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National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 33

Published – September 27, 2000

Edited by Jeffrey T Richelson

For more information contact:
Jeffrey T Richelson 202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

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Washington, D.C., September 27, 2000 – In September 1992 the Department of Defense acknowledged the existence of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), an agency established in 1961 to manage the development and operation of the nation's reconnaissance satellite systems.  The creation of the NRO was the result of a number of factors.

On May 1, 1960 Francis Gary Powers took off from Peshawar, Pakistan on the U-2 mission designated Operation GRAND SLAM.  The flight was planned to take him over the heart of the Soviet Union and terminate at Bodo, Norway.  The main target was Plesetsk, which communications intercepts had indicated might be the site of an ICBM facility.1  When the Soviet Union shot down his plane and captured him alive, they also forced President Dwight Eisenhower to halt aerial overflights of Soviet territory.

At that time the U.S. had two ongoing programs to produce satellite vehicles that could photograph Soviet territory.  Such vehicles would allow far more frequent coverage than possible with manned aircraft.  In addition, they would avoid placing the lives of pilots at risk and eliminate the risks of international incidents resulting from overflights.

The Air Force program, designated SAMOS, sought to develop a number of different satellite systems--including one that would radio its imagery back to earth and another that would return film capsules.  The CIA program, CORONA, focused solely on developing a film return satellite.

However, both the CIA and Air Force programs were in trouble.  Launch after launch in the CORONA program, eleven in all by May 1, 1960, eight of which carried cameras, had resulted in failure--the only variation was in the cause.  Meanwhile, the SAMOS program was also experiencing difficulties, both with regard to hardware and program definition.2

Concerns over SAMOS led President Eisenhower to direct two groups to study both the technical aspects of the program as well as how the resulting system would be employed.  The ultimate result was a joint report presented to the President and NSC on August 25, 1960.3

As a result of that meeting Eisenhower approved a first SAMOS launch in September, as well as reorientation of the program, with the development of high-resolution film-return systems being assigned highest priority while the electronic readout system would be pursued as a research project.  With regard to SAMOS management, he ordered that the Air Force institute special management arrangements, which would involve a direct line of authority between the SAMOS project office and the Office of the Air Force Secretary, bypassing the Air Staff and any other intermediate layers of bureaucracy.4

Secretary of the Air Force Dudley C. Sharp wasted little time creating the recommended new structure and procedures.  On August 31st Sharp signed Secretary of the Air Force Order 115.1, establishing the Office of Missile and Satellite Systems within his own office to help him manage the SAMOS project. With Order 116.1, Sharp created a SAMOS project office at the Los Angeles headquarters of the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division (AFBMD) as a field extension of the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force to carry out development of the satellite.5

The impact of the orders, in practice, was that the director of the SAMOS project would report directly to Under Secretary of the Air Force Joseph V. Charyk, who would manage it in the Secretary's name. In turn, Charyk would report directly to the Secretary of Defense.6

The changes would not stop there.  The urgency attached to developing a successful reconnaissance satellite led, ultimately, to the creation of a top secret program and organization to coordinate the entire national reconnaissance effort.

Several of the documents listed below also appear in either of two National Security Archive microfiche collections on U.S. intelligence.  The U.S. Intelligence Community: Organization, Operations and Management: 1947-1989 (1990) and U.S. Espionage and Intelligence: Organization, Operations, and Management, 1947-1996 (1997) publish together for the first time recently declassified documents pertaining to the organizational structure, operations and management of the U.S. Intelligence Community over the last fifty years, cross-indexed for maximum accessibility.  Together, these two sets reproduce on microfiche over 2,000 organizational histories, memoranda, manuals, regulations, directives, reports, and studies, totaling more than 50,000 pages of documents from the Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, military service intelligence organizations, National Security Council, and other official government agencies and organizations.

 


THE DOCUMENTS

Document 1: Joseph Charyk, Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense, Management of the National Reconnaissance Program, 24 July 1961, Top Secret, 1 p.

