In an apparent slip, a CIA official has revealed that the US intelligence budget is $44 billion.

A long-time CIA official, Mary Margaret Graham mentioned the number, which the US government has long argued must be kept classified, at an intelligence conference in Texas last week.

According to the New York Times,

The figure itself comes as no great shock; most news reports in the last couple of years have estimated the budget at $40 billion. But the fact that Ms. Graham would say it in public is a surprise, because the government has repeatedly gone to court to keep the current intelligence budget and even past budgets as far back as the 1940′s from being disclosed.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, expressed amused satisfaction that the budget figure had slipped out.

“It is ironic,” Mr. Aftergood said. “We sued the C.I.A. four times for this kind of information and lost. You can’t get it through legal channels.”

Only for a few past years has the budget been disclosed. After Mr. Aftergood’s group first sued for the budget figure under the Freedom of Information Act in 1997, George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, decided to make public that year’s budget, $26.6 billion. The next year Mr. Tenet did the same, revealing that the 1998 fiscal year budget was $26.7 billion.

But in 1999, Mr. Tenet reversed that policy, and budgets since then have remained classified with the support of the courts. Last year, a federal judge refused to order the C.I.A. to release its budget totals for 1947 to 1970 — except for the 1963 budget, which Mr. Aftergood showed had already been revealed elsewhere.