BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Tim Weiner, what is "The Pentagon's Black Budget"?
TIM WEINER, AUTHOR, "THE PENTAGON'S BLACK BUDGET": It's the Pentagon's own term for every program that the Secretary of Defense, the Director of Central Intelligence or the President of the United States wants to keep off the books, wants to keep deleted from the public budget of the Pentagon and kept at a classification of top secret or above. These are the secret weapons and the secret policies for combating the Cold War and World War III and, should it come to that, World War IV.
LAMB: Who calls it "the black budget"?
WEINER:The Pentagon originated the term. The term "black" comes from the world of espionage. It means like a black bag job: undercover, hidden from light, secret.
LAMB: When did you first hear the term?
WEINER:My newspaper sent me down to Washington ...
LAMB: That is what newspaper?
WEINER:The Philadelphia Inquirer -- in April of 1986. And the idea was to get behind some of the stories we'd been hearing during the months preceding about the fantastically expensive hardware: the $1,000 wrenches, the $6,000 coffee pots and so forth. I obtained a copy of the budget of the Pentagon and leafed through the sections detailing research and development and procurement programs, the budgets for buying new weapons. There were blank spaces, hundreds of them, where dollar figures should be. There were code words where descriptions or names would probably be. I began talking to people inside and outside of the Pentagon, and they identified this as a a problem in a kind of a tug-of-war between secrecy and democracy. I don't mean to overdramatize it, but things were getting out of hand in Washington. And you had an atmosphere that secrecy was winning. The folks I talked to focused my attention on the black budget, and I went to work.
LAMB: Philadelphia Inquirer -- why were they -- it's owned by Knight Ridder; you have a big Washington bureau. Why would they send you down to Washington to do something that they're already doing?
WEINER:Well, they weren't. And the editor of the newspaper, who sadly left us recently, Gene Roberts, was very intrigued by the notion. It wasn't something that was being directly addressed, and he wanted me to dig up as much as I could and get it in the paper. Before I had assembled enough to write about, Iran Contra broke that fall, and so the context of excessive secrecy was now something that was on the public agenda.
LAMB: How long had you been in Philadelphia at the time?
WEINER:I started work for the Inquirer in 1982, so most of that time was digging into corruption in HUD programs, corruption in the Philadelphia Police Department. And I had just returned from four months in the Philippines covering the Marcos and Aquino contest.
LAMB: Where's home originally?
WEINER:New York. My folks moved to California when I was a teen-ager. They teach at UCLA. And they brought me up to love words, love books and love ideas.
LAMB: What do they teach?
WEINER:My dad's field is psychosomatic medicine, and my mom's is history.
LAMB: Where'd you go to school?
WEINER:Columbia College in New York and then the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia.
LAMB: When did you go originally to journalism? Right after your master's degree?
WEINER:Started out working three jobs simultaneously in New York based in the federal and state courts there down in Foley Square, and this is where I learned my love of documents. When you interview people as a reporter, sometimes they will lie, sometimes they will equivocate or shade their speech to suit a private agenda. But the document, like the lawyers say, speaks for itself.
LAMB: Were you a good student in college?
LAMB: So you liked research?
WEINER:The idea of digging in the stacks for the document that contains the seed of fact is integral to good journalism. The idea of coming up with words on paper or facts on file that will be underpinnings, the historical basis for writing good, interpretive, analytical work -- that started in college. That started in the stacks.
LAMB: How old are you?
LAMB: And you've already got two Pulitzer Prizes?
WEINER:Well, a group of us at the Kansas City Times shared a Pulitzer in 1982 for uncovering the causes of the Hyatt Hotel disaster that happened in the summer of 1981, the collapse of the skywalks in a brand-new hotel that killed 114 people. So that was a shared one. And then these stories that formed the basis of this were given the Pulitzer for national reporting in 1988.
LAMB: You were 32 years old and you got a Pulitzer -- your second Pulitzer. What's that do to your head?
WEINER:Well, the best thing that happened was that when my name got in the paper, old friends I hadn't heard from in years called me up. And that was the best thing that happened. I think that you run the danger of egomania, and certainly I'm afflicted with that disease. But you have to realize that the symbology of a prize like that -- you shouldn't confuse what the thing represents with the meaning of your work. I just try to write good stories and get them in the paper.
LAMB: OK. You're addressing a bunch of college kids and they know you've got two Pulitzer Prizes at this age. Step outside your own body, if you can, and observe. What is it that you have been able to do that's different; that got you these prizes?