The organizational changes resulting from the decisions of August 25, 1960 and their implementation left some unsatisfied.  In particular, James Killian and Edwin Land, influential members of the President's intelligence advisory board pushed for permanent and institutionalized collaboration between the CIA and Air Force.  After the Kennedy administration took office the push to establish a permanent reconnaissance organization took on additional life.  There was a strong feeling in the new administration, particularly by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and his deputy, Roswell Gilpatric, that a better, more formalized relationship was required.7

On July 24, 1961, Air Force Undersecretary Joseph Charyk sent a memorandum to McNamara attaching two possible memoranda of agreement for creation of a National Reconnaissance Program, along with some additional material.

 

Document 2: Memorandum of Understanding, Management of the National Reconnaissance Program (Draft), 20 July 1961, Top Secret, 5 pp.

This memo specified establishment of a National Reconnaissance Program (NRP) consisting of "all satellite and overflight reconnaissance projects whether overt or covert," and including "all photographic projects for intelligence, geodesy and mapping purposes, and electronic signal collection projects for electronic signal intelligence and communications intelligence."

To manage the NRP, a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) would be established on a covert basis. The NRO director (DNRO) would be the Deputy Director for Plans, CIA (at the time, Richard Bissell) while the Under Secretary of the Air Force would serve as Deputy Director (DDNRO). The DNRO would be responsible for the management of CIA activities, the DDNRO and the Air Force for Defense Department activities.  The DoD, specifically the Air Force acting as executive agent, would be primarily responsible for technical program management, scheduling, vehicle operations, financial management and overt contract administration, while the CIA would be primarily responsible for targeting each satellite.  The office would operate under streamlined management procedures similar to those established in August 1960 for SAMOS.

 

Document 3: Memorandum of Understanding, Management of the National Reconnaissance Program (Draft), 21 July 1961, Top Secret, 4 pp.

This secondary memorandum was prepared at the suggestion of Defense Department General Counsel Cyrus Vance.  It offered a quite different solution to the problem.  As with the primary memo, it established a NRP covering both satellite and aerial reconnaissance operations.  But rather than a jointly run program, it placed responsibility for management solely in the hands of a covertly appointed Special Assistant for Reconnaissance, to be selected by the Secretary of Defense.  The office of the Special Assistant would handle the responsibilities assigned to the NRO in the other MOU.  The CIA would "assist the Department of Defense by providing support as required in areas of program security, communications, and covert contract administration."

 

Document 4: Memorandum, Pros and Cons of Each Solution, Not dated, Top Secret, 2 pp.

The assessment of pros and cons favored the July 20 memorandum, listing five pros for the first solution and only two for the second.  The first solution would consolidate responsibilities into a single program with relatively little disruption of established management, represented a proven solution, would require no overt organizational changes, would allow both agencies to retain authoritative voices in their areas of expertise, and provided a simplified management structure.  The two cons noted were the division of program responsibility between two people, and that "successful program management depends upon mutual understanding and trust of the two people in charge of the NRO."  It would not be too long before that later observation would take on great significance.

In contrast, there were more cons than pros specified for the second solution.  The only two points in its favor were the consolidation of reconnaissance activities into a single program managed by a single individual and the assignment of complete responsibility to the agency (DoD) with the most resources.  Foremost of the six cons was the need for DoD to control and conduct large-scale covert operations, in as much as it was an entity "whose normal methods are completely foreign to this task."

 

Document 5: Roswell Gilpatric, Letter to Allen Dulles, Management of the National Reconnaissance Program, 6 September 1961, Top Secret, 4 pp.

On July 28, 1961, four days after receiving Charyk's memorandum and draft memoranda of understanding, McNamara instructed Air Force Undersecretary Joseph Charyk to continue discussions with the key officials and advisers in order to resolve any organizational difficulties that threatened to impede the satellite reconnaissance effort.  The ultimate result was this letter from Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric to Dulles, which confirmed "our agreement with respect to the setting up of the National Reconnaissance Program."

