The intelligence budget is a highly guarded secret of the U.S. government, and figures and charts released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence may have been more revealing than intended.
The ODNI released an unclassified PowerPoint presentation in May that disclosed for the first time the percentage of the U.S. intelligence budget allocated to private contractors: 70 percent, a figure startling in itself.
A bar graph included in the presentation illustrated the rise in number of contracts awarded since Sept. 11, 2001, but withheld the figures used to produce the graph.
Accessing the DNI presentation on the office's Web site, intelligence blogger R.J. Hillhouse used functions in PowerPoint to uncover the figures entered in a spreadsheet to generate the graph.
"By taking the 70 percent of the intelligence community budget that now goes to contractors in conjunction with the actual dollars spent on contractors, it is possible to reverse-engineer the budget using simple algebra," Hillhouse wrote.
Using these figures, Hillhouse estimated that the intelligence budget for fiscal year 2006 was closer to $60 billion, nearly 25 percent higher than the $45-48 billion figure typically projected.
The PowerPoint presentation publicly released by the DNI was removed from the government Web site shortly after reports by Hillhouse and others emerged.
Advocates of open government and some U.S. legislators question whether the intelligence budget should remain classified, a practice that dates back to the Cold War era when U.S. government officials worried about what the Soviet Union might glean from access to records of intelligence-related purchases.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation for American Scientists, told UPI that the Soviet-era policies are "ripe for reconsideration" because adversaries like Osama bin Laden do not gain an advantage from most of the information included in the budget.
"When you classify too much, you end up with worse security ... because people come to see (classification) as a game rather than a matter of security," Aftergood said.
Laura Heaton, UPI Intelligence Correspondent