WEINER:In college and in the graduate school, I had a few good teachers who put a few basic values into my head and set a fire burning in my belly. The dictums of I.F. Stone and of Lincoln Steffens -- that one should try and get at the roots of social and political problems with first-hand research and by not believing or at least taking with a large grain of salt the official version of events -- has always driven me, and I think it drives all reporters who keep their eye on the ball. A reporter without certain basic values is a stenographer, who simply repeats and amplifies the official words of officialdom. And that is less than the minimum work. At minimum we should be rooting out hidden facts and presenting them to people so they can make their own minds up about how their government works.
LAMB: You say in your book that $100 million a day is available to the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of CIA ...
WEINER:And the agencies over which they preside.
LAMB: ... without accountability to the American people.
WEINER:That's true. This is a system that began when the Cold War took root in this country. And one of the ironies of the Cold War, as we look back, is that our open, rambunctious, contentious democracy took on a few of the attributes of the sullen and secretive and closed society with which we were at war.
In the atmosphere of emergency in 1949 and 1950, the nation decided that it would be best to establish permanent secret agencies in this country, foremost of which was the CIA, and that the money to run the CIA should be appropriated secretly and should not be questioned -- in effect, that the director of the CIA would get a lump sum of money, approved by one or two or three or four members of Congress, and that he did not have to account for how that money was spent. What this meant in practice was that the agency could hire armies, it could buy banks, without accounting to anyone in its prosecution of the secret war against the Soviet Union.
What happened in the 1980s was that the Pentagon began to bury its largest and most-expensive weapons technologies under the cover originally designed for the intelligence community. Two examples that have sort of nosed their way into the light now, developed under the black budget: the nuclear B-2 bomber and a satellite system called MILSTAR, whose aggregate costs, if completed, will approach $100 billion. There was an obsession with secrecy that caused the black budget to explode in the early 1980s, and it doubled and doubled again to the point where we were, by the close of the Reagan administration, spending $36 billion a year, or roughly $100 million a day, outside the normal channels of accountability.
LAMB: Let me ask you, did Senator Sam Nunn and Congressman Les Aspin, respective chairmen on each side of the Congress over here, know about this black budget?
WEINER:Absolutely, but they couldn't talk about it. Open debate was curtailed on these secret weapons systems. And, in fact, my first week of reporting down in Washington, Les Aspin put out the first public statement on the growth of the black budget back in April of 1986. And he said that secret weapons spending, as the Pentagon budget doubled from 1981 to 1985, had gone up eightfold and that it was, to use his term -- his words -- "grossly excessive," and that this was information that ought to be available in a democracy. Sure, Aspin knew what the stealth bomber was going to cost, but he couldn't tell his colleagues, nor could the question be debated on the floor.
LAMB: How many people in Congress know about the black budget and know the specifics of the black budget?
WEINER:To have an effective overview, enough to make intelligent, rational decisions, at minimum eight are given access to every jot and title that they need.
LAMB: You mean if you're a junior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Nunn ...
WEINER:You can get at most of it. You can get at most of it, or you could go to Nunn and ask for a briefing.
LAMB: Do they have to testify on Capitol Hill that they want this money to build the B-2?
WEINER:Well, now they do because ...
LAMB: But did they ...
WEINER:In the beginnings of the stealth bomber program, there were four members of Congress who knew what the plane was supposed to cost and who knew technical details about it. Now, of course, the stealth is into the light, and we can see that what we've got is a bomber designed for nuclear war against the Soviet Union that is so expensive that you could have built each 70-ton plane out of solid gold and still had enough money left over to mount it on a bed of platinum. Had open debate been permitted before the stealth bomber started rolling off the production line, I think it would have been beneficial for this country.
LAMB: OK. Let's go to the -- by the way, do you live in Washington now?
LAMB: Did you get caught by Potomac fever?
WEINER:I don't see myself as part of the Washington community. I see myself as a reporter from out of town who is standing aside and observing the workings of government. I can think of some of my colleagues who work for Washington institutions, like The Post, who I believe see themselves as kind of the fourth estate, as part of the workings of government. I disagree with that approach.
LAMB: So what happens when you walk in the Pentagon -- when they see you coming down the hallway?
WEINER:Nothing. I tend to ...
LAMB: How do they treat you? Do they know who you are?
WEINER:No, they don't. And no one's ever said, you know, "Look out, boy. Get back." I tend to work from the documents that the Pentagon puts out -- to use the public record to get at something deeper.
LAMB: The public record.
WEINER:To use what's public or what's been declassified. Taking apart the Pentagon's budget to determine what's black, what's secret is kind of a reverse engineering. For example, if you want to know the level of secret spending in the research and development budget, you've got a bottom line. Let's say it's $50 billion. You add up the several thousand unclassified line items and you'll see that there's a $10 billion gap there. So you know that $10 billion is being funneled out into secret spending. From there, you get to a deeper level by interviewing people who have or have had access to this information, and doing a great deal of reading as to the nuclear strategy and technological goals that the Pentagon is pursuing.
