 estimates for all three.

  3. glenn stewart (History)

    where can i find historical and projected budget numbers for Intelligence?