What abuses can
occur under Bush's
funding of the
The American Spark
Bush Administration Hides 'Black Budget'
By Cliff Montgomery - Mar. 22nd, 2007
The Bush Administration's proposed 2008 defense budget reads as expected...until you get to the creative
There's a section of the $715 billion budget for "defense" and the Iraq war which has no numbers, no zeroes,
and hence no accountability. All citizens may read are a few sentences, such as: "Robust funding of the
This is the portion of the budget known as the "black budget." It is filled with spending requests that few
Americans will ever discover, and have only in recent years even heard about.
Now it's also become of interest to the FBI. According to the Las Vegas Sun, the Bureau is conducting a
preliminary investigation into allegations that Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, when serving in Congress, took bribes
from longtime friend Warren Trepp in exchange for securing Defense Department funds for Trepp's s
Reno-based company, eTreppid Technologies LLC.
Questions about Gibbons' possible congressional misdeeds date to Feb. 13th, 2004, when the Pentagon's
Special Operations Command announced that it had awarded a $30 million, five-year contract to Trepp's
corporation. The problem is that the contract apparently did not stem from an earmark.
Gibbons claims he simply put Trepp in touch with Defense Department authorities, and that the corporation
won the contract on its own merits. But Gibbons had in fact secured black budget funds for Trepp's company,
which include a $1.17 million boost to an existing 2005 contract, according to a Wall Street Journal report last
And Gibbons freely touted a $3 million earmark he secured for the company in a 2004 press release, even
though there is no public record of such an earmark.
Federal investigators are investigating whether Trepp's gifts to Gibbons, including a 2005 cruise Trepp hosted
for the congressman, his wife and others, were bribes for such friendly treatment. Trepp also contributed
$90,000 to Gibbons' gubernatorial campaign.
As military spending has gobbled much of the Bush budget since the 9/11 attacks, the amount of dollars being
funneled to the black budget has also risen sharply. The president's $481 billion defense budget for fiscal 2008
is 60 percent higher than the one requested for 2001, not counting supplemental war spending. The black
budget has also soared, tripling from 2001 levels.
This year $45 billion will surge into the secret budget to pay for, among other things, secret weapons systems
and some of the U.S. intelligence community's 16 agencies, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
What troubles defense analysts is not just the sheer size of a secret government budget. The classified
spending has exploded in an era when Congress has all but given up its constitutional duty to act as a check
on the executive branch. And Congress has not been checking itself, either.
With so many dollars and so little oversight, the black budget quickly became an easy playground for political
The most infamous case is that of imprisoned former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who took
bribes from defense contractors in exchange for as much as $80 million in classified earmarks.
"Its pretty basic stuff: Secrecy invites corruption," Steven Aftergood, a veteran black budget expert who heads
the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told the Las Vegas Sun.
"What Congressman Cunningham did should not have been possible. He was able to push through what
amounted to personal favors in the national intelligence budget.
"How many red flags do we need to understand the current system is broken?" Aftergood added.
"This is an area where earmarking is fraught with peril," said Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for
Common Sense, a Washington watchdog group.
"It's one thing to take road money and steer it to the road that goes right in front of your house. It's another
thing to take money that's supposed to make the country secure," Ellis told the Sun.
Cunningham's bribe-taking should have been tagged by overseers on the House and Senate intelligence and
defense committees, which review the black budget behind closed doors. But under the Republican-led
majority, Congress did a poor job of policing itself, as demonstrated by a stream of scandals in recent
years--which, by the way, also involved some Democrats.
The practice of earmarking often topped the list of abuses. Earmarks allow individual lawmakers to quietly fund
pet projects without undergoing the usual congressional scrutiny. Perhaps predictably, the number of earmarks
has grown from 3,000 a year to 15,000 over the last decade.
Black budget earmarks, like those Cunningham secured, are a double-whammy however. Unlike earmarks in
the regular budget, which will in time be exposed, black budget earmarks are permanently secret.