LAMB: I wanted to ask you about a line that popped out of the pages of your book: "I could be charged with a felony for telling you." I thought this was a free country where you can talk about anything and the First Amendment protects you.
WEINER:There are code-word classification levels -- and the program's discussed in that passage -- which are for strategic nuclear warfare.
LAMB: Olympic, Bellweather, Meridian, Bernie.
WEINER:In the reign of Director Casey, at the CIA, he threatened more than a few reporters with felony prosecutions under the espionage statutes for revealing code-word programs. I seriously doubt that such a prosecution could be successfully mounted because of the First Amendment protections. But there remain statutes on the book that the government interprets as protecting code-word classified information, and they are effective statutes. They're on the books. They're there.
LAMB: Does it scare you enough not to publish it?
WEINER:No, sir. No, sir. I think the First Amendment is stronger.
LAMB: In the back under acknowledgements, when you talk about coming to Washington and not being a part of it here -- but you do thank some people.
LAMB: And let me read the list, and I want you to tell me, if you can, who they are. "In Washington I received help from Dena Raiser and Donna Martin, both formerly with the Project on Military Procurement."
WEINER:That is the organization that first dug up the raw information on the extraordinary items that the Pentagon was producing, such as the coffee pots, the wrenches, the hammers. And they do and have in the past done tremendous cost analysis of how the Pentagon produces its weapons. And they have a network of people inside the Pentagon who helped them gather information.
LAMB: Where do they come from?
WEINER:They are a privately funded and apolitical group, and they range from cheap hawks -- that is, people on the right of the spectrum, who want the defense dollars spent efficiently -- to doves, who want the defense dollars spent in more pacific and perhaps in less substantial ways.
LAMB: Why would anybody want to spend money for that purpose, and what kind of money do they get?
WEINER:I think they're independently funded from various organizations, like Ford Foundation or maybe Stewart Mott. I really haven't looked behind their financing. But they're a respected institution.
LAMB: I don't know whether you know this, but why are they both formerly of that project?
WEINER:Well, let's see, Donna went to work for a member of Congress, and Dena, I believe, is now a free-lance author.
LAMB: Did you find them or did they find you?
WEINER:Oh, I went to them, and they put me on to some wonderful people inside the Pentagon.
LAMB: Ernest Fitzgerald, you thank. Who is he?
WEINER:Ernie Fitzgerald, one of the Pentagon's most famous and staunchest in-house critics. This is the man, who in the early 1970s, was fired, upon the order of President Nixon, because from his post as a cost analyst inside the Pentagon, he identified the first $1 billion cost overrun in Pentagon history on the C-5 cargo plane.
LAMB: Where is he now?
WEINER:He is still inside the Pentagon. He was reinstated by order of the federal courts.
LAMB: Do they watch the kind of people that he talks to?
WEINER:I believe according to the court order reinstating him, he is protected from harassment.
LAMB: And he was helpful to you?
LAMB: What kind of help can he give you?
WEINER:The benefit of his experience, guidance on how to see weapons systems. Ernie once explained, to a rapt congressional committee, that they should see an expensive military aircraft -- for example, the stealth bomber -- not as a single unit, but as a collection of vastly overpriced spare parts flying in tight formation. And it is images like that that allow outsiders to gain a greater understanding of how the Pentagon works.
LAMB: There's another gentleman here by the name of Thomas Amly.
WEINER:Tom Amly has been with the Department of Defense for nearly 40 years. He is a highly talented weapons designer. He designed the Sidewinder, a lethally effective air-to-air missile. And he is also a skeptic on the subject of black programs. My first week in Washington, through the good offices of Dena Raiser, I was introduced to Tom Amly. We sat down in the Pentagon cafeteria. I asked him about the problem of black programs, and he said -- I'm paraphrasing, but he said, "Look, there are three reasons for having black programs." Now this is a man with some access to this information. "One, you're doing something that should genuinely be secret. There's about five of them, and stealth ain't one of them. Two, you're doing something so stupid that you don't want anybody to know about it. And three, you want to rip open the money bag, get out a big shovel because there's no accountability for this money." And I remember his words vividly.
LAMB: Is he angry?
WEINER:I think Tom Amly is a classic example of a patriot, and he does not want the defense dollars squandered on wild-eyed schemes or on impossible missions or on screwball goals. He is a man who has spent his adult life dedicated to the defense of this country, and what he stands against are boondoggles, particularly boondoggles protected under a national security shield.
LAMB: He's a government employee.
