Pentagon's secret spending is way up — and contractors are cashing in
U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks to the press during a press conference at the Pentagon Briefing Room in Washington, D.C., Jan. 7, 2020. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)

Defense spending has long been the biggest portion of America's discretionary spending budget — a fact that rankles both noninterventionists and liberals who would prefer the money be used for purposes like health care and education.

But to make matters worse, according to the Washington Post, the amount of defense spending that is classified — with its purpose totally undisclosed to the public — is on the rise. And the private defense contractors who get a large chunk of this money are making bank off of it.

Two of the largest defense contractors in the United States, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, both report double-digit growth in "restricted" spending. Such classified work accounts for more than a quarter of Northrop Grumman's business.

"Our customers are increasingly focused on rapidly evolving multi-domain peer threats in areas like space, hypersonics and missile defense," said Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden in an investor call. "Our growing share of restricted work demonstrates that our customers are turning to Northrop Grumman for these capabilities."

According to the Post, the trend — which started under President Barack Obama's administration and has continued under President Donald Trump — has been to reduce the priority of anti-terrorism activity, and shift focus to experimental new technologies that will give the U.S. military an edge over hostile foreign powers. This includes "developing new advanced weaponry, finding new ways to protect spy satellites from harm and embracing artificial intelligence."

Part of the reason this has been such a boon to a handful of companies is that only a few such contractors can get security clearance to work on these sorts of projects. Overseas defense contractors, for example, are generally not eligible.

All of this is part and parcel of what some argue is a culture of over-classification. "We’re just so over-classified it’s ridiculous, just unbelievably ridiculous," said Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten at an Air Force Association event.