Trust Us, We’re Spies (continued)

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At the other end of the secrecy spectrum, the CIA continues to ardently defend a far more important piece of information — the amount of taxpayer money the U.S. spends each year on intelligence activities. Long an official state secret, the total intelligence budget total has also long been one of the worst-kept secrets in government. The number, which was easy enough to approximate using open sources of declassified information, was often inadvertently released, anyway. But because of the number’s size — about $27 billion — and the fact it wasn’t broken down into how much was allocated for each of the intelligence community’s hundreds of specific projects, it shed little light on how the money was actually spent.

According to openness advocates, however, that wasn’t the issue. What was and is important, is government accountability to the public. In the words of Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), without some insight into the CIA budget, “the American public will be unable to participate meaningfully in deliberations about intelligence spending.”

Given the CIA’s recent track record — the bombing of the Chinese embassy is a case in point — more, not less, insight into intelligence spending is warranted, according to advocates for greater openness.

Aftergood, who runs the FAS Project on Government Secrecy, has been after the intelligence budget figure for years. In 1997, his FOIA lawsuit forced the release of the total intelligence appropriation figures, but only after the CIA and other agencies had spent the money. In 1998, the CIA director released the figure only after Aftergood threatened a lawsuit, but by the time it came out the money was already being spent. Still, it was progress. This year Aftergood took another step, amending his case for the fiscal year 1999 figure by asking for the amount requested by the President for intelligence spending, in addition to the actual amount appropriated by Congress. The difference, of course, would indicate what amount of money Congress added to or subtracted from the President’s request.

 

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

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