WEINER:He is. He works for the Air Force.
LAMB: Would he be allowed, under the rules of the Pentagon, to come here and do a television program with us?
WEINER:Sure thing. If you asked him about what's black, he might have to bite his tongue, but he'd be more than happy.
LAMB: On this list you have John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists. Why could they be of help to you?
WEINER:Pike is an expert in the overhead reconnaissance systems, the spy satellites, run by an agency called the National Reconnaissance Office, which officially does not exist. The United States government has never acknowledged its existence, and it is forbidden to mention the name of this agency on the floor of the Congress.
LAMB: How do you know about it?
WEINER:Well, through people like John Pike and their good offices. In fact, what cannot be mentioned on the floor of the Congress can be written about and, in fact, a journalist and professor named William Burrows several years ago wrote a very sober and sympathetic book about the NRO called "Deep Black."
LAMB: Why can you write about it, but members of Congress can't speak about it? Because I thought they had the right to say anything they wanted on the floor of ...
WEINER:They shall not be held accountable, right, for what they say on the floor or brought to law. Because the United States government has never acknowledged the existence of the National Reconnaissance Office, a member who mentions its name on the floor of the House can be subject to censure. In fact, when Congressman George E. Brown Jr. of California dared to question some of the NRO's spending, he came within a hairsbreadth of official censure. He resigned from the House Intelligence Committee. This is simply not done.
LAMB: How much money do they spend?
WEINER:Roughly $7 billion to $8 billion a year. And this stuff needs to be debated. Let me give you an example why. A few weeks back you remember the Hubble Space Telescope, a $1.5 billion NASA program, experienced some technical difficulties in space. Well, that's a subject of important debate, and we need to make sure that such mistakes aren't repeated. All right.
Around the same time a $1.3 billion National Reconnaissance Office satellite tumbled out of orbit, burned up over Soviet airspace and disintegrated. You'll hear no debate about it. You won't see any public investigation of that expensive mistake because of the secrecy surrounding the National Reconnaissance Office.
LAMB: How much press has there been about it?
WEINER:Damn little -- little shirttails.
LAMB: How come?
WEINER:Because public information on the expenditures of public funds -- or what were public funds and have been hidden under the black umbrella -- is curtailed.
LAMB: What's that term you just used, shirttails?
WEINER:Oh, a shirttail is a little additional story of three paragraphs or so at the end of a larger newspaper story. It's sort of an "Oh, by the way."
LAMB: In the story or separate headlines?
WEINER:Separate -- little separate subheadline.
LAMB: All right. On the list here you have Gordon Adams and Stephen Alexis Cain of the Defense Budget Project. What did they do for you?
WEINER:Right around the corner. These are folks who've devoted their careers to doing cost analysis of Pentagon programs. They're non-partisan. They are working for more efficient spending of the defense dollar. And they were expert in Pentagon budgeting processes, and they provided me, again, with the benefit of their experience.
LAMB: Where do they get their money?
WEINER:I believe, again, they're funded by non-partisan foundations.
LAMB: What makes them so expert?
LAMB: Where do they get the experience?
WEINER:From years of taking apart Pentagon budgets and analyzing them.
LAMB: Have any of them ever worked inside the Pentagon, or do you need to in order to understand this stuff?
WEINER:I think it helps. And they certainly are in contact with a number of people inside the Pentagon who give them guidance, in turn. I think what you need is a clear eye, a pocket calculator and a sense of history, for starters.
LAMB: I've got some others I want to ask you about. You paint a picture of a Pentagon full of people that are on the phone every day to these different groups giving them insider information. No?
WEINER:It doesn't work that way. Again, these folks work, as I worked, with the public documents of the Pentagon. It's not a matter of sort of leaking information that should be classified. You simply analyze what's public and proceed to ask questions from there. And folks who will give you answers do so not out of a desire to spread secrets or do damage certainly to this country -- certainly not -- but out of a genuine concern that large sums of money are going down a rat hole. And in this instance, what I try to focus on in the early chapters of the book are the secret research and development and procurement of nuclear war technologies, of the equipment with which to fight and, the Pentagon presumes, win a nuclear war.
LAMB: Again, your premise is that $36 billion a year in the last three years of the Reagan administration and the first year or two of the Bush administration is being hidden from the American people and spent on weapons in the Defense Department.
WEINER:Oh, and on the intelligence budget.
LAMB: What's the CIA budget every year?
WEINER:The CIA's budget is running in the $4 billion range. That budget is dwarfed by two much larger and much more expensive intelligence agencies: the National Security Agency, which can do electronic eavesdropping around the world and whose budget is in excess of $12 billion a year, and the National Reconnaissance Office that we talked about, whose budget runs in excess of $7 billion to $8 billion a year. All in all, the budget for intelligence is in excess of $25 billion a year. And the remainder of the black budget, in the $10 billion range, is for weapons and war technologies.
