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.

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