Cost to protect US secrets doubles to over $11 billion
Posted on: 03 Jul 2012
Washington: The federal government spent more than $11 billion to protect its secrets last year, double the cost of classification a decade ago - and that is only the part it will reveal. The total does not include the costs incurred by the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and other spy agencies, whose spending is - you guessed it - classified.
John P. Fitzpatrick, head of the Information Security Oversight Office, which oversees the government's classification effort and released the annual report, said that adding the excluded agencies would increase the spending total by 'less than 20 percent.' That suggests that the real total may be about $13 billion, more than the entire annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The costs include investigations of people applying for security clearances, equipment like safes and special computer gear, training for government personnel, and salaries for officials who review documents for classification and declassification.
Spending on secrecy has increased steadily for more than a decade, driven in part by the expanding counterterrorism programs after the 2001 terrorist attacks, but also by the continuing protection of cold war secrets dating back decades. The total cost for 2001 was $4.7 billion, the oversight office said.
The spending report, showing an increase of 12 percent from 2010, comes at a time of intense public debate over secrecy and leaks of classified information. Six prosecutions of government officials for disclosing classified information to the news media have occurred under the Obama administration, and two new leak investigations are under way.
The antisecrecy group WikiLeaks set off a furor in 2010 and 2011 by obtaining and releasing hundreds of thousands of confidential United States government documents, including diplomatic cables. Both Republican and Democratic leaders of the Congressional intelligence committees have denounced recent leaks to the news media for damaging national security and have called for a crackdown.
But some independent experts say the ballooning classification system is the problem, sweeping huge quantities of unremarkable information in along with genuinely important secrets.
Steven Aftergood, who directs the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, said the classification of the amounts spent by the intelligence agencies on classification, for example, was unnecessary.
'To me it illustrates the most important problem - namely that we are classifying far too much information,' he said. 'The credibility of the classification system is collapsing under the weight of bogus secrets.'
Costs are driven up in part by the slow pace of declassification, which has slowed drastically since a push in the 1990s. Many documents from the 1960s remain classified, and agencies still regularly go to court to defend their secrecy in the face of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.
In May, a judge ruled that the C.I.A. could continue to withhold from the public one of five volumes of its official history of the Bay of Pigs operation, in which the agency trained Cuban exiles to invade Cuba in 1961 in a disastrous attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro.
The C.I.A. has also spent years fighting lawsuits seeking the release of files on agency officials who oversaw an anti-Castro group that clashed publicly with Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President John F. Kennedy.
But Mr. Fitzpatrick of the oversight office said there can be valid reasons for keeping decades-old secrets.
'Everything is more complicated than it seems,' said Mr. Fitzpatrick, who worked in several intelligence agencies before taking his current position. 'It could be the name of a source, a method of collection that's still in use, or an agreement with a foreign government that still needs to be protected.' Newyork Times