LAMB: How much of that $25 billion can be seen in a budget -- in the federal budget sent out by the president? Any of it?
WEINER:Not a lot.
LAMB: How much of it is ever discussed publicly at the Congress in one way or the other?
WEINER:Very, very little.
LAMB: How many members of Congress know about $25 billion being spent on intelligence?
WEINER:The heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee and of the House Intelligence Committee have a good overview of how that money is spent. The
junior members generally are in on -- when they have time for it, because these are busy people -- whatever testimony the folks from the various agencies deliver in closed session.
LAMB: Isn't that the way democracy's supposed to work?
WEINER:In closed session? Absolutely not.
LAMB: Public officials elected by the public, sent here to do the public's business know this information, deal with it in committee, but it's because of our concerns about international governments knowing this kind of stuff that they withhold from the public?
WEINER:Again, I do not argue in this book, and no one in his right mind would argue, that the Constitution demands the disclosure of intelligence sources or methods. Nor do I argue that the Pentagon should be compelled to disclose technologies it's working on or state-of-the-art designs. But the money -- it's supposed to, under the scheme devised by the framers of the Constitution, be reported to the public. With the intelligence budget, in the past three different sort of commissions or investigative bodies have looked at this question -- the Rockefeller Commission set up by President Ford in the wake of CIA abuses being disclosed; the Senate Intelligence Committee; and the Church Committee that looked into various abuses of secret spending in the '70s -- all concluded that the disclosure of a lump sum, an aggregate sum for the national intelligence budget would, a) not harm national security and b) is the kind of information that ought to be available in an open democracy.
When it comes to weapons systems, the line items for individual weapons systems, that is surely information that ought to be available to us. And Les Aspin, who's hardly a wild-eyed leftist, is on record as agreeing with that.
LAMB: You say he's hardly a wild-eyed leftist. He's a Democrat from Wisconsin.
WEINER:True. That doesn't make him some sort of radical. I said he's hardly a wild-eyed leftist. This is a man who is in the mainstream of American politics -- Les Aspin.
LAMB: Used to work in the Pentagon?
WEINER:I believe he did, as a matter of fact, work for Secretary of Defense McNamara in the '60s. He's an economist by profession. The man knows the value of a defense dollar.
LAMB: You've got some more people I want to ask you about.
LAMB: The last three -- Jeffrey Richelson, Jeff Nason, and Steve Galster of the National Security Archive.
WEINER:Archive. Yeah. This is a fascinating depository of declassified documents that's an invaluable resource to researchers in Washington, again, set up with foundation money. It functions -- for example, say I get several thousand pages of declassified documents through the Freedom of Information Act. I, after plundering them for whatever information I want, can give them to the National Security Archive. And then other researchers and historians and reporters have access to those papers. And what the Archive does is, in effect, collate and index the declassified documents of the government in a way that really is unique. It will be of great value to future historians of this era.
LAMB: Who pays the bill for the National Security Archive?
WEINER:Again, they receive funding from organizations like -- although I'm not positive -- the Ford Foundation, Stewart Mott, sort of "good government" philanthropies.
LAMB: And what's the expertise of the three people -- Steve Galster, Jeff Nason and Jeffrey Richelson?
WEINER:Archivists, indexers, researchers. Richelson has been a professor of government at American University and has written half a dozen excellent books on the structure and history of American intelligence agencies.
LAMB: What do you say to the critics on the right that are going to read that list and say, "Just another list of liberals, anti-military, anti-big government groups that are feeding Tim Weiner this information"?
WEINER:First of all, the information they're feeding me and helping me interpret are the records of the government, all right? There's no spin on this. My approach to the problem of secret spending is that the Constitution calls for a full accounting of how the government spends our tax money and that the black budget's growth and scope is a challenge to that promise. I believe that we have, under the veil of excessive secrecy, squandered a great deal of our national treasure on weaponry that will prove useless and on foreign policy schemes, such as the Iran-Contra affair, that have shamed our nation, and that in the tug-of-war between secrecy and democracy, that we need a little tug back towards openness.
LAMB: The dedication page, "To Herbert and Dora, with love.
WEINER:My parents. They taught me to love words and ideas and language.
LAMB: What do they do think of all that you're involved in?
WEINER:They're proud. They're proud. I mean, they write books, too. And it was my mother, who's a historian by profession, who first inculcated me with the value of digging up documents.
LAMB: I've got The New York Times from Sunday.
