I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me

by lestro

So this week the New York Times has a cool article about patches made for secret military organizations as a team-building, frat boy, secret-handshake-and-head-nod sort of things, with the obvious nerdly tinges that comes with being scientists:

Wizards appear on several patches. The one hurling lightning bolts comes from a secret Air Force base at Groom Lake, northwest of Las Vegas in a secluded valley. Mr. Paglen identifies its five clustered stars and one separate star as a veiled reference to Area 51, where the government tests advanced aircraft and, U.F.O. buffs say, captured alien spaceships….

A patch from a Groom Lake unit shows the letter sigma with the “buster” slash running through it, as in the movie “Ghost Busters.” “Huge Deposit — No Return” reads its caption. Huge Deposit, Mr. Paglen writes, “indicates the bomb load deposited by the bomber on its target, while ‘No Return’ refers to the absence of a radar return, meaning the aircraft was undetectable to radar.”

In an interview, Mr. Paglen said his favorite patch was the dragon holding the Earth in its claws, its wings made of American flags and its mouth wide open, baring its fangs. He said it came from the National Reconnaissance Office, which oversees developing spy satellites. “There’s something both belligerent and weirdly self-critical about it,” he remarked. “It’s representing the U.S. as a dragon with the whole world in its clutches.”

but one of the best really is this beauty, “worn by DC-130 flight crews testing the Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missiles, known as Killer Whale cruise missiles. The control planes were Nos. 716 and 526.”

The story is ostensibly about a book (“I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me”) that looks at these patches and the behind-the-scenes world of organizations that officially don’t exist:

It is, according to a new book, part of the hidden reality behind the Pentagon’s classified, or “black,” budget that delivers billions of dollars to stealthy armies of high-tech warriors. The book offers a glimpse of this dark world through a revealing lens — patches — the kind worn on military uniforms.

“It’s a fresh approach to secret government,” Steven Aftergood, a security expert at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said in an interview. “It shows that these secret programs have their own culture, vocabulary and even sense of humor.”

The classified budget of the Defense Department, concealed from the public in all but outline, has nearly doubled in the Bush years, to $32 billion. That is more than the combined budgets of the Food and Drug Administration, the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Those billions have expanded a secret world of advanced science and technology in which military units and federal contractors push back the frontiers of warfare. In the past, such handiwork has produced some of the most advanced jets, weapons and spy satellites, as well as notorious boondoggles.

Budget documents tell little. This year, for instance, the Pentagon says Program Element 0603891c is receiving $196 million but will disclose nothing about what the project does. Private analysts say it apparently aims at developing space weapons.

Be sure to check out the slide show to get a look (and explanation) at some of the other patches:

Plus, for a deeper look at specifically space programs, check out The Space Review’s “Secrets and Signs.

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