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Lifting the Veil on NRO Satellite Systems and Ground Stations

Documents Trace Effort to Declassify the Operations of America's Intelligence Satellite Agency

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 392

Posted - October 4, 2012

Edited by Jeffrey T. Richelson

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

Related Archive Postings

Out of the Black: The Declassification of the NRO
September 18, 2008

Declassifying the “Fact of” Satellite Reconnaissance
October 1, 2007

Secrecy and U.S. Satellite Reconnaissance, 1958-1976
July 13, 2007

Eyes on the Bomb: U-2, CORONA, and KH-7 Imagery of Foreign Nuclear Installations
March 28, 2006

The NRO Declassified
September 27, 2000

 


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Washington, D.C., October 4, 2012 – Today, the National Security Archive posts the fourth in a series of electronic briefing books concerning secrecy and satellite reconnaissance - one of the most sensitive areas of U.S. intelligence-gathering. Specific satellite programs whose declassification is covered in this briefing book include some of the earliest and, at the time, most secretive programs of their kind: CORONA, ARGON, LANYARD, GRAB, POPPY, GAMBIT, HEXAGON, and QUILL.

The 78-document collection, obtained mostly under the Freedom of Information Act, consists of eight parts covering declassification actions from 1973 to 2012 involving satellite programs, ground stations, and launches. With a focus on the decades-long debate within the U.S. intelligence community over the unveiling of one of America's most advanced spy systems, these materials not only describe previously unknown facts about the NRO's operations, but provide a fascinating look at the challenges involved in attempting to declassify information on U.S. intelligence activities.

For example, long gaps can exist between the date a particular satellite program has been terminated and the date information about it is released -- up to almost four decades in some cases. Even then, major portions of the program may remain classified, sometimes because they relate to technical data or the wide-ranging justification of protecting "sources and methods," and sometimes because of a policy decision to conceal substantive information, such as imagery covering the state of Israel (see Documents 44, 45, 48).

According to the documents, even when a move is made to create more transparency, it can sometimes be the occasion for active misrepresentation. This was the case with a plan in 1972 to allow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to use weather data from hitherto classified Air Force satellite missions. In order to accomplish this, the then-head of NRO proposed rewriting history by designating the next satellite launch in an ongoing series as the first operational launch, and all previous (classified) launches as merely "R&D efforts" (see Document 2, 3).

While the usually overwhelming reflex within the intelligence community is to keep most of its materials classified, this collection shows that arguments do surface internally for allowing at least certain information to reach the public. Beyond the perceived political need to respond to outside pressures (see Document 16), an understanding exists in some quarters - including at high levels - that benefits can and do accrue to the community, including actually strengthening the integrity of the security system itself (see Document 17).

Among the specific revelations in the collection:

  • Original plans for declassification of the weather satellite effort called for misrepresenting earlier operational satellites as part of a "research and development" effort.

  • The first NRO-developed system to be declassified - a weather satellite - was publicly acknowledged in 1973 (but without reference to the then-classified NRO).

  • Similarly, declassification actions may take place without public announcement.

  • Declassification of the "fact of" QUILL as a radar imager and subsequent declassification of programmatic details about the satellite was triggered by a single Freedom of Information Act request.

  • The interval between the conclusion of an NRO space collection program and its declassification ranges between two and four decades.

  • There was an eight-year gap between the initiation of the effort to declassify the POPPY electronic intelligence satellite and ultimate declassification.

  • There was a fourteen-year gap between the initial NRO-initiative to declassify programmatic details of the GAMBIT and HEXAGON programs and their actual declassification.

  • The current (and in some cases new) designations for five key NRO Mission Ground Stations.


* * *

Lifting the Veil: The Declassification of NRO Satellite Systems and Products, Launches, and Ground Stations

By Jeffrey T. Richelson

In the late 1950s and 1960, the fact that the U.S. was pursuing development of a photographic reconnaissance satellite was apparent from open Congressional hearings. However, in September 1961, with the establishment of a National Reconnaissance Program (NRP) and the creation of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) ,the U.S. satellite reconnaissance effort - which involved both imagery and signals intelligence components - became a covert activity.

