Make Known Unknown (Blog 9)

Risk of Default? But what’s in “Black Budget” Vault?

Even more relevant today than it was back in the 90’s is the story of the Pentagon’s “Black Budget.”  This topic is one of the stories that hit Project Censored’s list of best kept secrets and also a news story this past summer when Snowden leaked the intelligence spending budget. Imagine what a project like this is costing us today if back in 1990 taxpayers were funding the Pentagon’s black budget with $100 million a day… How can our government dare to shut down, fail to pay its debts and cause such drama when there is a checkbook out there that may be able to write off a solid chunk of our nation’s debt.

But let me back up. What is the Pentagon’s Black Budget you ask? At the heart of it, this is checkbook the president of the United States, the secretary of defense, and the director of central intelligence cuts checks from in order to fund any projects that they want to keep hidden from anyone else. In 1990 $100 billion had disappeared  into this fund.  Today that total is around 52.6 billion and averages at about 30 billion dollars per year.

The fund is supposed to have originated in the cold war era but did not thawed out with that war. This article, published by Wired, paints a colorful outline of all that the fund, with a balance “larger than current federal expenditures for education,” is up to. The payments go out to projects like “Elegant Lady” and “Classic Wizard.” Unless the government helped in the building of the great Harry Potter world, I am just confused. I agree to protecting our nation and the men and women protecting it, but how does burying the budget with a series of codes benefit our society.

Furthermore, the Wired article reveals that the code has been cracked. In fact is “a growing number of private citizens who have made a second career of tracking the military budget”. The article names a few whose work is known and shared. And so it goes on to say the black budget is “hiding from Congress and the public than from any foreign enemies.” And that is the reaction I walked away from this whole investigation with.

With leaks and wiki-leaks and all kinds of government issues, this may be the worst of best kept secrets. It’s an unknown that the Congress and we the people, those us paying taxes, certainly ought to be more aware of. Snowden leaked the intelligence spending budget to the Washington Post, who only published a portion of the document, and this article by the NY times brings up the real issues in my opinion. Why didn’t the public know?

Although the director of the CIA makes the case for national security, I think the citizens ability to crack the code of their budget refutes that point. If citizens of our country can track the military budget then I would bet the balance of my much smaller bank account that the enemies residing in foreign countries could do the same. And the ripple this story made this past summer showed positive feedback.  People were happy to find the government protecting against cyber-terrorism, a growing concern. We should have been aware of this so that our nation’s fears can be alleviated. So who is the black budget protecting? Arguably a corrupt political system that is promoting peace on the surface but developing its own nuclear weapons with tax payers dollars without their knowledge.

So let’s get the word out. The government’s got a secret stash of cash. Should taxpayers have to fund that? Is it protecting us? Who should know about it? Can we put it towards paying off our debts instead? If the 90’s rumors weren’t enough, the events of this August should have sent the ball rolling. We need to give it an extra shove to impact the black budget and understand it and evaluate what should be done about it.



4 thoughts on “Risk of Default? But what’s in “Black Budget” Vault?

  1. I have never heard of this before, but wow. I can only wonder what this budget is actually used for. Really gets you thinking about what the government actually does, beyond what they just tell the citizens.

    • If you knew, it might curl your blood… we finally admitted recently that we helped overthrow democratically elected leaders of Iran (in the 1950s) and Chile (in the 1970s). Not to mention training all kinds of allies who end up torturing their citizens.

  2. That classic “liberal” (sarcastic) famously warned of the rising power of the military-industrial complex. I am not sure if he had the military-intelligence-IT-industrial complex in mind, but it is huge.

    One of the aspects that is so disturbing is that there is so little accountability. How do we know that money isn’t being embezzled? Well, some other secret office checks on it, probably. And Who checks on them? The secret Foreign Intelligence Court. Oh, and who checks on them? Only a few Senators who must swear to never discuss what they learn…. (I am riffing a bit here. But the basic outline of secret courts supervising secret agencies is pretty accurate.)

    Are you saying maybe we should use that money to lower our deficit? A fuller discussion of the costs of empire and our military is certainly LONG overdue. Just from an opportunity cost view point, what could 56 billion do a year to fix bridges, improve education, fund research, fund local poetry fairs, reform health care, improve financial sector regulation, or, just go back to taxpayers…

    • I completely agree. The little “riff” is what I get going about. I don’t necessarily think that we need to lower the deficit but I agree with your point and would want to put the money to those problems before hiding it away for secret military and intelligence tasks.

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