While the nation enters a recession and budgets for federal social and educational programs are cut, the Pentagon has a secret stash, called “The Black Budget,” which costs taxpayers $100 million a day. Despite the extraordinary changes in international relationships, this secret money is still being spent on the weapons to fight the cold war, the Third World War, and World War IV.
The black budget funds every program the president of the United States, the secretary of defense, and the director of central intelligence want to keep hidden from view; in the past three years, $100 billion has disappeared into the Pentagon’s classified cache.
The money to run America’s eleven intelligence agencies has always been hidden in the Pentagon’s budget. But something new transformed the black budget when Ronald Reagan came to power. A White House obsessed with secrecy began to conceal the costs of many of its most expensive weapons, enshrouding them in the deep cover once reserved for espionage. The black budget exploded; by 1990 it quadrupled in size, reaching about $36 billion a year.
The Pentagon keeps this money hidden by keeping two sets of books: one for the general public, one for the generals. Hundreds of “black programs” are concealed in the public budget it submits to Congress, camouflaged under false names, their costs deleted, their goals disguised. The Pentagon simply stamps a secret code on the price of a bomber, a missile, or a spy satellite, and open debate ceases. The Pentagon also pads seemingly unclassified programs with billions intended for black projects. In short, the Pentagon budget, which is nationally debated, is a false document, an elaborate cover story.
Behind this shield of secrecy, we are wasting fortunes perfecting plans for nuclear war, building nuclear bombers that cannot be used, launching spy satellites that fall from the sky, conducting self-destructive covert operations against enemies both real and imagined, running guns and missiles to warring tribes 10,000 miles from home.
One of the big problems, according to Tim Weiner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, is that the terrible failures of secret spending and research are never scrutinized. “Today more than 100 multimillion- and multibillion-dollar black weapons are being built … in windowless buildings.”
The Pentagon which buys “bargains” such as $436 claw hammers and $9606 wrenches from its favorite contractors, says that the black programs are better managed, more efficient and less susceptible to fraud than unclassified programs. Frank Conahan, the head of the General Accounting Office’s national-security division says that’s nonsense. “The only difference between the two (programs) is the degree to which things are kept from the public.”
As Weiner says, if we are to be a truly open democracy, we cannot allow our treasury to be spent in secret. “From the creating of the atomic bomb through the construction of the Stealth bomber, from the covert funding of the CIA’s secret wars through the clandestine conspiracies of the Iran-contra disaster, the costs of secrecy have been high; billions wasted on useless weapons and a series of renegade foreign policies. … We are told we must build secret weapons and fight secret wars to defend our democracy. But the secrecy best suited for a nation at war can be an enemy to a people at peace.”
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: DYLAN BENNETT
SOURCE: ROLLING STONE, 745 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10151 DATE: 9/6/90
TITLE: “How the Pentagon Hides Its Secret Spending ‘
AUTHOR: Tim Weiner
[SOURCE2: PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 400 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19130]
COMMENTS: Tim Weiner is a Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer; his work on the Pentagon’s black budget won him the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1988. Weiner’s Rolling Stone article was adapted from his book “Blank Check: The Pentagon’s Black Budget” which was published last year by Warner Books. Weiner said that the issue of secret spending and the Pentagon’s “Black Budget” did not receive sufficient exposure in the mass media in 1990 “with the exception of the B-2 bomber.” While he cautions that “It’s hard to say that this material was censored – after all, my book is out and Rolling Stone ran the piece.” he agrees that “there’s insufficient attention paid to the power of secrecy as wielded by the Pentagon and the White House.” Weiner also adds that the beneficiaries of the limited coverage given the secret black budget issue are the Pentagon, intelligence agencies, military contractors, and Congress. In a sidebar article, titled “The Solid-Gold Bomber,” Weiner describes just how expensive a military system can be. “The Stealth Bomber — the wonder weapon for World War III — is a monument to the costs of secrecy. The Stealth is the most expensive airplane ever built, and its price is growing by the week. The best guess nowadays is that each one will cost close to $900 million. At that price the United States Air Force could have built the seventy-ton Stealth out of solid gold, mounted it on a bed of platinum and displayed it at the National Air and Space Museum. The batwing nuclear bomber went through ten years of clandestine research and development before it was unveiled in November 1988. In the beginning, when only four members of Congress were granted permission to know the barest details of the Stealth, the air force was telling them it could produce 132 of the bombers for roughly $30 billion. The cost grew in secret over the years. The Pentagon deemed public discussion of the Stealth an act of treason. By the time the black-budget shroud was lifted, and the Pentagon permitted debate on the Stealth’s mission, on why it was needed, on what it might cost, it was far too late. The program could not be aborted. Today that $30 billion is down the tubes, and the air force has a single bomber to show for it. It wants to build seventy-four more. It says it can bring them in for another $35 billion or so.”