It was not until October 1, 1978, that President Jimmy Carter acknowledged the "fact of" U.S. photographic satellite reconnaissance. Almost another fourteen years later, on September 18, 1992, the Department of Defense issued a brief press release acknowledging the existence of the NRO. 1 Neither declassification action was followed by the declassification of information about photographic or signals intelligence systems.

However, almost twenty years before the declassification of the NRO, in March 1973, the U.S. Air Force did declassify data from one NRO-developed system (see Part I).2 That satellite system, which is today known as the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, was dedicated to providing weather data - particularly cloud cover data - in support of programming of photographic reconnaissance satellites. Such data allowed the NRO to reduce the instances in which the limited film-supply of photographic satellites would be wasted by trying to produce images of targets that were shrouded by cloud cover.

Declassification of 'programmatic data' and imagery from photographic reconnaissance systems finally occurred in February 1995, after President William J. Clinton signed an executive order (Document 10) authorizing declassification of the imagery from three satellite reconnaissance programs - CORONA, ARGON, and LANYARD. The declassification was followed by approval by the director of central intelligence (DCI) of a request from the director of the NRO to authorize declassification of technical details (i.e. programmatic data) from those programs.

CORONA was an area surveillance (or, search) satellite system, whose first successful mission occurred in August 1960. ARGON was a mapping program that originated with the Army. LANYARD was intended to be a close-look, high-resolution system which would ultimately involve only three launches. During the span of the CORONA program its satellites carried a variety of increasingly advanced cameras, designated KH-1, -2, -3, -4, -4A, and -4B (the KH stood for 'KEYHOLE'). The ARGON camera was designated the KH-5 while the LANYARD camera was known as the KH-6. 3 Key facts about the systems are show in Table 1.


Camera System # of Missions Years in Operation Resolution
KH-1101959-196040 feet
KH-2 10 1960-1961 25 feet
KH-3 6 1961-1962 12-25 feet
KH-4 26 1962-1963 10-25 feet
KH-4A 52 1963-1969 9-25 feet
KH-4B 17 1967-1972 6 feet
KH-5 12 1962-1964 460 feet
KH-6 3 1963 4-6 feet

Table 1. Characteristics of CORONA, ARGON, and LANYARD Satellites

Declassification of the CORONA program had been seriously considered in 1972, after the final CORONA mission in May of that year, as a means of demonstrating a capability to effectively monitor the new arms control treaty with the Soviet Union. A film, A Point in Time, covering the history of the program was prepared for possible public release in 1972 - a release which did not take place until the 1995 declassification. The 1995 declassification led to the release of all CORONA, ARGON, and LANYARD imagery to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the declassification of thousands of pages of documents concerning technical and management details of the program, as well as imagery interpretation reports based on the imagery obtained.

In December 1996, the NRO declassified the fact that an upcoming launch was intended to place a NRO satellite in orbit (Document 17). That declassification was the result of a decision to acknowledge all further NRO launches. The rational for the decision was that such launches could be easily determined to be NRO launches by outside observers - as a result of the launch being designated a classified launch, the launch site, and the orbit (that could often be determined by amateur observers). As a result, the secrecy attached to such launches served no purpose, was costly, and only served to weaken the integrity of the classification system.

A little over a year earlier, the director of central intelligence had declassified two additional facts about U.S. space reconnaissance - that the U.S. conducted signals intelligence (SIGINT), and measurement and signals intelligence operations from space. That decision opened the door for the declassification of early SIGINT space reconnaissance programs. And in 1997, proposals (Document 19, Document 20) to declassify the existence and history of two early systems developed by the Naval Research Laboratory - GRAB/DYNO and POPPY - were initiated by the director of the National Security Agency and the commanding general of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). Both satellites operated in low-earth orbit, targeting the emissions of Soviet and other radar systems. Document 37 provides key data on the programs.