LAMB: Actually, this is being taped, so this was Sunday, September the -- let me find it here so that those people that like to get the ...
WEINER:Sixteenth, I believe.
LAMB: You're right, 16th. Thirty-Six Billion Worth of Secrets reviewed by Lawrence Korb, who used to be an assistant secretary of defense, now at the Brookings.
LAMB: "Mr. Weiner does an excellent job of describing the history of the creation of the black budget and pointing out the abuses that can occur when public disclosure is limited. 'Blank Check' should be read for that reason alone." So far so good. Then he says, "However, in too many places he undermines the impact of his thesis with his simplistic analysis. For example, he treats all the abuses of the black budget equally. A group of Army colonels spending black budget money on hookers, personal trips and four-star hotels is hardly a threat to our national security and not on a par with the Iran-Contra affair, yet both episodes get equal treatment."
WEINER:Well, with due respect to Mr. Korb, I tried to delineate a difference in the book between the violation of law and the violation of Army regulations in the first instance and a challenge to the Constitution of the United States in the second instance. In the second incidence, the Iran-Contra affair, I tried to make that delineation clear, and I'm sorry if I didn't make it clear enough for him.
LAMB: By the way, how much money is being spent for hookers and four-star hotels?
WEINER:Well, this was a case in which the US Army tried to create kind of a hard-charging brigade of secret soldiers. There was going to be kind of a hybrid of the Green Beret and the CIA. And what happened was that this cadre gained access to unauthorized funds, $324 million worth, before they were shut down. And you had a situation -- this is based on records released through the Freedom of Information Act of the Army's own investigation of this affair. You had soldiers in mufti running around with suitcases filled with cash, kind of running their own agenda. And the secretary of the Army from 1981 to '89, John Marsh, characterized the affair as the precursor of the Iran-Contra affair. I certainly don't mean to give the impression that the violations of laws and Army regulations -- these gentlemen were court-martialed in secret. It ...
WEINER:Why were they court-martialed?
LAMB: In secret.
WEINER:Because their existence was supposed to be a secret. It was the first secret court martials -- courts martial, I'm sorry -- since Vietnam, in almost 20 years. I did not mean to convey the impression that their violation of federal law and Army regulations was equal to or greater than the constitutional challenges that Iran-Contra presented. What I did mean to present -- and the secretary of the Army in that era, John Marsh, says so himself, as I quoted him in my book -- I did mean to present this incidence as a precursor to the Iran-Contra affair.
LAMB: One other line I'm going to ask you about in Lawrence Korb's review. By the way, what'd you think of the review?
WEINER:I thought he was generous in places. I think that he has every right to disagree with my analysis. I think that he is a wise gentleman and that his experience with the Pentagon may color his perception of my book.
LAMB: "Mr. Weiner mixes so many questions in his book, it will have less impact than his articles."
WEINER:Well, if it had an equal impact to my articles and it was awarded the kind of recognition the articles were, I'd be shocked myself. I think that -- well, first of all, I disagree that I've conflated questions of law or constitutionality or of government secrecy in this book. Mr. Korb seems to suggest in his review that -- he concedes, for example, "Yes, too much is classified. Yes, there were many blank checks in the Reagan administration. Yes, there needs to be greater disclosure of what the government classifies as secret."
What he seems to want is a kind of a convivial consensus between the executive and the legislative branches of government that will allow just the right amount of secrecy to protect our national security and that could happen. But it does not. It is not the case. There is, and will continue to be, a struggle between the desire of the executive branch to increase its powers under the national security vision, first framed in the early days of the Cold War, and the desire of the elected representatives for greater disclosure. This is what makes democracy a wonderful dogfight -- is this continuing tug-of-war. The vision of comity that will allow just the right amount of secrecy out that Mr. Korb envisions is not the way things are.
LAMB: You wrote your newspaper articles in '88?
WEINER:They were published in '87.
LAMB: In '87. You now have a book in 1990.
LAMB: You say you got a couple of prizes. One out of this particular one, the Pulitzer Prize. Has there been any other tangible effect on the ...
WEINER:You know, I hope so. And I would not attribute it to my articles back in '87, but to a slew of other reporting by a cadre of reporters and to the Iran-Contra investigation itself. I think that we go through cycles of corruption and reform in this country. And that what happened when the Iran-Contra affair fell apart was that we saw -- and this was the conclusion of the majority report of the Iran-Contra committees -- I believe their phrase was "A cabal of zealots had stolen a great deal of political power in this country, and they attributed their theft of that constitutional power to excessive secrecy." I think that that was an accurate analysis, and I think that now as we begin, by consensus, to push some of these weapons programs into the light to examine them for what they are, that an intelligent result will occur. But you cannot argue about stuff that's classified at the level that the stealth bomber was. You cannot debate it. And so decisions get made without sufficient information. Programs tend to perpetuate themselves without informed debate.