The letter specified the creation of a NRP.  It also established the NRO, a uniform security control system, and specified that the NRO would be directly responsive to the intelligence requirements and priorities specified by the United States Intelligence Board.  It specified implementation of NRP programs assigned to the CIA through the Deputy Director for Plans.  It designated the Undersecretary of the Air Force as the Defense Secretary's Special Assistant for Reconnaissance, with full authority in DoD reconnaissance matters.

The letter contained no specific assignment of responsibilities to either the CIA or Defense Department, stating only that "The Directors of the National Reconnaissance Office will ... insure that the particular talents, experience and capabilities within the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency are fully and most effectively utilized in this program."

The letter provided for the NRO to be managed jointly by the Under Secretary of the Air Force and the CIA Deputy Director for Plans (at the time, still Richard Bissell).  A May 1962 agreement between the CIA and Defense Department established a single NRO director.  Joseph Charyk was named to the directorship shortly afterward.

 

Document 6: Joseph Charyk, Memorandum for NRO Program Directors/Director, NRO Staff, Organization and Functions of the NRO, 23 July 1962, Top Secret, 11 pp.

This memorandum represents the fundamental directive on the organization and functions of the NRO.  In addition to the Director (there was no provision for a deputy director), there were four major elements to the NRO--the NRO staff and three program elements, designated A, B, and C.  The staff's functions included assisting the director in dealing with the USIB and the principal consumers of the intelligence collected.

The Air Force Office of Special Projects (the successor to the SAMOS project office) became NRO's Program A.  The CIA reconnaissance effort was designated Program B, while the Navy's space reconnaissance effort, at the time consisting of the Galactic Radiation and Background (GRAB) satellite, whose radar ferret mission involved the collection of Soviet radar signals, became Program C.  Although the GRAB effort was carried out by the Naval Research Laboratory, the director of the Office of Naval Intelligence would serve as Program C director until 1971.8

 

Document 7: Agreement between the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence on Management of the National Reconnaissance Program, 13 March 1963, Top Secret, 6 pp.

In December 1962, Joseph Charyk decided to leave government to become president of the COMSAT Corporation.  By that time a number of disputes between the CIA and NRO had contributed to Charyk's view that the position of the NRO and its director should be strengthened.  During the last week of February 1963, his last week in office, he completed a revision of a CIA draft of a new reconnaissance agreement to replace the May 1962 agreement (which had replaced the September 6, 1961 agreement).  Charyk took the revision to Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric.  It appears that some CIA-suggested changes were incorporated sometime after Charyk left office.  On March 13, Gilpatric signed the slightly modified version on behalf of DoD.  It was sent to the CIA that day and immediately approved by DCI John McCone, who had replaced Allen Dulles in November 1961.9

The new agreement, while it did not include all the elements Charyk considered important, did substantially strengthen the authority of the NRO and its director.  It named the Secretary of Defense as the Executive Agent for the NRP.  The program would be "developed, managed, and conducted in accordance with policies and guidance jointly agreed to by the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence."

The NRO would manage the NRP "under the direction, authority, and control of the Secretary of Defense."  The NRO's director would be selected by the Defense Secretary with the concurrence of the DCI, and report to the Defense Secretary.  The NRO director was charged with presenting to the Secretary of Defense "all projects" for intelligence collection and mapping and geodetic information via overflights and the associated budgets, scheduling all overflight missions in the NRP, as well as engineering analysis to correct problems with collection systems.  With regard to technical management, the DNRO was to "assign all project tasks such as technical management, contracting etc., to appropriate elements of the DoD and CIA, changing such assignments, and taking any such steps he may determine necessary to the efficient management of the NRP."

 

Document 8: Department of Defense Directive Number TS 5105.23, Subject: National Reconnaissance Office, 27 March 1964, Top Secret, 4 pp.