Because of the difficulty in getting authority from the DCI for POPPY declassification in time for the NRL's 75th anniversary ceremony, the declassification process was split. GRAB/DYNO declassification would occur in time for the anniversary but declassification of the POPPY program would have to wait until 2005. Neither action produced the extensive release of program details and, particularly product, that was associated with the CORONA declassification.4

In the interim between the GRAB and POPPY declassification there was another release of data concerning U.S. satellite imagery programs. As noted above, one provision of President Clinton's 1995 executive order (Document 10) was a review of imagery produced by the follow-on to CORONA - HEXAGON - which, on many missions, carried the KH-9 dual camera system - one for intelligence imagery and the other for mapping imagery.

By 1997, NRO director Keith Hall was circulating a proposal (Document 39 and its undredacted version - Document 60) for a declassification similar in scope to the CORONA declassification. The imagery and technical details of two programs and three systems would be declassified. The GAMBIT program (1966-1984) produced close-look, high-resolution imagery obtained from two classes of camera systems - the KH-7 (1963-1967) and the KH-8 (1966-1984). HEXAGON satellites, which operated from 1971 to 1984 (a 1986 launch attempt failed), produced high-resolution wide-area images for intelligence purposes as well as images with far less resolution for mapping purposes.

The proposal would run into obstacles on a number of grounds - primarily the high resolution of KH-8 and KH-9 images, which were better than even the new generation of commercial imagery satellites that began to be orbited in 1998. In addition, there was an objection, in some quarters, to any release of imagery of targets in Israel. As a result, the September 2002 declassification would involve the disclosure of far less information than had been envisioned by the NRO five years earlier.

Ultimately, all KH-7 imagery (excluding that of Israel) would be released. But no KH-8 imagery would be declassified nor would any of the imagery from the KH-9 intelligence camera be disclosed. Only KH-9 mapping camera imagery would be delivered to the National Archives and Records Administration. Document 50, released at a September 2012 conference, did provide information on the number of KH-7 missions (38), KH-7 camera resolution (four feet initially, reaching two feet in 1966) as well as data on the KH-9 mapping camera (including that its footprint was 70 nm x 140 nm). However, it would not be until 2011 that a large-scale declassification concerning the GAMBIT and HEXAGON programs would take place (see Part VII).

That declassification would continue the disclosure of information concerning obsolete, historical, NRO collection systems. Through 2007 the only declassification concerning current NRO activities (aside from management and structure) involved the 1996 declassification of the "fact of" NRO launches. Then in 2008, the NRO took the initiative to declassify some details about another aspect of current NRO operations - by acknowledging the existence of key NRO ground stations at selected locations.

The locations of major NRO Mission Ground Stations - both foreign and domestic - had been 'open secrets' for years and have been the subject of a large number articles, books, and newspaper articles. Stations that have been the subject of coverage include those at Alice Springs (Pine Gap), Australia; Menwith Hill, Harrogate, the United Kingdom; Buckley Air National Guard Base, Colorado; and Ft. Belvoir5, Virginia. Less well covered, but still the subject of some media attention, has been station at the White Sands Missile Range at Las Cruces, New Mexico. The declassification acknowledged the existence of stations at those sites, and their new - unclassified - designations. No information was declassified about either the history of those sites, or the satellite systems associated with specific sites. Table 2, provides information, not in the NRO releases, concerning the missions of ground stations.


Ground Station Location Downlink for:
Aerospace Data Facility - East Ft. Belvoir, Va. Electro-optical imagery
Aerospace Data Facility - Colorado Buckley AFB, Co. High-altitude SIGINT
Aerospace Data Facility - Southwest Las Cruces, N.M. Radar imagery
Joint Defense Facility, Pine Gap Pine Gap, Australia Geosynchronous SIGINT
RAF Menwith Hill Station Menwith Hill, U.K. Geosynchronous SIGINT

Table 2. NRO Ground Stations Whose Location was Acknowledged in 2008.

