The Military/Industrial Complex and Secrecy

One reason the Military/Industrial/Congressional Complex* does the stupid things it does, is because it’s able to keep its mistakes secret. If you really want to lose track of $600 billion, like the pentagon has, the best way to do it is to classify the research, then lose the paper-work.

Extremely expensive toilet seats are actually not the problem (there’s a reason for the toilet seat!**) it’s entire programs that are undertaken just to see if something relatively pointless, works. Like the famous “Men Who Stare At Goats” program – some of these ideas are crackpotty and even seem crackpotty, but if you have billions of dollars to spend, and no accountability, you may as well fund your old high school buddy’s company that wants to research whether bats can be weaponized to carry bombs, or if an iceberg can be weaponized into an aircraft carrier.



Oh, boy, I can see it already: Kailua Hawaii. Now that’s a hardship post from hell!

If we could only think of some way to deploy variable-geometry stealth surface vehicles (e.g.: surfboards) in the project.


I am picturing the consternation of the whales. A submarine is trying to talk to a ship, and simulates a whale that sounds like the Donald Trump of whales, talking to the George Bush of whales. In other words, a great big whale underwater WTF. It’s secure: the whales would never figure out what that big mechanical thing is trying to say.

Meanwhile, the navy has now graciously agreed to stop midfrequency sonar testing, because it turns out that whales and other creatures that use sonar, are harmed by mechanically amplified sonar. Who’d’a thunk!


We must break down the presumption that the state must act in secret. The political process in theory has things like the Senate Intelligence Committee that is supposed to oversee covert actions and covert expenditures on infrastructure. Of course, as Chuck Spinney points out, there’s always so much money involved that nobody attracted to work that particular problem is incorruptible.


(* Chuck Spinney adds the “Congressional” to Eisenhower’s term, because he recognizes that congress is a willing and active participant in its own corruption.)

(** Read “The Yard: Building a Destroyer at Bath Iron Works” by Michael Sanders which goes into why an Arleigh Burke-class missile boat has $16,000 toilet seats. Spoiler: some of the heads are tiny little spaces carved out of other spaces, and are irregular-shaped, so they have irregular-shaped toilet seats and irregular-shaped toilets, too!)

[1]Project Combo at Governmentattic

Jon Ronson “The Men Who Stare At Goats” (amazon)

Project Habakkuk: iceberg as aircraft carrier (“Habakkuk” is the original Kif word for “underpants.”)

Science: US Navy to Limit Sonar Testing to Protect Whales


  1. says

    It’s a pretty common belief that the 16 grand toilet seats and 10 grand screwdrivers are actually ways of hiding how big the US military et al’ black budget is.

  2. Jessie Harban says

    If the state isn’t hopelessly corrupt, it has nothing to fear from complete transparency.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    As I strongly suspect our esteemed host knows, serious attempts were made at weaponized bats and iceberg airbases during World War II.

    Given the ubiquitous eaves of Japanese architecture, the idea of time-released thermite fastened to the legs of bats to be dropped from airplanes over cities shortly before sundown must’ve seemed irresistible to US planners. They duly authorized an experiment, which proved the efficacy of the concept by (unintentionally) torching an Army base in Texas: irate officers de-authorized further development.

    The runways-on-icebergs idea would’ve died on the drawing board, except that it came from an influential chap named Winston something; am not sure how many improvised icedozers and drivers were lost before reports went to Downing Street about the advantages of using steel for such purposes.

    Perhaps if bows were more expensive, Vannevar Bush’s brainstorm of archery-snipers would have gotten a better trial.

  4. says

    Jessie Harban@#2:
    You, me, and Voltaire agree. Once the state starts to act in secret (Voltaire called it “secret diplomacy”) it will eventually go out of control.

    In a democracy (not that the US is one…) it’s contradictory for “we the people” to keep a secret from “we the people” – democracies should only act with the approval of a plurality of the population, otherwise you get a stealth oligarchy like the US.

  5. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#3:
    I knew about the bats and the iceberg carrier, before. The tale of the iceberg carrier (linked in my OP) is pretty darned interesting! I didn’t realize the bats managed to score some “own goals” like that.

    It’s funny because apparently the military was trying to perfect weird weapons that were “anything but insurgency” and now we know that insurgency techniques are vastly more effective than even conventional military occupation. Perhaps certain powers-that-be were afraid of teaching the people how to run insurgencies, for reasons that should be obvious.

  6. says

    It’s perfectly possible to draw a ship that uses standard marine toilets. The fact that the guys who drew the Arleigh Burke didn’t bother is a symptom. If the budget is infinity and the oversight is nil, why would I unwind 20 minutes of drafting work to try again? I’ll just specify a custom made toilet.

    Honestly, the US military would be well served by commanders who were more willing to shoot people who can’t come up with sensible answers.