LAMB: How much of all of what you're talking about in the black budget should be kept secret no matter what?
WEINER:Intelligence sources and methods. You don't want, for example, to know that a head of state is on the CIA's payroll.
LAMB: Are there many?
WEINER:Well, in the '70s, Jordan's King Hussein was on the CIA's payroll. That's been publicly acknowledged by the United States government. You don't want to disclose the ways in which intelligence is gathered because that will cut off the flow of the intelligence. What you need to do, given the economic trouble we find ourselves in, in this country, is make intelligent choices of how we spend our money, and we cannot write a blank check to the Pentagon or to the intelligence agencies. There has to be some level of informed debate about the level of spending secret weapons and secret programs soak up in this country.
Let me give you an example. I'm able to write about and we're able to discuss the stealth bomber because it's been partly declassified, after 10 years of secret research and development. Now we have at this hour, as we speak, on the 18th of September, a serious, serious need for defense strength in the Persian Gulf. The stealth bomber, designed for nuclear war against the Soviet Union, is so expensive that one of them would support an entire division of troops in the Saudi desert for a year. You've got to have ...
LAMB: Which costs how much?
WEINER:Nine hundred million dollars. You've got to be able to make intelligent choices. We're going around the world with our hat in our hand, seeking money from foreign governments to support this mission, because we have dedicated so much of our treasure, so much of our brainpower to these highly-costly, dubiously-valued nuclear war technologies. We can now, because of its declassification, debate whether we need a stealth bomber. But there are 100 other nuclear war technologies buried in the black budget about which there can be no debate.
LAMB: A hundred others.
WEINER:Related nuclear war technologies.
LAMB: Give us an example.
WEINER:Well, one that's just peeking its nose out into the light is the MILSTAR satellite system, which I write about at length in "Blank Check."
LAMB: By the way, before you explain that, when was the last word written for this book?
WEINER:The afterward was rewritten in May of 1990.
LAMB: And previous to that, when did you stop writing the book?
WEINER:About a year ago, the fall of 1989 -- other than revisions for clarity and updates, while the book was being edited by the publisher.
LAMB: Why did it take so long to get a book out of the ...?
WEINER:It always takes nine months from the submission of a manuscript -- or it traditionally takes nine months from the submission of a manuscript to the appearance of a book.
LAMB: Anybody ever tell you why? I heard that so often. What's the nine month thing?
WEINER:It beats me. It's a baffling process. Perhaps it goes back to the gestation of a fetus in the womb.
LAMB: We'll come back to MILSTAR in just a second. This book is published by Warner Books at $21.95.
LAMB: If you could have, would you have changed anything in here after what happened over in the Gulf? Did that have any impact on -- in other words, people who buy this book today, will it be out of date in any way?
WEINER:Oh, no, I don't think so. The weapons systems that I discuss in the book are weapons systems geared for a full-tilt nuclear war against the Soviet Union. Those weapons systems still exist; they're still in the budget. We continue to build them as if the events of the last 18 months had never happened. Congress, as we speak, is weighing the value of these programs. But I believe that the information is fresh and the events of the last six weeks in the Persian Gulf in no way alter the facts or the conclusions.
LAMB: I'm sorry. MILSTAR.
WEINER:OK. A classic example of a military system developed under the black budget. It's now just been declassified enough so that we can discuss it intelligently. MILSTAR is an acronym. It's short for the Military Strategic Tactical and Relay System. Imagine the network as a constellation of eight to 10 satellites in space, in geosynchronous orbit, 22,300 miles from Earth, linked by 3,000 to 4,000 ground stations on Earth, kind of computer terminals, broadcast dishes.
The purpose of MILSTAR is to enable the survivors of the national command authority, the president and his top military aides, the survivors of the first days and weeks of a nuclear war, to continue to broadcast the go codes and launch orders for the firing of nuclear weaponry after the Pentagon, after the White House, after Washington, after strategic air command headquarters in Omaha are destroyed. MILSTAR would weave together our fragmented forces so that the war envisioned could continue and the United States would emerge victorious from a six-month nuclear war. That was the design requirement under which MILSTAR was built. And its cost, once you include the cost of the rockets to launch the satellites and the various reconfigurations of the electronic network, will be somewhere in the $30 billion to $40 billion range.
LAMB: Why is it becoming public?
