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Black holes: how secret military and intelligence appropriations suck up your tax dollars.

Corrupt and undemocratic conditions within the United States government were evident last fall when Congress siphoned a half-billion dollars from an illegal slush fund maintained by the secretive spy satellite agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and used it to fund more B-2 "stealth" bombers. Northrup Grumman Corporation, a military contractor with a sordid and criminal background, secured the money for more B-2 bombers on December 1, 1995, when the 1996 defense appropriations bill became law. The half-billion dollars appropriated for the B-2 is merely a down payment on 20 more planes, which will cost over $31 billion if completed.

Congress has forced the bombers on the military over the objections of the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Air Force. In a May 1995 study commissioned by Congress, the Institute for Defense Analysis concluded that, with the demise of the Soviet Union, there was no need for more B-2s. Nonetheless, Northrop Grumman's patrons in Congress, who have lined their pockets with PAC contributions from the B-2's corporate beneficiaries, shrewdly disclosed the existence of the NRO slush fund just as they were completing their final maneuvers to fund the B-2. They then applied over $1 billion of the slush fund-estimated at a total of $2 billion--to the B-2 and other unpopular weapons programs. If, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower once declared, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," then Northrop Grumman has surely robbed the American public. Shamefully, President Clinton allowed the appropriations bill to become law. Most disturbing of all, the excesses involved in funding the B-2 and the National Reconnaissance Office are not isolated incidences but, instead, are typical of the practices used in dozens of weapons and intelligence programs involving as much as $125 billion annually.

CIA Director Investigates Himself

On September 24, 1995, the Washington Post reported that the NRO had "accumulated unspent funds totalling more than $1 billion without informing its superiors at the Pentagon and CIA or its overseers in Congress" White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta later confirmed the report, claiming that the money was inexcusably hoarded" and that CIA Director John Deutch had ordered an investigation. Deutch also allegedly ordered "a restructuring of the NRO's financial management and a complete review of its spending" in response to the news. Curiously, prior to taking charge at the CIA in May 1995, Deutch oversaw military intelligence, including the NRO, in his capacity as Deputy Secretary of Defense. (The government officially admitted the existence of the NRO in 1992, although its budget and specific functions remain classified. The NRO's fleet of costly satellites gathers photographs and signals for electronic eavesdropping on behalf of the CIA and military intelligence agencies.) As deputy secretary defense, Deutch was second in command at the Pentagon, as well as the chair of the NRO's executive committee, which makes all critical decisions at the NRO.

This means that Deutch, who had the highest security clearance at the Pentagon, either knew of the slush fund or chose to remain ignorant. Defense News, a widely read military journal, recently called for the dismissal of those responsible for what it referred to as the NRO's "funding debacle" As there is no adequate explanation why Deutch remained ignorant of a hoard placed at over 20 percent of the NRO's $7 billion annual budget, he, too, should be dismissed.

Climate of Secrecy Fosters Waste and Unaccountability

The NRO, a bottomless pit into which Congress pours money, can squander hundreds of millions of dollars and still remain awash in money. In 1994, the NRO was found to have secretly and illegally spent $300 million on an office complex in Fairfax County, Virginia. The complex, which contains 30 percent more office space than is needed by the agency, was built in collusion with Rockwell International Corporation. (Rockwell itself is a giant military contractor whose projects include manufacturing components for hydrogen bombs as well as the B-2 bomber.) In order to maintain a charade that the huge complex was not an NRO project, millions of dollars in local property taxes--normally not paid by the federal government-were footed by taxpayers. Rockwell lied to local officials, telling them that the NRO complex was a Rockwell facility.

The secrecy surrounding the NRO and the absence of any meaningful oversight enabled the agency to obtain appropriations for operating expenses that were hundreds of millions of dollars in excess of its genuine needs. The excess funds were then channeled into a secret slush fund. Although Congress never appropriated the money for the complex, the NRO nonetheless spent $300 million, violating ARTICLE I of the U.S. Constitution which stipulates: "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law"

The NRO's corrupt practices have been evident for over a decade. In his 1986 book Deep Black: Space Espionage and National Security, scholar and journalist William E. Burrows wrote:

Those who are acquainted with NRO operations

and are able to discuss it . . . contend for

the most part that the office's secret budget

amounts to a carte blanche for wild engineering

schemes. . . . They charge that the NRO's excessive

secrecy prevents proper monitoring and

encourages some dubious projects that can be

pursued at almost any cost with the knowledge

that mistakes will be concealed from Congress by

the large black security blanket.

