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Inside the Pentagon's $59 Billion 'Black Budget'

Inside the Pentagon's $59 Billion 'Black Budget'

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 Administration, 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. The Federation of American Scientists breaks them both 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.  

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