Spy Agency May Face Ax

The Senate Intelligence Committee may try to break up the nation's storied spy satellite agency -- the NRO -- once a paragon of American technological brilliance and now considered by many a troubled bureaucracy that has had trouble getting the big things right. In parallel, the Director of National Intelligence was briefed June 23 by a panel of distinguished experts about the best path ahead for the National Reconnaissance Office. The panel "considered options to break up NRO or reassign functions but recommended continuation of a single, unified program," a former senior intelligence official said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee may try to break up the nation’s storied spy satellite agency — the NRO — once a paragon of American technological brilliance and now considered by many a troubled bureaucracy that has had trouble getting the big things right. In parallel, the Director of National Intelligence was briefed June 23 by a panel of distinguished experts about the best path ahead for the National Reconnaissance Office. The panel “considered options to break up NRO or reassign functions but recommended continuation of a single, unified program,” a former senior intelligence official said. The report about the Senate committee came from this same source, a respected insider.

Dennis Blair, director of National Intelligence, has drafted a panel of trusted intelligence experts to revamp the troubled National Reconnaissance Office, builder of America’s multi-billion dollar spy satellites.

The panel, led by Trey Obering, former director of the Missile Defense Agency, includes: Marty Faga, a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and a former NRO director; Joanne Isham, head of Washington operations for L-1 Identity Solutions and former deputy director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency; Paul Kaminski, former undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics who recently penned a study recommending acquisition changes for the NRO; Tom Moorman, a VP at Booz Allen who was named by Space News as one of the 10 most influential space leaders; and Vincent Vitto former president and CEO of the Draper Lab, a private research and development company and vice chairman of the Defense Science Board.

The panel examined every facet of the NRO — its mission, charter, staffing, requirements, organization, funding and relationship to other organizations. One of the key jobs the Obering panel had is drafting a new charter for the NRO. The current charter was drafted 44 years ago and refers to jobs that no longer exist.

The panel’s work “was very well received” by DNI Dennis Blair. In addition to its primary recommendation to essentially keep the NRO structure as is — an amalgam of CIA officials, Air Force officers and some civilians, the panel “made many suggestions on external relationships and internal moves that could make it more effective, the former intelligence official said.

When I asked if this meant a realignment of Air Force and CIA officials, or some changes in how the organization relates to the Defense Department and intelligence community, my source said he was “not sure that relationships will change.”