But while NRO operations are no doubt concealed from many members of Congress, huge PAC contributions from leading NRO contractors such as Martin Marietta, TRW, and Rock, well have assured that the agency's congressional overseers simply rubber-stamp its projects. As early as 1990, systems engineer Marty Overbleck-Bloem, an ex-employee of Lockheed Missile and Space Company, budder of billion dollar NRO satellites, blew the whistle on the NRO. Quoted in Tim Weiner's book Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget, Overbleck-Bloem said:

In a black project, people don't worry about money. If

you need money, you got it. If you screw up and need

more, you got it. You're just pouring money into the thing

until you get it right. The incentive isn't there to do it

right the first time. Who's going to question it?

Secrecy Violates Constitution and Undermines Democracy

The NRO's functions have been classified and its secret budget unconstitutionally concealed since its creation in 1960. Article I, section 9, clause 7 of the United States Constitution requires the government to publish a "regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money." While the treasurer publishes an official budget annually, at least $28 billion in "classified" intelligence appropriations and billions more for secret weapons programs are falsely identified as belonging to other agencies, rendering the official budget a mere sham.

In the case of United States v. Richardson, decided in 1974, the Supreme Court refused to enforce the receipts and expenditures clause of the Constitution. In Richardson, a citizen brought suit to require the US. treasurer to disclose the budget for the CIA as required by the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that citizen taxpayers have no standing to enforce this provision of the Constitution, since they suffer no concrete and identifiable injury by the government's secrecy. If citizens don't like the government's violation of the Constitution, their only remedy is what the Court described as "the slow, cumbersome, and unresponsive" electoral process. To allow citizen taxpayers to challenge the government's unconstitutional practice of failing to fully account for its receipts and expenditures, wrote Chief Justice Warren Burger, "would mean that the Founding Fathers intended to set up something in the nature of an Athenian democracy . . . to oversee the conduct of the National Government " Burger's candid contempt for democratic ideals and his related promotion of government secrecy reflects the prevailing views of US. governing elites at least since World War II.

The world's most exclusive millionaire's club--the United States Senate--has continuously maintained the secret government while aknowledging its unconstitutionality. In 1976, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence recognized that classification of intelligence budgets causes "members of the public [to bel deceived" and "violates Article 1, section 9, CLAUSE 7 of the Constitution." Nonetheless, both branches of Congress have substantially increased black budget spending since 1976. The budget of the NRO was $3.5 billion (in 1994 dollars) in 1980, half of its current level. Keeping current spending levels secret--and suppressing domestic oversight along the way--remains a priority for the military intelligence community and its corporate allies. As journalist John Pike observed in the fall 1994 issue of Covert Action Quarterly, excessive public discussion could promote the idea that "much of the intelligence budget funds expensive satellites" which have been "rendered obsolete by the demise of their primary target, the Soviet Union."

B-2 Bomber: Created in Secrecy, Sustained by PACs

Like the NRO, the B-2 bomber has long been a classified project. An estimated $23 billion was spent for research and development on the B-2 during the 1980s, though everything about the B-2 budget was classified until June 1989, six months after the first bomber was unveiled. Northrop Grumman initially placed the final cost of the B-2 at $550 million per plane, which made it the most expensive airplane in history. Predictably, the bombers have ended up costing $2.2 billion per plane--four times Northrop's estimate. This didn't stop Nor-throp Grumman from claiming, as part of its lobbying effort in 1995, that the next 20 bombers could be produced for only $570 million each. Later that spring, the Pentagon released its own figures, placing the cost at more than $1.5 billion per plane.

Senator Ted Stevens (Republican--Alaska) and Representative Norman Dicks (Democrat--Washington) were key players in identifying-or possible creating-the NRO hoard and then transferring these funds to the B-2. Both men had been groomed for years with huge PAC contributions from B-2 contractors, including Northrop Grumman. According to Nancy Walzman and Sheila Crumholz in The Best Defense: Will Campaign Contributions Protect the Industry? (published by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics), Dicks raked in over $10,000 from nine major B-2 contractors in four months time, making him one of the largest House recipients of military PAC money just as the B-2 battle was heating up. Five thousand dollars of this money came from Northrop Grumman, which also paid for Dicks to fly to Los Angeles and Palm Springs on a promotional tour. During the 1993-1994 period, Walzman and Crumholz disclose, Dicks was a "top recipient of B-2 contractors' PAC money," receiving $23,000 from Northrop, Boeing, Lockheed, Vought Aircraft, and other B-2 contractors. However, B-2 contractors were not the only ones who rewarded Dicks; military PACs paid him at least $96,500 in the 1993-1994 period alone.

