Politics

03.06.14

Read the Pentagon’s $59 Billion ‘Black Budget’

The U.S. military has billions of dollars’ worth of secret projects it doesn’t want you to know about. Too bad—here they are.

President Obama proposed a $495.6 billion defense budget yesterday, almost half a billion dollars leaner than the previous year’s. But there’s still one category where the Department of Defense is not scaling back: its secret projects.

According to the budget documents, the DoD plans to spend around $58.7 billion on classified programs (fondly known as its “black budget”) in fiscal year 2015, a 1.5 percent increase from the previous year.

But what exactly is the “black budget?”

The term is an unofficial one, as shadowy as the thing that it seeks to describe. The Washington Post used it to describe the Snowden-leaked account of money that funds Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and other spy service projects, known officially as the National Intelligence Program (NIP). It can also refer to the Department of Defense’s Military Intelligence Program (MIP). The MIP as we know it was established in 2005 and includes all the intelligence programs that support operations in armed services.

That’s (some of) what we’re mapping out here, based on work that Daily Beast executive editor Noah Shachtman did while at Wired. Think spy satellites, stealth bombers, next-missile-spotting radars, next-gen drones, and ultra-powerful eavesdropping gear. Think projects to size up the Russian army and snoop ok Kim Jung-Un’s nuclear program.

Spending for these projects is described in classified documents attached to intelligence and national defense legislation. While some members of Congress can look at them, they have to make special arrangements to do so.

Overall spending for both programs (NIP and MIP) is disclosed to the public by the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Defense. Both agencies released their 2015 requests today: $45.6 billion for the NIP and $13.3 billion for the MIP. The Federation of American Scientists breaks the numbers down here.

But the Devil is in the details, and those are exactly the thing missing from these broad disclosures. In fiscal year 2014, the DoD requested $18.6 billion for the Military Intelligence Program but said no program details would follow, “as they remain classified for national security reasons.” Luckily, a dive into the budget documents reveals more, if still limited, information on these projects as well as secret programs outside of the Military Intelligence Program’s scope, including the purchase of classified weapons and hush-hush military operations.  

A dive into the budget documents reveals information on secret intelligence projects as well as the purchase of classified weapons and hush-hush military operations.

There are, of course, some complications with looking at these numbers. First, while some line items are conveniently labeled “classified”, others are called by cloak-and-dagger names like the Army’s “Tractor Hip,”—cut in half this year to $16.4 million —and the Navy’s “Chalk Eagle”—a $543 million program that has seen continued growth over the last three years. Because of the nature of these weird titles, we might (and probably are) missing some other covert programs. And experts don’t put it past the DoD to label more secret operations under innocuous titles or hide them in other budget categories like personnel.

One more nerdy note: We’re just looking at the so-called “base budget” of the Pentagon here; it doesn’t include the money for the war on terror, known in mil-speak as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. The Defense Department has set aside $79 billion for OCO for the next fiscal year, the same placeholder amount as this one. But it’s unclear as of now, how much of the money that creatively overcomes budget restraints will go to black budget programs.

With those caveats in mind, here are the line items from the Department of Defense’s black budget for 2015. Play with the numbers yourself here and tell us what we’ve missed.

Numbers are in thousands.