10. The Pentagon's Post-Cold War Black Budget is Alive and Prospering

Source: Mother Jones, 1663 Mission Street, 2nd Fl. San Francisco, CA 94103, Date: March/April 1992, Title: "The Pentagon's Secret Stash," Author: Tim Weiner

SYNOPSIS: Today, and every day, close to $100 million flows through underground pipelines from the U.S. Treasury to the Pentagon to fuel the national-security machinery of the United States. The black budget ("black" in the sense of being unseen, covert, hidden from light) is the secret treasury of the nation's military and intelligence agencies. It is appropriated and spent with only the scantest public debate or media scrutiny.

Of the roughly $36 billion in the secret budget today, about $5 billion goes to build and develop weapons programs, many of which remain so highly classified that only the two most senior members of the congressional armed services and appropriations committees know anything about them.

Robert Costello, in charge of buying weapons at the Pentagon during the last years of the Reagan administration, said, "Inside the Pentagon the mind-set is, 'I'm going to use secrecy to build my nice, isolated little cocoon."' And when resident skeptics criticized such secrecy, "They fired the bastards who wanted to put the screws on them."

Why isn't there more publicity? After all, public pressure and congressional anger forced the lid off the now famous B-2 bomber. And reporters and public policy advocates uncovered strange programs with eerie names such as Timberwind (a Star Wars program to build a nuclear-powered rocket engine for missiles designed to shoot down incoming Soviet nukes), MILSTAR (a network of space satellites and blast-hardened ground stations that would endure a six-month nuclear war) and Island Sun (involving a convoy of generals hurtling down highways in lead-laced tractor-trailer trucks, dodging nuclear detonations and barking commands through scramblers-a Dr. Strangelove-style operation).

The realization that the Cold War has ended apparently has not yet penetrated the inner catacombs of the Pentagon nor stilled projects such as these. After a half century of lucrative and unchecked black budgets, starting with the Manhattan Project that brought us Hiroshima, the secret cache largely remains inviolate. The wall surrounding the black budget has proven more durable than the one that divided Berlin. Iran/contra exposed the inherent dangers of unexamined secrecy; the congressional investigation of Iran/contra revealed that the whole fiasco never could have happened without the machinery and cloak of the secret budget.

The solution is not difficult. Congress could demand disclosure of data on the cost and character of secret programs but has only done so on a piecemeal basis; nor has Congress ever confronted the underlying fact that the secrecy system itself defies the Constitution, which requires the government to publish a complete and accurate account of all federal spending.

"The fault lies with the Congress," says Representative Pat Schroeder of Colorado. "If we forced the release of this information, there would be no issue. As long as the Congress goes along with the Pentagon's secrecy program, we have no (legitimate) complaint."

The "Pentagon's Secret Billion-Dollar Black Budget," also by Tim Weiner, was Project Censored's #7 story of 1990. Weiner's latest investigation reveals that the official end of the Cold War did not end the Pentagon's secretive Cold War mentality.

SSU Censored Researcher.- Damon S Van Hoesen

COMMENTS: Tim Weiner, Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer, has written extensively on the issue of the Pentagon's black budget. However, he feels that the subject is still under-covered. Weiner's work on the black budget won him the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1988; his book, Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget, was published in 1990.

Weiner believes that the press has a responsibility to warn the public about the dangers inherent in the secrecy surrounding the Pentagon's black budget, but there are reasons why it doesn't fulfill that responsibility. "The black budget is an arcane, obscure issue that takes a lot of time to explain," Weiner says. "Further, it requires expertise in several different areas including espionage, government secrecy and large sums of money."