Coming Soon: Trump’s Black Budget

There was one $50 billion-plus item omitted from President Trump’s proposed federal budget last week: the National Intelligence Program, otherwise known as the U.S. government’s “black budget."


Trump’s black budget request will be sent to the House and Senate intelligence committee sometime in the coming weeks or months, under the bland name of “the Congressional Budget Justification for the National Intelligence Program,” according to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

The secret document, likely to run to 100-plus pages, will outline the administration’s spending plans for the CIA, the NSA, and a host of other secret agencies in the coming year.

Reality Test

Trump's black budget request will also provide a reality test of the notion that Trump is at war with the “deep state.”

On the right, Newt Gingrich and Breitbart News depict the president under siege from a deep state, comprised of CIA and liberal bureaucrats. On the left, Glenn Greenwald sees a deep state, led by pro-Clinton CIA officials, at war with the elected government. In the political center, New Yorker editor David Remnick says, “there is no deep state,” just a responsible reaction to a "shallow" president with dubious ties to a foreign power.

Whatever terminology you prefer, the black budget is one of the few ways the public can quantify the resources commanded by the most secretive wing of what scholar Michael Glennon calls America’s “double government.”

The black budget is also one of the most potent tools available to the president to shape national security policy.

A crucial test will be how Trump’s black budget compares to President Obama’s. Last year, the Director of National Intelligence revealed that the spending for secret intelligence ran to $53.5 billion, a two percent increase over the $52.6 billion budget for fiscal 2013, which was made public by NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden

In 2013, a document leaked by Snowden showed that two-thirds of the black budget went to three agencies: CIA, NSA, and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which controls the government’s space satellites. Of these three, the CIA was easily the largest, commanding a $14.7 annual budget compared to $10.5 billion for NSA and $10.3 billion for NRO.

CIA Primacy

Will the CIA retain that primacy under Trump?

Trump’s public stance has not been friendly. Before taking office, he spurned the agency’s daily presidential briefing. He likened CIA officials to Nazis, used the CIA’s wall of heroes for a photo op, and accused NSA of spying on the president, a charge that FBI director James Comey says is unfounded.

Former CIA officials have responded with harsh criticism for Trump’s handling of intelligence issues.

Trump's actual policy differences with the CIA are harder to discern. The president advocates torture via waterboarding, which the CIA has renounced. He has reportedly loosened restrictions on CIA drone strikes. Neither move seems particularly unfriendly to Langley's interests. 

The White House budget request for 2018 will provide a measure of whether Trump’s hostility to the agency is a matter of rhetoric or resources, at least to leaders of Congress and the CIA.

Trump is allowed to conceal his intelligence spending priorities from the public. The law requires the White House to disclose the total figure for the National Intelligence Program budget requested for each year, but not the budgets of the individual intelligence agencies.

If the 2013 request is any indication, Trump’s black budget document will lay out the priorities of the intelligence community. Five years ago, those were “combating terrorism, stopping the spread of nuclear and other unconventional weapons, warning U.S. leaders about critical events overseas, defending against foreign espionage, and conducting cyber-operations,” according to the Washington Post.

Under Investigation

The recent Wikileaks release of CIA hacking codes indicates that the agency’s cyber-warfare directorate has expanded rapidly in the recent years. On the agency’s organization chart, the Directorate for Digital Innovation (DDI) is now the bureaucratic equal of the agency’s long-standing directorates for operations, intelligence and science and technology.

The DDI is responsible for launching and detecting the sort of cyber-attacks that Russia mounted during the 2016 election, allegedly to help candidate Trump. FBI director James Comey said Monday that the Bureau is “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.”

So Trump’s budget request could conceivably affect the CIA’s ability to support the FBI investigation of his entourage. It will certainly enhance, maintain, or curb the agency’s ability to mount cyber-operations against Russia and other targets.

Whenever it is made public, the total size of Trump’s black budget will update the trend in the growth of the United States’ secret government.

In constant dollars, the 2017 intelligence black budget was about twice the estimated size of the 2001 budget, and 25 percent bigger than the 2006 budget, according to the Post.

So far nothing has leaked about Trump’s plans.

“To my knowledge, the administration has not yet disclosed any information about the intelligence budget request for FY 2018, said Steven Aftergood in an email to AlterNet. “But they are obliged by law to do so.”

Dan Coats, Trump’s director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee last month that he would continue to disclose the amounts requested and appropriated for the National Intelligence Program each year.

As for when we will learn the sum total of Trump’s black budget request, that’s secret too. “It could be a month," says Aftergood, "or perhaps longer.”

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