This directive replaced the original June 1962 DoD Directive on the NRO, and remains in force today. The directive specifies the role of the Director of the NRO, the relationships between the NRO and other organizations, the director's authorities, and security. It specified that documents or other material concerning National Reconnaissance Program matters would be handled within a special security system (known as the BYEMAN Control System).

 

Document 9: President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Memorandum for the President, Subject: National Reconnaissance Program, 2 May 1964, Top Secret, 11 pp.

The 1963 CIA-DoD agreement on the NRP did not end the battles between the CIA and NRO--as some key CIA officials, including ultimately DCI John McCone, sought to reestablish a major role for the CIA in the satellite reconnaissance effort.  The continuing conflict was examined by the PFIAB.

The board concluded that "the National Reconnaissance Program despite its achievements, has not yet reached its full potential."  The fundamental cause for the NRP's shortcomings was "inadequacies in organizational structure."  In addition, there was no clear division of responsibilities and roles between the Defense Department, CIA, and the DCI.

The recommendations of the board represented a clear victory for the NRO and its director.  The DCI should have a "large and important role" in establishing intelligence collection requirements and in ensuring that the data collected was effectively exploited, according to the board.  In addition, his leadership would be a key factor in the work of the United States Intelligence Board relating to the scheduling of space and airborne reconnaissance missions.

But the board also recommended that President Johnson sign a directive which would assign to NRO’s Air Force component (the Air Force Office of Special Projects) systems engineering, procurement, and operation of all satellite reconnaissance systems.

 

Document 10: Agreement for Reorganization of the National Reconnaissance Program, 13 August 1965, Top Secret, 6 pp.

Despite the recommendations of the May 2, 1964 PFIAB report, which were challenged by DCI John McCone, no action was taken to solidify the position of the NRO and its director.  Instead prolonged discussions over a new agreement continued into the summer of 1965.  During this period the CIA continued work on what would become two key satellite programs--the HEXAGON/KH-9 imaging and RHYOLITE signals intelligence satellites.

In early August, Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance and CIA official John Bross reached an understanding on a new agreement, and it was signed by Vice Adm. William F. Raborn (McCone's successor) and Vance on August 13, 1965.  It represented a significant victory for the CIA, assigning key decision-making authority to an executive committee, authority that was previously the prerogative of the NRO director as the agent of the Secretary of Defense.

The Secretary of Defense was to have "the ultimate responsibility for the management and operation of the NRO and the NRP," and have the final power to approve the NRP budget.  The Secretary also was empowered to make decisions when the executive committee could not reach agreement.

The DCI was to establish collection priorities and requirements for targeting NRP operations, as well as establish frequency of coverage, review the results obtained by the NRP and recommend steps for improving its results if necessary, serve on the executive committee, review and approve the NRP budget, and provide security policy guidance.

The NRP Executive Committee established by the agreement would consist of the DCI, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology.  The committee was to recommend to the Secretary of Defense the "appropriate level of effort for the NRP," approve or modify the consolidated NRP and its budget, approve the allocation of responsibility and the corresponding funds for research and exploratory development for new systems.  It was instructed to insure that funds would be adequate to pursue a vigorous research and development program, involving both CIA and DoD.  The executive committee was to assign development of sensors to the agency best equipped to handle the task.

The Director of the NRO would manage the NRO and execute the NRP "subject to the direction and control of the Secretary of Defense and the guidance of the Executive Committee."  His authority to initiate, improve, modify, redirect or terminate all research and development programs in the NRP, would be subject to review by the executive committee.  He could demand that all agencies keep him informed about all programs undertaken as part of the NRP.

 

Document 11: Analysis of "A $1.5 Billion Secret in Sky" Washington Post, December 9, 1973, Not dated, Top Secret, 33 pp.

Throughout the 1960s, the United States operation of reconnaissance satellites was officially classified, but well known among specialists and the press.  However, it was not until January 1971 that the NRO's existence was first disclosed by the media, when it was briefly mentioned in a New York Times article on intelligence and foreign policy.

