Spy Agency May Face Ax

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 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.”

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There’s a new boss in town, and he thinks those deck chairs are in SERIOUS need of rearrangement.

Hey, you want to make the NRO effective again? Make it deep-black classified again. It’s worth noting that all the bureaucracy eff-ups started immediately after Clinton declared it illegal for US government organizations to be secret.

This is systemic, and not limited to NRO. I have seen the same trends in every area of Defense Acquisition I work with. Bottom line: we have ineffective management more worried about the posturing and politics to protect and grow programs than results. JASSM anyone? Go back and watch the movie “The Pentagon Wars” again. I see the same scenarios play out every day, with the addition of a T&E community that is equally lost. We are so worried about “consensus approaches” and well run IPTs that we have forgotten the products. And no, recent acquisition reform measures won’t fix it. Hell, even the SECDEF can’t kill programs that don’t perform, and underperforming PEOs are not held accountable. Is it any wonder???

DAWIAdude, while plenty of money was lost in political BS, JASSM still seems to be giving us a capable long range missile, and the Bradley has matured into a good vehicle. It is just not as well suited for today’s conflicts due to the small squad it carries.

Colin — I wonder about your headline. It sounds like the article concludes with the fact that the NRO will not see many changes.


Your conclusion is reasonable but this is a story in motion, crawling through a hall of mirrors. My source is as good as you can get on this and provided only the sketchiest of details. The info about the Senate intel committee came from my source I’ve spoken with two other usually well informed sources and they have no clue what’s really happening. I expect more details to be forthcoming in the next two weeks. I promise to update this as soon as we get more details. When I broke the news about Carlson taking over the NRO I was highly skeptical but my source (a different one) was impeccable and when covering intel one has no choice but to depend on proven sources — as long as they continue to prove themselves!

How will this effect DSP?

Mr. Dennis Blair is a good man. He was my CO on the USS Cochrane in Yokosuka, Japan as a CDR. He did think outside of the Box then, surely is going to do it now.

There is one clear and distinct change that needs to be made to classified acquisition programs. Hire very experienced Program Managers and Lead Engineers. Empower them to be in total charge, to be 100% responsible and accountable for success of the program. If they fail, fire them and force them to separate from the Service and/or civil service — even if it is prior to retirement eligilibilty

That is the way it was 20 years ago when Black programs made phenominal technological leaps, delivered on time & budget, and exceeded expectations.

A few years back I recall hearing a fairly blunt critique of the NRO at a Space Symposium where purportedly promises were made by Leadership to change the way NRO acquired capabilities and used resources. Seems that has not changed as the same old tired, senior managers remained in charge, the same big three companies garnered the huge contracts and only a few lesser companies received the leftovers. Times are a changing.……maybe!

Radarnav says what most of us believe needs to be done. I agree with you 100% my friend!

I believe this is just a start. The government needs to go through other organizations and clean house of some of the beucracy it has created over the many years. If some of the layers of beaucracy are torn down instead of more always being created, we can get more meanigful work done instead of tring to figure out how to work the system

There were clear signs that the NRO was in trouble by the late 1980s, perhaps sooner. Many people called warning in the twenty years since then, and the NRO bureaucracy always won out. As, I suspect, it just has again.

If there’s a bright side to this, it’s that the NRO’s satellites aren’t quite as critical to the national security now as they were during the Cold War. But that’s small comfort.

‘Change’ seems to be in the wind, but one wonders, if a ‘real’ Management Control/Workflow study has taken place.
Act in haste, be ‘blind’ at leisure!


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