To Save the Republic, Abolish the Black Budget

I have been puzzling over the ever-augmenting Black Budget since about the time the U.S. government began openly assassinating suspects, including U.S. citizens, without indictment, much less conviction in a court of law, for capital crimes. Tim Weiner’s groundbreaking work Blank Check: The Pentagon’s Black Budget (1990) explains how the means to commit crimes under cover of state secrets privilege all began with the Manhattan Project. Like so many other aspects of the sprawling defense and security apparatus which continues to expand like an amoeba, engulfing nearly every aspect of American culture, the Black Budget took on a life of its on during the Cold War.

The stakes were admittedly high: freedom or slavery? Put that way, it seemed eminently reasonable to policymakers at the time to devise intricate mechanisms shrouded from public view in order to do whatever needed to be done to keep the inhabitants of the Western world both safe and free. In their view, it was strategic; it was tactical; and it had to be secret, in order to succeed. Beginning with the Manhattan Project, through which atomic bombs were developed for the first time in human history, the perceived need to keep newly developed weapons systems shrouded in secrecy, for fear that the enemy might develop the same, arose out of a recognition of just how devastating those weapons could be. Little Boy and Fat Man were notoriously tested on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945, and with the U.S. government’s demonstrated willingness to deploy such weapons, the nuclear arms race was on.

Once a chunk of the defense budget had been made black to keep new weapons technology secret, it did not take long for entire systems of clandestine operations, today known as “black ops,” to emerge and expand as well. Again, we have Tim Weiner to thank for having done us the service of documenting in his indispensable work Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (2007) at least some of what went on during the Cold War. Legacy of Ashes is based on a trove of some 50,000 CIA documents first declassified near the end of the twentieth century. But today, long after the Soviet Union collapsed, the secrecy apparatus put in place by well-meaning—if sometimes confused, inept, deluded and occasionally outright insane—bureaucrats has come to be a seemingly permanent fixture of our world. At more than $80 billion, the Black Budget now exceeds the entire military budget of nearly all other governments.

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