A much more extensive discussion of the NRO appeared in the December 9, 1973 Washington Post as a result of the inadvertent mention of the reconnaissance office in a Congressional report.  The NRO prepared this set of classified responses to the article, clearly intended for those in Congress who might be concerned about the article's purported revelations about the NRO's cost overruns and avoidance of Congressional oversight.

 

Document 12: E.C. Aldridge, Jr. (Director, NRO), Letter to David L. Boren, Chairman,
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 21 November 1988, Secret, 3 pp.

The late 1980s saw the beginning of what eventually would be a wide-ranging restructuring of the NRO.  In November 1988 NRO director Edward "Pete" Aldridge wrote to Senator David Boren, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, concerning the findings of an extensive study (the NRO Restructure Study) of the organizational structure of the NRO.

Aldridge proceeded to report that, after having discussed the study's recommendations with Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci and Director of Central Intelligence William Webster, he was directing the development of plans to implement the recommendations.  Specific changes would include the creation of a centralized systems analysis function "to conduct cross-system trades and simulations within the NRO," creation of a "User Support" function to improve NRO support to intelligence community users as well as to the growing number of operational military users, and the dispersal of the NRO Staff to the new units, with the staff being replaced by a group of policy advisers.  In addition, Aldridge foresaw the establishment of an interim facility "to house the buildup of the new functions and senior management."  The ultimate goal, projected for the 1991-92 period, would be the "collocation of all NRO elements [including the Los Angeles-based Air Force Office of Special Projects] . . . in the Washington, D.C. area."

 

Document 13: Memorandum of Agreement, Subject: Organizational Restructure of the National Reconnaissance Office, 15 December 1988, Secret, 2 pp.

This memorandum of agreement, signed by the Director of the NRO and the directors of the NRO's three programs commits them to the restructuring discussed in Edward Aldridge's November 21 letter to Senator Boren.

Many changes recommended by Aldridge, who left office at the end of 1988, were considered by a 1989 NRO-sponsored review group and subsequently adopted.

 

Document 14: Report to the Director of Central Intelligence, DCI Task Force on The National Reconnaissance Office, Final Report, April 1992, Secret, 35 pp.

This report was produced by a panel chaired by former Lockheed Corporation CEO Robert Fuhrman, whose members included both former and serving intelligence officials.  It focused on a variety of issues other than current and possible future NRO reconnaissance systems.  Among the issues it examined were mission, organizational structure, security and classification.

One of its most significant conclusions was that the Program A,B,C structure that had been instituted in 1962 (see Document 6) "does not enhance mission effectiveness" but "leads to counterproductive competition and makes it more difficult to foster loyalty and to maintain focus on the NRO mission."  As a result, the panel recommended that the NRO be restructured along functional lines with imagery and SIGINT directorates.  This change was made even before the final version of the report was issued.

The report also noted that while the NRO's existence was officially classified it was an "open secret" and that seeking to attempt to maintain such "open secrets ... weakens the case for preserving 'real' secrets."  In addition, such secrecy limited the NRO's ability to interact with customers and users.  The group recommended declassifying the "fact of" the NRO, as well as providing information about the NRO's mission, the identities of senior officials, headquarters locations, and the NRO as a joint Intelligence Community-Defense Department activity.

 

Document 15: National Security Directive 67, Subject: Intelligence Capabilities: 1992-2005, 30 March 1992, Secret, 2 pp.

NSD 67 directed a number of changes in U.S. intelligence organization and operations.  Among those was implementation of the plan to restructure the NRO along functional lines--eliminating the decades old Program A (Air Force), B (CIA), and C (Navy) structure and replacing it with directorates for imaging, signals intelligence, and communication systems acquisition and operations--as recommended by the Fuhrman panel.  As a result, Air Force, CIA, and Navy personnel involved in such activities would now work together rather than as part of distinct NRO components.

