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Blank Check by Tim Weiner

Blank Check (1990)

by Tim Weiner

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Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Tim Weiner, whose new book, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, promises to be "a credible and damning indictment of American intelligence policy," according to Publisher's Weekly, almost 20 years earlier wrote Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget, a horrifying yet gripping look at how "black" -- or secret -- programs consume billions in public funds without the oversight of Congress or any public deliberation. The book is based upon the series he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer that earned him the Pulitzer.
Writing toward the end of the Cold War, Weiner substantiates his argument that black programs, which started two months before Pearl Harbor, have grown into a shady tradition that insults democracy. "The black budget is the President's secret treasury," Weiner writes in his opening. "It funds every program the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence want to keep hidden from public view. ... This money is kept off the books, erased from the public ledger. The secret weapons, secret wars and secret policies it pays for are shielded from public debate."
Weiner allows that the public would find certain programs passable if justified, but that others would not pass muster. He writes: "People might wonder at a $20 billion military satellite system designed to coordinate a six-month nuclear war."
While details he provides to disgusting cases of fraud that emerged from enormously expensive, tax-funded projects transpiring entirely in secret are convincing, most frightening is his methodical demonstration of how constitutional questions are subverted in the "legal netherworld" of black funding.
During the Cold War, he notes, members of Congress "wound up legislating in the dark." The Soviet threat, he writes, "took precedence over constitutional questions at home."
Weiner also demonstrates how secret budgets do more than skirt legal inquiry; secret budgets give rise to ghastly foreign policies:
"The National Security Act itself said nothing about the CIA's power to conduct espionage or paramilitary actions or secret wars. Nothing in the legislative history shows that Congress intended to give the Agency that power. But a loophole in the law gave the CIA authority to 'perform such other functions and duties ... as the National Security Council may from time to time direct.' From that open-ended phrase sprang more than a thousand covert actions over forty years -- revolutionary acts that subverted governments, conspirational acts that led to assassinations and attempted assassinations, violent acts that over time contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of people."
Two cases on which Weiner focuses include the mortifying plight of the Stealth bomber -- which ended up costing $825 million per plane and nurtured a confounding spectacle of fraud -- and the gross web of lies that grew with the government-sanctioned movement of arms to the contras despite a congressional ban -- and for which no one has ever been held accountable: "The lies shielded the workings of a secret government," Weiner writes. "What went on within it was impenetrable to the laws of the United States."
Weiner's argument is alarming and remains highly relevant today: "We as a nation can decide freely to spend our sweat and our genius and our treasure on weapons and wars. We cannot do so in secret and still claim our uniqueness as an open democracy. From the creation of the atomic bomb through the building of the Stealth bomber, from the covert funding of the CIA's secret wars through the clandestine conspiracies of the Iran-contra fiasco, the costs of secrecy have been high. We the people pay the highest price. ... [W]ithout the right to know we are without power." -- Jeanie Straub
1 vote jeaniestraub | Dec 18, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0446514527, Hardcover)

Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles, this is a thorough, astonishing expose of the "Black Budget"--a 36-billion-dollar cache used by the Pentagon to fund its own agenda of top-secret weapons and wars.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:28 -0400)

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