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The budget for the secret services doesn’t appear in the version of the annual budget made available to the public, or even to Knesset members. Instead, it is hidden under the “general [budgetary] reserves” line item.
At the beginning of each year, the amount earmarked for the Mossad and Shin Bet is transferred to the “miscellaneous” line item in the Defense Ministry’s budget, even though the secret services are actually subordinate to the prime minister rather than the defense minister or his ministry.
By law, using funds from the general reserves for “a purpose in the framework of the activity of the Prime Minister’s Office” requires approval by a subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
This is highly unusual, since other budgetary transfers are approved either by the Knesset Finance Committee or, in the case of defense spending, a joint panel of the Finance Committee and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
The document published on the website, a letter dated April 6, 2011, details the procedure for transferring money to the secret services. In it, the Finance Ministry’s budget director at the time, Udi Nissan, asks the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to approve the transfer of NIS 5.75 billion from the general reserves to the Defense Ministry, plus another NIS 256 million in spending conditioned on equivalent revenues and permission to commit to NIS 1.5 billion in future spending.
The document has no security classification, but it also doesn’t specify what the money is for. Instead, it says that “detailed explanations will be given to the subcommittee on the secret services.”
At the bottom of the page is a line saying the Finance Committee approved the request earlier that day. It appears to be a routine notation. Yet the Finance Committee doesn’t appear on the list of people and organizations that received copies of the document.
According to that list, the document was sent to five people: two in the treasury (the accountant general and the budget division official in charge of the defense budget), two in the Defense Ministry (the comptroller and the budget officer), and the state comptroller (who received two copies).
Earlier this week, Haaretz reported that the secret services’ budget has grown by dozens of percent in recent years.