 

Document 16: Email message, Subject: Overt-Covert-DOS-REP-INPUT, 27 July 1992, Secret , 1 p.

In addition to the internal restructuring of the NRO, 1992 saw the declassification of the organization, as recommended by the Fuhrman report (Document 14), for a number of reasons--to facilitate interaction with other parts of the government, to make it easier for the NRO to support military operations, and in response to Congressional pressure to acknowledge the obvious.  As part of the process of considering declassification NRO consulted Richard Curl, head of the Office of Intelligence Resources of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research--the office which provides INR with expertise and support concerning technical collection systems.  Curl recommended a low-key approach to declassification.

 

Document 17: Memorandum for Secretary of Defense, Director of Central Intelligence, Subject: Changing the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to an Overt Organization, 30 July 1992, Secret, 3 pp.

w/ attachments:
Document 17a: Mission of the NRO, 1 p.

Document 17b:  Implications of Proposed Changes, 4 pp. (Two versions)
 Version One
 Version Two

These memos, from Director of the NRO Martin Faga, represent key documents in the declassification of the NRO. The memo noted Congressional pressure for declassification and that Presidential certification that declassification would result in "grave damage to the nation ... would be difficult in this case."

Faga reported that as a result of an NRO review he recommended declassifying the fact of NRO's existence, issuing a brief mission statement, acknowledging the NRO as a joint DCI-Secretary of Defense endeavor, and identifying top level NRO officials. He also noted that his recommendations attempted to balance concerns about classifying information that realistically could not be protected, while maintaining an ability to protect matters believed to require continued protection.

Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, DCI Robert Gates, and President Bush approved the recommendations in September and a three-paragraph memorandum to correspondents acknowledging the NRO and NRP was issued on September 18, 1992.

Document 17b comes in two versions, representing different security reviews.  Material redacted from the first version includes provisions of National Security Directive 30 on space policy, expression of concern over "derived disclosures," and the assessment that the "high degree of foreign acceptance of satellite reconnaissance, and the fact that we are not disclosing significant new data," would not lead to any significant foreign reaction.  Another redacted statement stated that "legislation . . . exempting all NRO operational files from [Freedom of Information Act] searches" was required.

 

Document 18: Final Report: National Reconnaissance Program Task Force for the Director of Central Intelligence, September 1992, Top Secret, 15 pp.

The end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union required the U.S. intelligence community and NRO to reconsider how U.S. overhead reconnaissance systems were employed and what capabilities future systems should possess.  To consider these questions DCI Robert Gates appointed a task force, chaired by his eventual successor, R. James Woolsey.

The final report considers future needs and collection methods, industrial base considerations, procurement policy considerations, international industrial issues, and transition considerations.  Its recommendations included elimination of both some collection tasks as well as some entire types of present and planned collection systems.

 

Document 19: NRO Protection Review, "What is [BYEMAN]?", 6 November 1992, Top Secret, 18 pp.

Traditionally, the designations of Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) compartments--such as UMBRA to indicate particularly sensitive communications intelligence and RUFF to intelligence based on satellite imagery--have themselves been classified.  In recent years, however, the NSA and CIA have declassified a number of such terms and their meaning. One exception has been the term "BYEMAN"-- the BYEMAN Control System being the security system used to protect information related to NRO collection systems (in contrast to their products) and other aspects of NRO activities, including budget and structure.  Thus, the term BYEMAN has been deleted in the title of the document and throughout the study--although the term and its meaning has become known by specialists and conveys no information beyond the text of any particular document.

This study addresses the use of the BYEMAN classification within the NRO, its impact on contractors and other government personnel, and the consequences of the current application of the BYEMAN system.  The study concludes that placing information in the highly restrictive BYEMAN channels (in contrast to classifying the information at a lower level) may unduly restrict its dissemination to individuals who have a legitimate need to know.

 

Document 20: NRO Strategic Plan, 18 January 1993, Secret, 19 pp.

