By Katie Drummond
Make no mistake: The Pentagon’s got plenty of secrets you probably don’t even want to know about. But there are at least a handful they likely wish had stayed a bit more covert.
Some of ’em have been talked about for years — and new intel is still creeping out. Old documents from the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program, which plied unwitting participants with mind-altering drugs, have been released as recently as last year. And the Pentagon Papers, officially declassified just this past summer, reveal disturbing details about U.S. activities during in the Vietnam War.
Try as they might, it seems top brass just can’t keep every classified program entirely under wraps. And in this Internet era, it’s arguable that we know more than ever about their covert activities. A combination of insider leaks, sly reporting and grainy photographs — all distributed online — have shed plenty of light on some of the military’s biggest secrets. From stealth helicopters to undisclosed prisons, check out nine recent Pentagon programs you never should have been privy to.
The Navy’s Souped-Up Sub
It’s the most covert submarine in the American arsenal. Since the sub’s 2004 launch, experts have speculated that USS Jimmy Carter was designed with classified spy missions in mind. Allegedly, the sub is able to slip into enemy ports undetected and even tap into the underwater fiber-optics of foes to listen in on undersea chatter. USS Jimmy Carter may have done just that last year, when it was quietly deployed to spy on North Korea — one of the only known missions the sub has ever taken.
What else can USS Jimmy Carter, one of the Navy’s three Seawolf-class Submarines, accomplish?Nobody’s quite sure, because Navy officials haven’t commented on exactly what kinds of tech the seafarer is equipped with. But the Jimmy Carter does boast unprecedented hull space, to store unmanned aerial and undersea vehicles for whatever deadly missions our former president’s namesake needs to embark on.
Photo: Department of Defense
The Air Force’s Secret Space Plane
The Air Force’s experimental X-37B space plane has been orbiting the planet since last April. What exactly the 29-foot, fully robotic X-37B is doing up there? Much to the irritation of other nations, no one has any idea.
Officials have said the spacecraft is designed to conduct orbital science experiments, but experts outside the Air Force speculate that X-37B is capable of doing much more than that. The craft might be hauling supplies to the International Space Station, tampering with enemy satellites or even doing some sky-high super sleuthing on our Earthly foes. Whatever the X-37B is up to, no one’s quite sure when the aircraft’s mission will come to an end: Air Force officials in November extended the X-37B’s mysterious orbit indefinitely.
Video: U.S. Air Force Space Command
America’s Osama-Killing Helicopter
From specially-trained SEALS to heaps of classified surveillance, the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden couldn’t have been stealthier. Months later, plenty of of the secretive details have been pieced together. One mystery that remains? The identity of the far-out helicopter American operatives were flying.
When photos emerged of a chopper that had crashed during the raid, experts were miffed: A shield to silence the helo’s rotor, along with special windshield coating to deflect detection radar, indicated that this ‘copter was unlike anything in the military’s arsenal. Most importantly, the apparent primacy of undetectable airflight suggested that the American government was wary of interference as operatives flew through the airspace of our alleged anti-Osama ally, Pakistan.
America’s Secret Afghan Prisons
Pentagon officials swore they weren’t operating a single covert detention center in Afghanistan. They stressed that Obama’s 2009 executive order to ban “Black Site” detention centers was being upheld. And of course, officials told reporters and human rights organizations, there was absolutely no detainee abuse going on at any Afghan site.
That may not have been the case. In a blockbuster story published earlier this year, Associated Press reporter Kimberly Dozier revealed 20 secret Afghan detention centers, all run by the elite Joint Special Operations Command. Detainees were allegedly punched, kept in cold, constantly lit solitary confinement and stripped nude, among other abuses. Sadly, rumors of hushed-up, violent detention centers add to the lengthy list of alleged torture committed by U.S. personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
Photo: U.S. Air Force