WEINER:Because it a) is so expensive that it's very difficult to hide in the black budget. The request for next year's appropriation is more than $1 billion. Two, it has to be sold because it is controversial, because it is tremendously expensive. It has to be sold in the political marketplace. It has to be sold to Congress as a whole. This was the case with the Strategic Defense Initiative, Star Wars. Star Wars was largely kept out of the black world, although some of its component parts are very highly classified, because it was so radical a notion that it had to be sold in the political marketplace. This is why many people in the Pentagon don't like black programs because you can't talk about them; you can't sell them. And it's inimical to good science to have compartmentalization of different parts of a very complicated military program, to have the people working on different aspects of it kept from talking to one another.
LAMB: Former President James Madison, former Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, former Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, former President Dwight Eisenhower, Lord Acton -- all of these people are quoted throughout your book. Are you sure you're not a political scientist rather than a journalist dealing with ...
WEINER:Never took a political science course in my life.
LAMB: Why do you ...
WEINER:But I do love to read.
LAMB: In the opening pages here, you use a quote from Hugo Black: "The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our republic," United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black from Alabama, who is also a senator. Why did you quote him?
WEINER:I couldn't agree with him more, first of all. Second of all, that statement comes from one of the great confrontations in our constitutional history between the government and the press, which was the Pentagon Papers case. And the Supreme Court ruled, precisely as Justice Black said, that if you're going to set up a balancing test between the guarding of official secrets and the functioning of an informed representative government, you got to give more weight to public information. And I think failure to follow that dictate gets this nation into trouble.
LAMB: I forgot to mention one world-famous philosopher, Bill Richardson.
LAMB: Well, he gets a whole chapter; chapter nine.
WEINER:He gets the bulk of the last chapter of the book.
WEINER:Bill Richardson is a delightful man, now in his 70s, and a true patriot who became the focus of one of the most interesting and one of the least-known Supreme Court cases of the 1970s. Bill served this country in World War II and in the Korean War. He served in various military intelligence and communications capacities. The man loves this country. He knows the value of secret intelligence. One day in 1967 he picked up his morning paper and read that the CIA was funding student groups and subsidizing trade unions in this country. Bill knows how the CIA is supposed to work, and Bill knows his Constitution. And he thought correctly that the CIA was
violating its charter.
Bill put down the newspaper and sat down to his typewriter and wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, to the Department of the Treasury and to the Bureau of the Budget, and said, "I believe that I have a right as a citizen, a taxpayer and a voter to know how my money is being spent, and I'd like to see a copy of the CIA's budget." They wrote back to him and said, "Mr. Richardson, we don't have it." He, after extended correspondence, went down to the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh, near where he lived, and filed a very well-drawn-up lawsuit against the federal government seeking the information he believed he had a right to have. He was opposed in court by the then United States attorney in western Pennsylvania, Richard Thornburgh, now the Attorney General of the United States.
In the district court he lost. He appealed. He went to the federal appeals court and he won. The appeals court sitting on bank, meaning every sitting justice in the appeals court heard the case because it addressed a heretofore unresolved question of federal law ...
LAMB: What appeals court, again?
WEINER:That's the Third Circuit, sitting in Philadelphia said that Richardson did have the right to this information and that the Constitution promised it to him, and that he, as a citizen and a voter and a taxpayer, had the absolute right to seek the information promised him. That decision came down in 1971 when government secrecy in this country was at its zenith and government deception in this country was at its height. That deception eventually resulted in the resignation of a president.
The government sat up and took judicial notice of Mr. Richardson's victory in the appeals court and appealed the decision. It went to the Supreme Court in 1973. Robert Bork was then the solicitor general. The decision in the case came down in '74, right before Richard Nixon's resignation. Richardson lost five-to-four. Chief Justice Burger, writing the majority opinion, said, "Look, the United States is not an Athenian democracy; it is not a New England town meeting. And we don't have to listen to every Tom, Dick and Harry with a constitutional beef." Justice Douglas, in a fiery dissent, said, "Richardson has the right to this information, and by denying it to him by a five-to-four vote, we give a new imprimatur to government secrecy--to excessive government secrecy." In many ways, I wrote this book for William Richardson.
LAMB: Where is he today?
WEINER:He's living in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
LAMB: And what's he doing?
WEINER:He's reading. He's in retirement. He's 72, I guess. And he is continuing to think about the issues that he raised long ago. For every famous victory in the Supreme Court, there are 100 people like Bill Richardson.
LAMB: How did you find him?
WEINER:By knowing the case.
LAMB: How did you know the case?
WEINER:It's a classic in the confrontation between excessive secrecy and the democracy promised by the Constitution.
LAMB: Our guest for the last hour has been the author of this book, "Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget." His name is Tim Weiner, and he works for the Philadelphia Inquirer and is based here in Washington.
WEINER:It's been a pleasure. Thank you.
LAMB: Thank you, sir.
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