A study headed by James Woolsey (Document 18), President Clinton's first DCI, heavily influenced the contents of this early 1993 document.  The plan's introduction notes that while some collection tasks will no longer be handled by overhead reconnaissance the "uncertain nature of the world that is emerging from the end of the 'cold war' places a heavy premium on overhead reconnaissance."  At the same time, "this overhead reconnaissance challenge must be met in an era of a likely reduced national security budget."

The strategic plan is described in the introduction, as "the 'game plan' to transition current overhead collection architectures into a more integrated, end-to-end architecture for improved global access and tasking flexibility."

The document goes on to examine the strategic context for future NRO operations, NRO strategy, strategic objectives, and approaches to implementation.  Strategic objectives include improving the responsiveness of NRO systems by developing an architecture that spans the entire collection and dissemination process, from the identification of requirements to dissemination of the data collected.

 

Document 21: National Reconnaissance Office: Collocation Construction Project, Joint DOD and CIA Review Report, November 1994, Unclassified, 28 pp.

In an August 8, 1994 press conference, Senators Dennis DeConcini (D-Az.) and John Warner (R-Va.), the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence accused the NRO of concealing from Congress the cost involved in building a new headquarters to house government and contractor employees.  Previously NRO activities in the Washington area were conducted from the Pentagon and rented space in the Washington metropolitan area.  The collocation and restructuring decisions of the late 1980s and early 1990s had resulted in a requirement for a new headquarters facility.10

The accusations were followed by hearings before both the Senate and House intelligence oversight committees--with House committee members defending the NRO and criticizing their Senate colleagues.  While they noted that some of the documents presented by the NRO covering total costs were not presented with desirable clarity, the House members were more critical of the Senate committee for inattention to their committee work.11

This joint DoD and CIA review of the project, found "no intent to mislead Congress" but that "the NRO failed to follow Intelligence Community budgeting guidelines, applicable to all the intelligence agencies," that would have caused the project to be presented as a "New Initiative," and that the cost data provided by the NRO "were not presented in a consistent fashion and did not include a level of detail comparable to submissions for . . . intelligence community construction."

 

Document 22: Memorandum for Director of Central Intelligence, Subject: Small Satellite Review Panel, Unclassified, July 1996

The concept of employing significantly smaller satellites for imagery collection was strongly advocated by Rep. Larry Combest during his tenure (1995-97) as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.  As a result the DCI was instructed to appoint a panel of experts to review the issue.12

Panel members included former NRO directors Robert Hermann and Martin Faga; former NRO official and NSA director Lew Allen; scientist Sidney Drell and four others.  The panel's report supported a radical reduction in the size of most U.S. imagery satellites.  The panel concluded that "now is an appropriate time to make a qualitative change in the systems architecture of the nation's reconnaissance assets," in part because "the technology and industrial capabilities of the country permit the creation of effective space systems that are substantially smaller and less costly than current systems."  Thus, the panel saw "the opportunity to move towards an operational capability for . . . imagery systems, that consists of an array of smaller, cheaper spacecraft in larger number with a total capacity which is at least as useful as those currently planned and to transport them to space with substantially smaller and less costly launch vehicles."13

The extent to which those recommendations have influenced NRO's Future Imagery Architecture plan is uncertain--although plans for large constellations of small satellites have not usually survived the budgetary process.

 

Document 23: Defining the Future of the NRO for the 21st Century, Final Report, Executive Summary, August 26, 1996, Unclassified, 30 pp.

This report was apparently the first major outside review of the NRO conducted during the Clinton administration, and the first conducted after the NRO's transformation to an overt institution and its restructuring were firmly in place.

Among those conducting the review were former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. David E. Jeremiah, former NRO director Martin Faga, and former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John McMahon.  Issues studied by the panel included, inter alia, the existence of a possible alternative to the NRO, NRO's mission in the 21st Century, support to military operations, security, internal organization, and the relationship with NRO's customers.

