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Cost of U.S. spying efforts released

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KAI RYSSDAL: Not counting the Defense Department, there are 16 government agencies that deal in some way, shape or form with intelligence. They employ 100,000 people. They manage satellite systems and airplanes. They use the most sophisticated computers and software. They run agents overseas and surveillance equipment here. But until today how much all of that cost was a secret.

For the first time in almost a decade the federal government has pulled back the curtain on the American intelligence budget. Marketplace’s Steve Henn reports now from Washington that in 2007 the country will spend $43.5 billion to spy on its enemies. Plus another $10 billion or so for the Pentagon that’s still classified.

STEVE HENN: The last time the U.S. intelligence budget was made public, back in 1998, America was spending a bit more than $26 billion a year on spying. Since then the budget has almost doubled. It pays for multibillion-dollar spy satellite programs, remote control spy planes and salaries for a cast of thousands.

STEVEN AFTERGOOD: It’s about 10 times larger than the intelligence budget of the United Kingdom.

Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists has sued the government several times to get these numbers. But until today even that big $43 billion figure was classified.

AFTERGOOD: By keeping it secret you impede oversight and you undermine public accountability.

The idea of publicly releasing how much money America spends on spying was initially suggested by the 9-11 Commission and ultimately required by an act of Congress. But this move has been opposed by the Bush administration every step of the way. White House officials argued it would harm national security and “provide significant intelligence to America’s adversaries.” Tim Roemer a member of the 9-11 Commission and a former member of the House Intelligence Committee rejects that argument.

TIM ROEMER: This is not a searchlight going into our secret national security programs. This is a match in the cave. Just letting the American taxpayer know what we’re spending and what we’re getting for that tax dollar.

Roemer believes the government could go even further and provide individual budget numbers for agencies like the CIA or the National Security Agency. He says that would ultimately make spies more accountable and make all Americans safer.

In Washington I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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