As for Senator Stevens, the Center for Responsive Politics found that, from 1989 to 1994, seven major B-2 contractors--Northrop Grumman, General Electric, Boeing, Hughes Aircraft, Loral, Vought Aircraft, and LTV Aerospace and Defense--made PAC contributions to his office of at least $37,000. This makes him one of the top ten recipients of PAC money from B-2 contractors in the history of the United States. Stevens also tops the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee with $207,000 in military corporate PAC contributions from 1989 to 1994, ranking him as the second-highest recipient of military corporate PAC contributions in the United States government.

The scenario was similar for other key supporters of the B-2. In the House, the bipartisan coalition of Republican representatives Duncan Hunter (California), Floyd Spence (South Carolina), and Buck McKeon (California) and Democrats Norman Dicks (Washington) and Ike Skelton (Missouri) reaped huge rewards. The CRFP conservatively estimated that members of Senate and House defense appropriations committees received over $8.5 million of military-related PAC and "individual" contributions in the 1993-1994 period. The rate of giving by B-2 contractors' PACs dramatically increased in 1995.

The defense contractors' practice of rewarding their supporters with PAC contributions has been described by dome as legalized bribery. While this analysis is accurate in many instances, it ignores other important institutional factors. Many recipients of military corporate PAC money would be inclined to support outlandish expenditures on the B-2 and other programs regardless of whether or not they received PAC contributions. Many B-2 advocates in Congress are retired military men. For example, Representative Hunter of San Diego, a long-time B-2 supporter, was an Army Ranger in Vietnam. In such instances, the money doesn't necessarily buy loyalty; it simply ensures that loyal supporters of the military-industrial complex will remain in office. Defense analyst Stephen Shalom has accurately described this effect in The V-22 Osprey and the Post-cold War Military Budget:

If politicians with the "right" views get the funds they

need to secure and retain office while those with the

wrong" views do not, then officeholders will tend to

have the right views. The politicians may not be for

sale, but the offices are.

Military, congressional, and corporate backing for the B-2 bomber has been assured by spreading subcontracts for it throughout at least 383 congressional districts in 48 states. Thousands of subcontractors and their supplier&-benefit from B-2 production, and they have inundated pliable legislators with individual campaign contributions in addition to PAC money. Contributions from officers, directors, managers, and employees of these corporations, made in their "individual" capacity, do not fall within the limits placed on corporate PAC contributions. The senators and representatives nonetheless know where the money comes from because of the practice of "bundling," in which several checks for up to $1,000 from managers, employees, and family members of contractors known to the legislators are given simultaneously.

Illegal Practices Widespread

Although the payment of individual and PAC contributions is usually legal, the effects of illegal payments and practices--including outright bribery--should not be discounted. Key defense contractors, including Boeing and Lockheed, have been convicted of paying millions of dollars in bribes to obtain top-secret Pentagon planning papers, while Rockwell International was convicted of and fined $5.5 million for criminal fraud against the Air Force in connection with an NRO satellite project.

Likewise, illegally squeezing vendors and employees for PAC contributions is a skill at which Northrop Grumman should excel. The company was formed a year and a half ago with the merger of two corporate outlaws--Northrop Corporation and Grumman Corporation. The former president of Grumman, John O'Brien, was recently convicted of fraud related to loans he received from James Kane, the former head of Long Island Aerospace PAC, Grumman's political wing. As Andy Pasztor discusses in his recent book, When the Pentagon Was for Sale, O'Brien and Kane specialized in shaking down Grumman's vendors and employees: "Employees who aggressively raised campaign loot were rewarded with promotions and bonuses. Conversely, O'Brien threatened to fire or demote workers who were less wholehearted in aiding Kane." Recalcitrant suppliers, such as Monitor Aerospace, which was reluctant to contribute to Grumman's lobbying program, soon found that Grumman was doing its buying elsewhere--a violation of federal law. Ultimately, Grumman paid the government $20 million to escape further criminal and civil liability.

