February 18, 2011

Go Inside The $56 Billion ‘Black’ Budget

By Travis Sharp

The Pentagon dropped its $533 billion budget this week. Some line items get a thorough public debate — like stealth jet engines and soldier health care. Others have opaque names like “RETRACT MAPLE,” and are totally hush-hush. Welcome to the Defense Department’s classified, or black, budget. It appears to be about $56 billion, the same as last year, less some inflation.

This may only be the tip of an iceberg of secret funds (more about that in a sec). But we’d like your assistance in mapping out that icy tip. So, with help from the Center for New American Security’s Travis Sharp, we’ve put together this spreadsheet. Feel free to add, subtract and edit it — kind of like a classified cash Wiki.

Finding the Pentagon’s secret money in the budget involves a bit of document diving and some back-of-the-envelope calculations. A number of programs labeled “classified” are tucked away into the operations and maintenance, procurement and research development, testing and evaluation budgets. Find each budget’s classified total (about $19 billion each for operations and procurement and $18 billion in research), add them together and you’ve got a ballpark black budget.

It’s in research and development budget where you can find the bureaucratic poetry of black project code names at its most obscure. The services slap together the most random of nouns to make their code names. The Army’s fond of prefixing its black projects with “TRACTOR” (“TRACTOR JUTE,” “TRACTOR EGGS,” etc) and the Navy has a slight tendency for animal imagery with “COBRA JUDY” and “Pilot Fish.”

But don’t think that this is necessarily all of the Pentagon’s secret cash.

The pencil pushers in Arlington play all kinds of tricks with the line items to keep outsiders from guessing where, exactly, the black budget actually gets spent. Some of the National Intelligence Program, a component of the country’s intelligence budget, gets hidden away inside the Pentagon’s ledger. For years, the Department stashed a chunk of the CIA’s cash and its share of funds for the secret satellite-makers at the National Reconnaissance Office in the blandly-named “Selected Activities in Other Procurement, Air Force” funding line. The NIP budget request was officially disclosed for the first time this year, and so you’re likely looking at some of its $55 billion in these line items.

With that kind of book-keeping, it’s worth wondering if all of the Defense Department’s secret cash is stashed in the places we’re looking for it. As transparency guru Steven Aftergood tells Danger Room,”It’s designed to be obscure.”