The U.S. government continues to spend money in secret at record levels, according to a new analysis.
Total spending on classified programs -- secret weapons, spying operations, eavesdropping satellites and the like -- is expected to be around $31.9 billion next year, roughly on par with spending from the past two years, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a Washington, D.C.-based defense think tank.
That "black budget," as it's known, covers the expenses for agencies like the CIA, the eavesdropping National Security Agency (NSA), the satellite-making National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
It also pays for some of the controversial intelligence operations that have come to light over the past few years, said Steven Aftergood, an expert in government secrecy and classification with the Federation of American Scientists.
"The CIA's black prison sites, the NSA's Terrorist Surveillance Program -- all of those are concealed within the Department of Defense's classified budget," Aftergood said. Although the CIA is not a Defense Department agency, its classified budget is included within the Pentagon's request to Congress, Aftergood explained.
The Defense Department does not release information on most of its black budget, so the nonpartisan CSBA compared budget totals in the Pentagon's 2008 spending request to the sum of the individual expenses it listed. The difference between the two figures, when totaled with the costs of secret programs identified in the request by code name only, made up the total, the group said.
The task may become easier, however: the recently-passed Sept. 11 security bill, awaiting President Bush's signature, mandates the disclosure of the current year's National Intelligence Program budget, which would provide more accurate figures for the nation's total classified spending.