The men and women who work in our country’s most classified weapons and intelligence R&D programs—the New York Times calls them "stealthy armies of high-tech warriors"—have developed their own culture, complete with inside humor. That's on display in a new a book by Trevor Paglen on their patches—the kind worn on uniforms—which feature aliens, dragons, ghosts, and superbabes.
Secret Pentagon programs ballooned after 9/11, around the time Dick Cheney publicly said that the US was going to have to “spend time in the shadows.” The Pentagon’s "black budget" is now $32 billion, bigger than that of the FDA, NASA, and the NSF combined. The patches, made to boost unit cohesion or perhaps to bond over shared knowledge that must be vigorously kept secret, provide a rare glimpse into that world. (Read more classified information stories.)