The incomplete 1997 GAMBIT and HEXAGON declassification initiative was revived in 2010, in anticipation of NRO's 50th anniversary in September 2011. The documents in Part VII, obtained via FOIA requests to the NRO and the Director of National Intelligence, provide a window into the declassification effort.6 They indicate an apparent temporary dispute between the NRO and the DNI's office as to which organization bore ultimate responsibility for the details of declassification of information about NRO systems (Document 62, Document 63, Document 64).

And, as in the case of the 2002 declassification effort, it was noted in various memos (e.g. Document 65) that the imagery produced by the GAMBIT and HEXAGON systems was under the purview of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. As a result, while in September 2011 the NRO released (on its website) a large volume of material - including extensive histories and memos concerning the programs - images were largely redacted from the released material. Only in December 2011, was the NRO able to post versions of the histories that included significant imagery from both the KH-8 and KH-9 systems.

While the GAMBIT and HEXAGON declassification had been anticipated for many years, in July 2012 the NRO declassified significant information about another program whose one and only launch had taken place in December 1964. That launch had been a question mark for observers of U.S. space reconnaissance programs for many years as it did not appear to fit in to any of the known programs. By late 2001 it had been identified as the single launch of a radar imagery satellite known as QUILL.7 But QUILL's very existence was one that the NRO would neither confirm or deny at that time - responding to a June 1999 Freedom of Information Act request for documents about the program with a 'Glomar' response.

One step towards declassification of QUILL was the acknowledgment of the "fact of" NRO operation of a radar imagery satellite (Document 68, Document 69, Document 70, Document 71) - which had been an open secret even before the initial December 1988 launch of the ONYX radar imagery satellite - the first such radar imagery satellite launched since QUILL. Then in 2009, the NRO received another FOIA request for documents concerning QUILL and was faced with the situation of being unable to release information because it remained classified but also being informed that it could not legally maintain that classification (Document 72). The result was the initiation of a declassification process that first involved acknowledgement of the "fact of" QUILL as a radar imager (Document 73) and then a series of meetings (Document 74a, Document 74b, Document 74c) to produce a declassified collection of histories and documents concerning the program.

The documents in this briefing book provide a road map to the declassification process. They demonstrate the impetuses for declassification, obstacles to and disputes with regard to declassification, the number of different agencies involved in the process, the variety of issues considered, and the frequent delays that result in long gaps between the time programs have been terminated and their declassification, as well in the delays between the initial initiative to declassify and actual declassification.

Table 3 lists, for the programs that have been declassified, when they concluded and when they were declassified.


Program Conclusion Declassified Interval in Years
GRAB/DYNO 1962 1998 36
QUILL 1964 2012 38
LANYARD 1963 1995 32
ARGON 1965 1995 30
KH-7 1966 2002 36
POPPY 1977 2005 28
KH-9 Mapping 1980 2002 22
GAMBIT 1984 2011 27
HEXAGON 1986 2011 25

Table 3. Conclusion and Declassification Dates of Satellite Reconnaissance Programs


Documents

I. DECLASSIFICATION OF THE DEFENSE METEOROLOGICAL SATELLITE PROGRAM

Document 1: Franklin J. Ross, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Research & Development, Memorandum for Assistant Secretary of Defense (Intelligence), Subject: DSAP Review (U), June 7, 1972, Classification Deleted.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo responds to a memorandum from the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Intelligence) on the possible declassification of data obtained by Defense Systems Applications Program (DSAP) satellites - satellites developed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) for the purpose of gathering weather data in support of photographic reconnaissance satellite, as well as military, operations.

 

Document 2: John L. McLucas, Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, Subject: Declassification of DSAP Data, August 31, 1972, Classification Deleted.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In this memo, McLucas, who was serving simultaneously as Under Secretary of the Air Force and Director of the NRO, suggests how to handle the declassification of DSAP data by disguising the existence of previous classified satellite launches. He specifies that the first satellite whose data would be unclassified (with some exceptions) would be designated as the first operational Defense Meteorological Satellite, with previous satellites being represented, if required, as "research and development" satellites.