After reviewing a number of alternatives, the panel concluded that no other arrangement was superior for carrying out the NRO mission.  It did, however, recommend, changes with regards to NRO's mission and internal organization.  The panel concluded that where the NRO's current mission is "worldwide intelligence," its future mission should be "global information superiority," which "demands intelligence capabilities unimaginable just a few years ago."  The panel also recommended creation of a fourth NRO directorate, which was subsequently established, to focus solely on the development of advanced systems, in order to "increase the visibility and stature of technology innovation in the NRO."

 


NOTES


1. Michael R. Beschloss, Mayday: Eisenhower, Khrushchev and the U-2 Affair (New York: Harper & Row, 1986), pp.241-42; John Ranelagh, The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA, From Wild Bill Donovan to William Casey (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986), p. 319; Gregory W. Pedlow and Donald Welzenbach, The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954-1974 (Washington, D.C.: CIA, 1992), pp. 170-93.

2. Kenneth Greer, "Corona," Studies in Intelligence, Supplement 17, Spring 1973 in Kevin C. Ruffner (Ed.), CORONA: America's First Satellite Program (Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 1995), pp. 3-40; Gen. Thomas D. White, Air Force Chief of Staff to General Thomas S. Power, Commander in Chief, Strategic Air Command, June 29, 1960, Thomas D. White Papers, Library of Congress, Box 34, Folder "2-15 SAC."

3. "Special Meeting of the National Security Council to be held in the Conference Room of the White House from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., Thursday, August 25, 1960, undated, National Security Council Staff Papers, 1948-61, Executive Secretary's Subject File Series, Box 15, Reconnaissance Satellites [1960], DDEL.

4. "Reconnaissance Satellite Program," Action No.1-b at Special NSC Meeting on August 25, 1960, transmitted to the Secretary of Defense by Memo of September 1, 1960; G.B. Kistiakowsky to Allen Dulles, August 25, 1960, Special Assistant for Science and Technology, Box No. 15, Space [July-Dec 1960], DDEL.

5. Carl Berger, The Air Force in Space Fiscal Year 1961, (Washington, D.C.: Air Force Historical Liaison Office, 1966), pp.41-42; Secretary of the Air Force Order 115.1, "Organization and Functions of the Office of Missile and Satellite Systems," August 31, 1960; Robert Perry, A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Volume 5: Management of the National Reconnaissance Program, 1960-1965, (Washington, D.C., NRO, 1969), p. 20; Secretary of the Air Force Order 116.1, "The Director of the SAMOS Project," August 31, 1960.

6. Perry, A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Volume 5, p. 20.

7. Jeffrey T. Richelson, "Undercover in Outer Space: The Creation and Evolution of the NRO," International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 13, 3 (Fall 2000): 301-344.

8. Ibid.; GRAB: Galactic Radiation and Background (Washington, D.C.: NRL, 1997); Dwayne A. Day, "Listening from Above: The First Signals Intelligence Satellite," Spaceflight, August 1999, pp. 339-347; NRO, Program Directors of the NRO: ABC&D, 1999.

9. Perry, A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Volume 5, pp. 93, 96-97.

10. Pierre Thomas, "Spy Unit's Spending Stuns Hill," Washington Post, August 9, 1994, pp. A1, A6.

11. Walter Pincus, "Spy Agency Defended by House Panel," Washington Post, August 12, 1994, p. A21; U.S. Congress, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, NRO Headquarters Project (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995), pp. 3-4.

12. Walter Pincus, "Congress Debates Adding Smaller Spy Satellites to NRO's Menu," Washington Post, October 5, 1995, p. A14; Joseph C. Anselmo, "House, Senate at Odds Over Intel Small Sats," Aviation Week & Space Technology, January 1, 1996, p. 19.

13. Small Satellite Review Panel, Memorandum for: Director of Central Intelligence, Subject: Small Satellite Review Panel, July 1996.

 

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