Black Ops, Black Budgets, and Black Cats

(@2AM   – promoted by On The Bus)

There’s a fascinating article about black-ops programs squirrelled away in the science section of tomorrow’s New York Times.

The article is about a book titled I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me by Trevor Paglen.  The book’s subject is, nominally, the uniform patches worn by members of various black ops.  

Black-ops in bomb design, radar evasion, spy satellites, and much more.  The Times has a slide show of some of the various patches worn on the uniforms of people in these programs here.

“It’s a fresh approach to secret government,” Steven Aftergood, a security expert at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said in an interview. “It shows that these secret programs have their own culture, vocabulary and even sense of humor.”

One patch shows a space alien with huge eyes holding a stealth bomber near its mouth. “To Serve Man” reads the text above, a reference to a classic “Twilight Zone” episode in which man is the entree, not the customer. “Gustatus Similis Pullus” reads the caption below, dog Latin for “Tastes Like Chicken.”

The stuff about the patches is fascinating.  Paglen’s thesis is that the patches can tell us something about the intent, culture, and goals of the various programs.  Sort of a culture-studies study on Cheney’s “dark side” of government operations.

But even more interesting is a comment Paglen makes at the very end of the article:

Mr. Paglen plans to keep mining the patches and the field of clandestine military activity. “It’s kind of remarkable,” he said. “This stuff is a huge industry, I mean a huge industry. And it’s remarkable that you can develop these projects on an industrial scale, and we don’t know what they are. It’s an astounding feat of social engineering.”

“An astounding feat of social engineering.”  I take it that Paglen means that it is astounding that our government could condition us so to accept that fact that we, as taxpayers, lavishly fund black-ops projects without knowing or thinking that we should know what exactly it is we’re funding.

The classified budget of the Defense Department, concealed from the public in all but outline, has nearly doubled in the Bush years, to $32 billion. That is more than the combined budgets of the Food and Drug Administration, the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

That Paglen chose to call our agreeableness a result of “social engineering” is particulary interesting.  I think about the movies we watch, the Tom Clancy-type books we read, the news we consume, that all tells us black-ops is cool, and is something we should want — and pretends to tell us something about what we’re funding.  When in fact, we don’t have the slightest idea.  We think we’re paying for James Bond.  Maybe we’re paying for Caligula.  We don’t know.  The amazing thing is the extent to which we don’t think we ought to know.

8 comments

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  1. at Daily Kos.

  2. and this is something that must be destroyed. done away with. wiped out.

    this funneling of taxpayer money to black ops groups MUST BE STOPPED. these are groups who take no oath to our constitution, are not bound to protect citizens, and would just as soon treat us as enemy combatants than protect us.

    this is part of that infrastructure restoration that needs doing. stopping outsourcing of essential gov’t functions. like the frickin’ army. and intelligence gathering. for starters.

    The classified budget of the Defense Department, concealed from the public in all but outline, has nearly doubled in the Bush years, to $32 billion.

  3. hiding it from Congress which blindly votes the money!

  4. “This stuff is a huge industry, I mean a huge industry. And it’s remarkable that you can develop these projects on an industrial scale, and we don’t know what they are. It’s an astounding feat of social engineering.

    Oh come on.  This is all so absurd.

    Next thing you know they’ll be claiming government funded black ops guys can knock down skyscrapers and then make everybody believe a bunch of Arabs with box cutters did it.

  5. that the Bush administration would use 9/11 as an excuse to increase the budget of these types of programs.  And the secret nature of these programs is even less surprising.

    I sure don’t see any evidence that this stuff is succeeding.  You would expect these funds are spent in addressing problems in Iraq, ran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.  But we inexplicably seem to know nothing about what’s going on there.

    • OPOL on April 2, 2008 at 6:36 pm
  6. I did some basic drafting (PCB design actually) for a company that won a contract from Avco way back when. These were round circuit boards and there are not a lot of round products that Avco made other than MX nuclear missiles.

    The board that I worked on had some very peculiar requirements and taxed the hell out of the CAD system being used. This required above average contact with the electrical engineer during the PCB design phase.

    Engineers are engineers. They get into what they are doing. This engineer was only half kidding when he complained that they really couldn’t verify the operation of his design since it was responsible for shutting down certain systems on trailing missiles that couldn’t be radiation hardened until the EMP of the first missiles passed, then it would restart the systems for continued flight.

    Like I said, engineers are engineers, and sometimes they need to convey problems.

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