 

Document 3: Air Force Systems Command, Subject: Proposed DSAP Declassification Actions, September 18, 1972. Classification Deleted.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo from the Systems Command to an unidentified (deleted) recipient, while offering no objection to disclosure of DSAP data, notes three reasons for not disclosing the existence of a Defense Department meteorological satellite system.

 

Document 4: Air Force Special Security Office, Space and Missile Systems Organization, to Air Force Special Security Office, AFSC, September 20, 1972. Classification Deleted.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo from one Air Force Special Security Office (responsible for security of certain NRO data) to another offers six comments in support of the AFSC objections to full disclosure of DSAP activities.

 

Document 5: Tom Crawford, Space and Missile System Organization, Subject: Declassification of DSAP Data, September 25, 1972. Classification Deleted.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

A senior official of the research and development component of SAMSO responds to the August 31 McLucas memo - questioning the proposed cover story and suggesting alternative approaches "which will allow NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] to benefit from DSAP data without using the cover story."

 

Document 6: General John D. Ryan, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force, Subject: Declassification of DSAP Data, October 2, 1972. Classification Deleted.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

The Air Force's Chief of Staff also responds to the August 31 memo from McLucas - offering no objection to providing NOAA with DSAP data but specifying concerns about the suggestion to declassify the DSAP mission and issue a press release at the time of the next launch.

 

Document 7: John L. McLucas, Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, Subject: Declassification of DSAP Data, October 10, 1972. Classification Deleted.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In his response to Ryan's memo, McLucas concur with Ryan's suggestion (Document 4) to declassify DSAP data but continue to maintain the classification of other aspects of the program, and answer questions about the source of the data by stating only that it was the product of a classified military space program.

 

Document 8: Air Force Systems Command, Subject: Data Declassification, December 20, 1972. Classification Deleted.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This message clarifies Air Force policy on the release of DSAP data. It includes the specifications that any member of the scientific community could use DSAP to support meteorological conclusions and volunteer that the information came from a classified military space program.

 

II. DECLASSIFICATION OF CORONA, ARGON & LANYARD SYSTEMS AND PRODUCT

Document 9: Kevin Ruffner, "CORONA and the Intelligence Community," Unclassified.

Source: Studies in Intelligence, 39, 5 (1996), pp. 61-69.

This article, by a CIA historian, discusses the events that led to the declassification of programmatic details of the CORONA, ARGON, and LANYARD (CAL) programs along with the imagery they produced. It discusses the push for declassification, problems and issues in the declassification effort, the role of the National Reconnaissance Office and Vice President Al Gore, the final push for declassification, and the two official events associated with the declassification - a February 24, 1995 ceremony at the CIA, at which time basic details about the satellite programs were made public (Document 11), and a May 1995 conference which coincided with the CIA's publication of CORONA: America's First Reconnaissance Satellite.

 

Document 10: William J. Clinton, Executive Order 12951, "Release of Imagery Acquired by Space-Based National Intelligence Systems," February 22, 1995. Unclassified.

Source: Federal Register 60,39 February 28, 1995, pp. 10789-10790.

This is the executive order, signed by President Clinton, which specified that the imagery from the CORONA, ARGON, and LANYARD systems was to be declassified and released within 18 months, and transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration. A second section also provided for a periodic review of the imagery from other systems and mandated that the review of "imagery from obsolete broad-areas film-return systems other than Corona, Argon, and Lanyard [that is the HEXAGON/KH-9 system] be completed within five years."

 

Document 11: Central Intelligence Agency, "Historical Imagery Declassification Fact Sheet," February 24, 1995. Unclassified.

Source: Central Intelligence Agency.

This one-page handout was provided to media and other attendees at the ceremony announcing the plan to declassify CORONA, ARGON, and LANYARD imagery. It covers the missions and years of operation of each program, significant dates, "firsts," resolution and swath width, and the number of images produced.

