Trust Us, We’re Spies (continued)

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But on April 6, CIA Director George Tenet took time out from the war in Yugoslavia to file a motion in a U.S. District Court arguing that the number the President requested for 1999 could not be released.(Tenet had already released the appropriated figure for those years.) Aftergood and his attorney, Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies, filed their own brief, which the CIA was supposed to rebut by early June.

Instead, citing other priorities, the agency put off its answer a few weeks, filing a final appeal on June 17. Martin has asked the judge to call for oral arguments on the case. The judge may rule on the case at any time.

Given the court’s track record in cases involving CIA claims of national security (it almost always rules in favor of the CIA), the FAS lawsuit might seem dead on arrival. Already, according to Aftergood and Martin, the CIA has filed a classified brief — which the two can’t even see, let alone rebut — arguing against the release of the 1999 intelligence budget figures.

The CIA won’t give up easily, but Martin claims to have some very powerful friends on her side: the President and Congress. In 1994, Congress asked a commission of bipartisan national security experts to determine, as part of a study of U.S. intelligence after the Cold War, whether the budget request could be released without damage to national security. In 1996, the panel declared that both the President’s request and Congress’ final appropriation could be safely disclosed, and recommended that the President do so. In response, President Clinton said in April of that year he was authorizing the release of the overall intelligence budget figure.

Nonetheless, it took the FAS lawsuit to actually force the figure’s release. Now, according to Tenet, certain things have changed which justify keeping the intel budget numbers from the public after all. The CIA maintains the budget request, in fact, cannot be released because to do so now “reasonably could be expected to provide foreign governments with the United States’ own assessment of its intelligence capabilities and weaknesses,” Tenet wrote in his April 6 declaration, submitted to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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