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What is a Black Budget?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
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A black budget refers to a non-disclosed, classified portion of a budget. Most often, the term is applied to military and defense spending in which the specifics are kept secret in order to preserve the security of the operation. With secrecy a priority, the truth and fiction behind a black budget are often elusive, leading to considerable speculation and many unusual theories about government and corporate expenditures.

The purpose of a black budget for military and defense operations is fairly simple: it's difficult to keep technological and strategic advances a secret if they are published in a public budget. While in some countries, like the United States, Congress may need to approve the amount of the black budget for the military, members are often kept in the dark about what specifically, is being funded through the budget. Not surprisingly, this level of secrecy leads to some outrage among citizens, as well as accusations that an undisclosed, undocumented operation such as a black budget has the potential for corruption. Nevertheless, black budgets are deemed by some to be critical for military safety and security.

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Specific examples of black budget expenditures are naturally difficult to come by, but general areas of spending often include weapons acquisition, research, and intelligence projects. Some technological developments known to originate with black budget funding include the B-2 Bomber and many types of reconnaissance aircraft and satellites. Long-persisting theories insist that black budgets manage the study of extraterrestrial life found on Earth, but little direct or universally accepted evidence supports these theories.

A black budget may also be used to fund black operations, or "black ops." These are secret military or paramilitary operations that often avoid standard rules of engagement, and may even skirt international treaties such as the Geneva convention. In 2007, the United States declassified dozens of Cold War-era black ops projects that included assassination attempts of world leaders, illegal wiretapping, and other technically illegal operations.

In order to maintain some sense of budget transparency, governments that acknowledge a black budget may disclose the yearly amount, but not the specifics, of the planned budget. While this may reassure taxpayers about the percentage of their income going to support various black projects, it also stokes the fires of theory about current and ongoing projects financed through the secretive funds. Though black budgets remain a controversial topic in many regions, the history of covert and secretive government operations is unlikely to cease. From a historical perspective, it is only within the last few centuries that governments have been required to disclose any budget information whatsoever, while espionage, secret military research, and surprise warfare technology have been a part of government operations since the days of the Trojan Horse.

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