 

Document 12: Jeffrey K. Harris, Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Memorandum for Acting Director of Central Intelligence, Subject: Release of the CORONA, ARGON, and LANYARD Programmatic Data with the Continued Protection of Residual, Sensitive Material, April 14, 1995. Secret.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

As Kevin Ruffner noted in his article (Document 9), President Clinton's executive order (Document 10) only directed the declassification of imagery, not the programmatic details about the satellites. This memo from the director of the NRO to William Studeman, then the acting Director of Central Intelligence, asked Studeman to approve the NRO director's recommendation to release programmatic data concerning the CAL programs. Before enumerating his recommendations, Harris provides a review of the background and a discussion of reasons for declassification, as well as specifying what would be involved in the declassification effort.

 

Document 13: William O. Studeman [Acting Director of Central Intelligence], Memorandum for: Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Subject: Release of the CORONA, ARGON, and LANYARD Programmatic Data, April 19, 1995. Secret.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In this memo, Studeman approves the recommendations made by Harris in his April 14 memo (Document 12), subject to guidelines specified in ( Document 14c).

Document 14a: Jeffrey K. Harris, Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Memorandum for Director, Central Imagery Office; Deputy Director for Science & Technology, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); General Counsel, CIA, Subject: Guidelines for Review of Programmatic Data Associated with Deactivated Imaging Satellite Reconnaissance Programs, n.d. Secret.

Document 14b: Jeffrey K. Harris, Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Memorandum for Director of Imagery Intelligence (IMINT); Director of Management, Services and Operations (MS&O), Subject: Review of Programmatic Data Associated with Deactivated Imaging Satellite Reconnaissance Programs, n.d. Secret.

Document 14c: NRO, Guidelines for Review of Programmatic Data Associated with Deactivated Imaging Satellite Reconnaissance Programs, n.d. Secret.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In the first memo of this group, Harris notifies the addressees of his request to the Acting DCI for authorization for release of CAL programmatic data and that, in anticipation of approval, he has directed an NRO effort to review the data for declassification. He requests that the addressees review the guidelines (Document 14c) for the declassification effort and provide questions and comments.

The second document is an internal NRO memo, which instructs key NRO officials to begin the declassification effort referred to in Document 14a - an effort to first assemble all the relevant CAL materials and then begin the review process. The final, ten-page, memo constitutes the guidelines referred to by Studeman (Document 13) and Harris (Document 14a). That memo specifies the objective and scope of the effort, establishes guiding principles for the effort, discusses categories of programmatic material and information, sensitivity factors, and foreign policy issues. It also specifies information related to the CAL programs of "continued sensitivity."

 

III. DECLASSIFICATION OF NRO LAUNCHES

Document 15: [Deleted], Cover, Deception, and Perception Related to NRO Launches, December 15, 1995. Top Secret Umbra.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This document is a draft of an uncompleted report that was commissioned by the NRO. The paper was intended "to examine the steps taken to conceal the true nature of the most observable part of the NRO - launch and on-orbit operations and ... analyze their effectiveness." Much of the document is in outline form, indicating only what topics would have been covered had it been completed. Discussions of deception activities, media perceptions, and adversary reactions have been redacted from the version released.

 

Document 16: [Deleted] to Senior Managers and Security Personnel, Subject: NRO Launch Declassification, December 13, 1996. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This NRO message provides advance notice to NRO senior managers and security personnel of the impending declassification of information concerning NRO launches. It specifies what information will be declassified and what would remain classified. It characterizes the initiative as "a calculated risk management decision" and notes outside pressure for increased openness.

 

Document 17: Deputy Director's Note #30, "NRO Launch Declassified," December 18, 1996. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This notice from the NRO deputy director informs the organization's employees of four items of information about NRO launches that will be released to the public effective that day. It also notes that "This declassification decision officially acknowledges something which is already obvious" and notes that such declassification efforts are aimed at strengthening the credibility of the security system.

