Trust Us, We’re Spies

The CIA spends taxpayers’ money, but it doesn’t want to say how, or on what. Now it’s fighting a Freedom of Information Act request to reveal the 1999 intel budget, claiming that exposing the numbers would pose a threat to national security.


In late March, the CIA told a federal court it could not release information requested under the Freedom of Information Act by the Washington, D.C.-based James Madison Project, a public-interest group devoted to educating the public on U.S. intelligence, secrecy policy, and national security. The information review officer for the spy agency’s science and technology directorate argued in a lengthy brief that the release of the information in question would compromise national security.

This, of course, is part of the CIA’s job — protecting critical government secrets. But the documents in this case were from 1917 and 1918, and not even the judge could believe the subject matter: secret ink. The CIA argued that the requested information “comprises specific offensive and defensive secret writing methods” that make up “the basis of the CIA’s, and by extension, the U.S. government’s knowledge of secret writing inks and techniques of secret writing detection.”

Mark S. Zaid, the Madison Project’s executive director, said he was unsure whether to be “saddened or amused” by the CIA’s straight-faced arguments. The judge had no such dilemma; he was decidedly amused, quipping in court that the secret must already be out because as a child he had come across a recipe for secret ink in a breakfast cereal box.

next

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate