Center for American Progress

The Blame Game Continues: Intelligence and the 1990s

The Blame Game Continues: Intelligence and the 1990s

In an unsuccessful effort to rally public support for the war in Iraq, supporters of the Bush administration are again trying to divert attention from the real causes for the war and resort to the tactic of "blame someone else." They claim that intelligence budgets were slashed in the 1990s and investments in human intelligence (HUMINT) wavered. Recognizing the difficulty in tracking heavily-classified intelligence spending, here are real facts:

  • End of Cold War brought changes. Immediately following the end of the Cold War, beginning under President George H.W. Bush, defense and intelligence budgets decreased to adjust to a new international environment. The decreases, which met with bipartisan approval, were only temporary.
  • Congress authorized less than executive sought. According to public records and sources familiar with congressional appropriations, from 1993 to 2001, the proposed budget of the National Foreign Intelligence Program – which funds the departments and agencies that make up the national intelligence community – rose by 20 percent. Between 1995 and 2002, committees in the House and the Senate repeatedly authorized less funding than sought by the White House.
  • Members of Congress compliment budget request. As early as 1994, Congressman Porter Goss (R-Fla.) – a former CIA officer and current chair of the House Intelligence Committee – congratulated the Clinton administration on its budget request. He thanked the administration "for going into this and seeing our true need and asking for it."
  • Funding for counterterrorism increased in 1990s. Public records and sources familiar with congressional appropriations report that from 1998 to 2000, the intelligence community received supplemental funding in response to terrorism threats. In fact, the budget of the Counter-Terrorism Center – which seeks to anticipate and prevent terrorist attacks – doubled between 1996 and 2000. According to the New York Times, Attorney General Janet Reno ensured that the FBI’s counterterrorism budget increased annually between 1999 and 2001 by an average of 14.5 percent.
  • John Ashcroft seeks to cut FBI’s counterterrorism budget. In contrast, during his first year as Attorney General, John Ashcroft sought to cut the FBI’s counterterrorism budget. According to GovExec=com, "On Sept. 10, 2001, John Ashcroft refused to endorse the FBI's request for $58 million in counterterrorism funding and $64 million in state and local counterterrorism grants." And the New York Times reports: "Although the attorney general made speeches and delivered Congressional testimony before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in which he said fighting terrorism was a top priority of his agency, he identified more than a dozen other objectives for greater emphasis within the Justice Department…" Ashcroft’s lack of commitment to counterterrorism continued even after Sept. 11, 2001: "In his final budget request for the fiscal year 2003… the attorney general called for spending increases in 68 programs, none of which directly involved counterterrorism."
  • Investments in HUMINT have been going up. The strengthening of HUMINT began in earnest in 1997 after the bombing of Khobar Towers, and the commitment to investing in HUMINT has continued since, including such measures as bringing back retired agents with specialized skills. As George Tenet said in a February speech, "We have spent the last seven years rebuilding our clandestine service. As Director of Central Intelligence, this has been my highest priority."
  • Building HUMINT is a long process. Experts agree that building HUMINT capabilities is a long and difficult process of at least 10 to 15 years. As Sen. Evan Bayh recently said, "you can launch a new satellite and get it into orbit but it takes years to recruit the right people from the right ethnic groups who speak the right languages and have them work their way up to positions where they can obtain the kind of information that we need. It just takes time."
  • Accusations of recruiting damage unfounded. While Rep. Goss recently charged that policies under CIA Director John Deutch prevented the recruitment of effective agents, the final report from the Joint Inquiry into 9/11 that he chaired with Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) concluded that "CTC [CIA Counter Terrorism Center] personnel said they did not view guidelines issued by former DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] John Deutch in 1996 concerning CIA recruitment of human sources with poor human rights records as an impediment to the pursuit of terrorist recruitments in al Qaeda, and none of the CTC officers interviewed by the Joint Inquiry attributed the lack of penetration of the al-Qaeda inner circle to the Deutch guidelines." In March 2002, CIA spokesperson Anya Gullsher said: "[the CIA] never turned down a field request to recruit an asset in a terrorist organization…" (UPI, 03/13/02)

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