 

Document 18: [Deleted] to AIG-711, Policy Notice 001/97, "Declassification of NRO Launch and Associated Facts," March 7, 1997. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This policy notice informs its readers of additional information about NRO launches that have been downgraded, some of it to an unclassified level - including NRO operations from Vandenberg Air Force Base and the association of Air Force program designators used for certain NRO payloads. It also states that the NRO will not make a public announcement concerning the changes in classification policy.

 

PART IV: DECLASSIFICATION OF THE GRAB & POPPY ELECTRONIC INTELLIGENCE PROGRAMS

Document 19: Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan, Director, NSA, Memorandum for Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Subject: Declassification Activities (U) - Information Memorandum, August 14, 1997. Secret/BYEMAN .

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memorandum from the Director of the National Security Agency to the Director of the NRO is the beginning of the declassified record with regard to the declassification of details about U.S. SIGINT satellite programs. In it, NSA Director Minihan suggests that a prerequisite to the public release of such details - acknowledgment of the "fact of" satellite SIGINT - having been met, it was time "to accelerate putting certain cryptologic systems into the public record." Minihan goes on to specify the program he has in mind - a second-generation Navy space ELINT program designated POPPY - and what he considers to be its unique aspects.

 

Document 20: Commanding Officer, Naval Research Laboratory, to Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Subj: Declassification of DYNO Program, September 22, 1997. Secret/BYEMAN/TALENT-KEYHOLE. w/enclosure: Untitled description of NRL history.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo from the head of the Naval Research Laboratory informs NRO Director Keith Hall that the NRL will be hosting several days of events to celebrate its 75th anniversary. The author goes on to provide some details on what he characterizes as "one of the most significant contributions by NRL in the space area" - the DYNO (aka GRAB) electronic intelligence satellite, the predecessor to POPPY and America's first successful reconnaissance satellite. The NRL commander then suggests that the upcoming NRL anniversary would be a "natural and appropriate" time for public disclosure of the program.

 

Document 21: Keith R. Hall, Memorandum for Director, National Security Agency, Subject: Declassification Activities (U), September 22, 1997. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In this response to General Minihan's August 14 memo, NRO Director Hall agrees that the POPPY program represents an "excellent candidate for declassification consideration" and informs Minihan that he has selected a team to "investigate the declassification of relevant elements of POPPY."

 

Document 22: Keith Hall, Director, NRO, Memorandum for Commanding Officer, Naval Research Laboratory, Subject: Declassification of DYNO Program, n.d. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

NRO Director Hall responds to the NRL commander's September 22 memo, and notes that he and Lt. Gen. Minihan have chartered a team to consider declassifying a program whose identity is redacted from the memo. (The redaction almost certainly reflects the fact that the memo was reviewed after the declassification of the GRAB/DYNO program but prior to the declassification of the POPPY program. Thus, the first redaction, almost certainly, refers to POPPY and that it was the successor program to DYNO.) Hall also informs the NRL commander that he would encourage the declassification team to "proceed with all due haste but any declassification must have the requisite approvals and careful scrutiny before public release."

 

Document 23: Point Paper, Issue: Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) request for declassification of DYNO ELINT satellite reconnaissance program, n.d. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This paper, apparently prepared by or for the deputy director of the NRO, was similar to Document 22, declassified in the interim between the declassification of GRAB/DYNO and POPPY - hence the failure of the term POPPY to appear. But it is clear that the point paper notes that the NRL commander's request for declassification of DYNO came at the same time that the NRO and NSA directors were discussing POPPY declassification. It also specifies the circumstances that made it desirable to separate the DYNO declassification process from the POPPY process.

 

Document 24: Keith Hall, Director, NRO, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan, Director, NSA, Memorandum, Subject: Declassification of Electronic Intelligence Satellite Reconnaissance Programs, March 27, 1998. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo from Hall and Minihan follows up on the point paper's (Document 23) discussion of the desirability of separating the DYNO and POPPY declassification process. It notifies its six recipients, including the commander of the NRL, that the POPPY Integrated Process Team was considering declassification in two stages, with the first stage covering GRAB/DYNO.