Northrop's criminal convictions reach back to 1972, when it was convicted of maintaining a slush fund which was used to buy the silence of the Watergate burglars. More recently, it was convicted in 1990 of charges related to its intentional falsification of tests concerning nuclear cruise missiles and fighter jets, for which the company paid a $17 million fine.

Raw Power Maintains High Spending Levels

By the raw power of money, the coalition of military bureaucrats and their corporate parasites has continued to command lavish spending for Cold War weaponry such as the, B-2 while programs for low birthweight babies, childhood immunizations, scholarship assistance, Medicaid, and Medicare are slashed.

Even the US. government's official propaganda doesn't suggest that these levels of spending are required because of threats from China or Russia. While the United States spent about $285 billion on the military in 1994, Russia spent less than $80 billion, and China spent only $27 billion. Given this lack of military threats, the US. Defense Department was forced to stretch the truth in its 1995 annual report, which sought to justify current spending levels. According to the Secretary of Defense, the threats to be guarded against are "hostile regional powers," the acquisition by "potential adversaries" of "weapons of mass destruction," "terrorism," and "the illegal drug trade" Since none of these so-called threats is either new or sufficient to justify such extraordinary spending levels, the government has resorted to sophistry, arguing that the world is so dangerous that the nation must always be ready to fight two major wars simultaneously anywhere in the world without allied assistance while remaining capable of defending the mainland, from nuclear and conventional attack. In other words, the military must be ready to fight World War III at all times.

Promising Signs for Democracy

The currently prevailing regime of subsidies to the military while domestic programs are cut is a direct challenge to the legitimate democratic expectations of the American people. In peacetime, democratic principles require that social and economic needs should take priority over military programs. Events within the military, Congress, the mass media, and religious and peace groups suggest that a grassroots movement is forming to resist the military, corporate challenge to democracy.

One promising development was the formation of a consortium of public-policy organizations in 1994, the Military Spending Working Group, to coordinate the activities of peace and security organizations in the pursuit of a peace dividend. One member organization of the MSWG is the Center for Defense Information, which is directed by retired high-ranking military officers; it has been scathing in its condemnation of the "ridiculously high" levels of military spending "given the greatly diminished military dangers that confront America."

Another promising development is the emergence of a split within the Republican Party, where significant divisions have developed between traditional "hawks" and "cheap hawks," who claim to be willing to reduce deficits by cutting military spending. Major newspapers such as the Boston Globe have inveighed against current military spending levels, and national magazines like the Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Progressive, Z, and the National Times have all published commentary criticizing the lack of a peace dividend.

Religious groups have also objected to the degree of militarism and have engaged in inspiring acts of civil disobedience challenging ongoing nuclear weapons deployment. On August 7, 1995, on the fiftieth anniversaries of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, six Catholic activists calling themselves Jubilee Plowshares entered weapons facilities on both coasts, hammering and pouring blood on nuclear weaponry and suffering criminal prosecution. One of the activists, Susan Crane, later wrote in Jubilee News: "The women here in jail understand these weapons are a direct theft from the poor of the world who need food, shelter, medical care, and jobs."

Such efforts to publicize nuclear threats are particularly important because the high costs and risks presently posed by nuclear weapons remains a mystery to most Americans. According to John Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy, the costs of strategic nuclear weapons alone are about $70 billion per year. Given the United States' historical position as the only remaining superpower, the compelling moral grounds to curtail military spending, and the broad-based protest activity which is occurring, the seeds for a democratic resistance movement are present.

As long as the public remains unorganized and tolerant of the status quo, the military-corporate alliance will dictate a level of military spending which keeps its coffers filled to overflowing. Since at least World War U, this alliance has been the dominant force in the US. economy. It is not going to cede power simply because the prior justifications for its dominance-world War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War--have ended. Instead, as President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address 36 years ago, it will invent new reasons and create new conflicts in order to justify its existence.

J. Whitfield Larrabee is a Boston attorney who specializes in defending the indigent in criminal cases 4nd in the prosecution of civil-rights violations. He is also an organizer of grassroots action to reduce military spending and promote peace. He can be reached by e-mail at
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Author:Larrabee, J. Whitfield
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:May 1, 1996
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