US DoD Program Element Codes Decoder Ring


I don’t read The Drive. The Drive reads me.
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6 August 2007
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Andreas, this seemed to be the place to put this, but if you disagree I'll be happy to post in The Bar or elsewhere.

IF you have been tracing your way through the DoD black budget, you have probably seen a few DoD Program Element codes. Often these are the only way to track how money is being allocated to a program over time as it's name changes, and also to track the state of your quarry's development.

Paul McGinnis was the first to use publically available materials on the internet and elsewhere to track PE codes through the black budget. You can read a Wired article about his work here:

Paul wrote a number of articles on working with the black budget and using PE codes. Here are a few that will be useful to researchers:
(and many others archived around the internet)

DoD's own guide to PE Codes is here:

Some years ago now I turned the above guide into a small application that makes deciphering PE codes quick and easy. Since line items for black programs are typically a cryptonym, a pe code, and a dollar amount with no description, this makes things go a lot quicker!
It may not work in all browsers, and it it eats your brain do not blame me. It is offered up as-is.
A revised version is now available at:
For those that are interested, graphic documentation of how to read a PE code.


  • PE Codes.png
    PE Codes.png
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Now that is what I call one hell of a resource!

Thanks for the explaination too, makes the point nicely.

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