Mossad and Shin Bet Continue Their Game of Hide-and Seek in Israel’s New Budget

The budgets for Israel’s two secret service agencies are concealed in the General Reserves section of the 2013-14 state budget, issued by the Finance Ministry on Tuesday.

For years the Mossad and Shin Bet budgets have been hidden in this seemingly innocuous section of the state budget. The majority of the amount budgeted under General Reserves is in fact earmarked for expenses incurred by these two intelligence agencies.

In order to access these funds, the Finance Ministry must ask the Knesset Finance Committee during the budget year to transfer the money from the General Reserves (Section 47 of the budget) to a section of the defense budget cryptically titled “Defense Ministry Miscellaneous” (Amendment 15010290).

In this way, the Mossad and Shin Bet budgets are concealed twice over. While the budgets are hidden in the General Reserves item of the draft budget law presented to the Knesset, in the reports on the actual expenditures, the amount appears as an increase of billions of shekels in the defense budget.

This, despite the fact that the Mossad and Shin Bet are under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Office. Neither the defense minister nor his ministry have any authority over the activities or budgets of these two intelligence agencies.

Only the secret service subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is presented with the detailed budgets of the Mossad and Shin Bet. They are not presented to the Knesset Finance Committee.

Furthermore, the Finance Ministry does not transfer funds from the General Reserves to the “Defense Ministry Miscellaneous” amendment early in the budget year, and sometimes there are extended delays in the transfer.

In 2012, for example, the Knesset Finance Committee did not authorize the transfer of funds from the General Reserves until December 25 – six days before the end of the budget year. This information can be gleaned from the budget documents posted by the Finance Ministry on the “Accessible Government” section of the Israel Government Portal.

In 2011, the Finance Ministry’s request was submitted to the Knesset on April 6. In 2010, 2009 and 2008, the requests were submitted on May 3, September 6 and July 1, respectively.

Last year the secret services operated without ever receiving approval from the Knesset to formally transfer the funds to their respective budgets.

Under Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership, the Mossad and Shin Bet budgets have increased 26 percent, according to budget figures.

In 2012 the combined net budget of the two agencies was NIS 5.9 billion, according to Finance Ministry documents. An additional NIS 269 million was earmarked as “expenditures dependent on revenue,” and NIS 1.75 billion was budgeted “with permission to commit funds” at the expense of future budget years.

In the 2011-12 budget proposed to the Knesset, the Mossad and Shin Bet budgets were concealed in the General Reserves item, which totaled NIS 7.87 billion for 2012.

According to Finance Ministry documents, the actual amount allocated to the Mossad and Shin Bet was NIS 6.04 billion. These expenses were classified as “Defense Ministry Miscellaneous” and presented to the public as a fictitious addition to the Defense Ministry budget.

In the 2013-14 budget proposal, meanwhile, the General Reserves section is budgeted at NIS 7.076 billion for the current year and NIS 7.4 billion for 2014. It is unclear whether the Mossad and Shin Bet will receive additional money under the present budget beyond the expenditures for 2012.

In addition to hiding the Mossad and Shin Bet budgets, the General Reserves section functions as a channel for the Finance Ministry’s budget division to transfer money between the various government ministries and to distribute additional funding during the year.

The Finance Ministry uses the General Reserves section to store budget surpluses from the previous year, as well as funds that have been slashed from the budgets of government ministries. These are then used for the ongoing operation of the budget.

The Finance Ministry replied only that it is “unable to comment.” 

Shin Bet Chief Yoram Cohen (left) and Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo in Jerusalem, May 2011.Credit: Emil Salman

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