 

Document 25: NSA Staff to Director, NSA, Subject: Declassification of the GRAB ELINT Satellite Reconnaissance Programs, April 6, 1998. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This form presents NSA director Minihan with the opportunity to "approve" the proposed release of information concerning the GRAB program - although ultimate approval authority lay with the Director of Central Intelligence. It notes that Minihan's letter of August 14, 1997 (Document 19) provides a discussion of the issue, and recommends that Minihan concur in the release of the proposed NRL GRAB Exhibition Package (see Document 26) to an upcoming National SIGINT Committee meeting. Minihan indicates his concurrence, dated April 9.

 

Document 26: National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, Declassification Proposal to the DCI for Release of GRAB Project Information for the Naval Research Laboratory's 75th Anniversary Exhibition, April 2, 1998. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

The final step in the declassification process for the GRAB program was obtaining approval from the Director of Central Intelligence, at the time George J. Tenet. The package presented included the background correspondence (Document 19, Document 20, Document 21), a proposed memorandum for the DCI with the provision for him to indicate his authorization to declassify GRAB project information, and four enclosures - the proposed GRAB exhibition display, the GRAB residual sensitivity declassification and guidelines, guidelines for review of program data associated with deactivated and obsolete ELINT reconnaissance programs, and a summary of the report of the risk assessment team.

 

Document 27: Keith R. Hall, Memorandum for Director, National Security Agency/Central Security Service, Subject: Redirection of POPPY Declassification Effort, April 7, 1998. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memorandum from NRO Director Hall to NSA Director Minihan recalls their joint decision to initiate an assessment of the feasibility of declassifying the POPPY satellite program and the process established to conduct the review. He goes on to inform Minihan that he has decided, in light of the upcoming NRL 75th anniversary and the difficulty of getting DCI approval of POPPY declassification in time for the anniversary, to separate the DYNO/GRAB program from the overall POPPY declassification effort.

 

Document 28: Trevor Tunnicliff, OASD (C3I) NSA Liaison, Memorandum for Senior Civilian Official in OASD (C3I), Subject: Declassification of GRAB Information, April 10, 1998. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memorandum represents another step in the GRAB declassification process, as it recommends to the senior Department of Defense intelligence official that he concur in the release of GRAB information. It reassures the official that the proposal is consistent with current declassification policy and that currently sensitive information as well as foreign relations concerns are still being protected.

 

Document 29: [Deleted], Chairman, National SIGINT Committee, Memorandum for the Director of Central Intelligence, Subject: Proposal for the Declassification and Release of Information Regarding the First Satellite ELINT Collection Program (U) - Action Memorandum, April 13, 1998. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

The National SIGINT Committee is the senior interagency body dealing with SIGINT policy - responsible for both advising the DCI (in 1998) and overseeing SIGINT activities on his behalf. This memo provides background and discussion on the GRAB/DYNO declassification effort and recommends that the DCI approve the declassification and release of certain historical information concerning the program.

 

Document 30: Lt. Gen. Kenneth A. Minihan, Memorandum for the Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Subject: Redirection of POPPY Declassification - INFORMATION MEMORANDUM, April 16, 1998. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In this memorandum, NSA Director Minihan informs NRO Director Hall that he supports his decision to separate the DYNO/GRAB program from the POPPY declassification process.

 

Document 31: Sally Van Seward, National Security Agency, To: [Deleted], Subject: GRAB ELINT Satellite, May 1, 1998. Secret.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This message informs NSA Director Minihan that another hurdle in the GRAB declassification process has been cleared, and that the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence has approved the GRAB ELINT satellite declassification package.

 

Document 32: [Deleted], Chairman, National SIGINT Committee, Letter to: Keith Hall et al., May 1, 1998. Unclassified.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This brief letter informs NRO Director Hall and other key officials that the DCI has approved the release of GRAB/DYNO information. (The attached approval referred to in the letter was not released).

 

Document 33: Keith Hall, Letter to the Honorable Richard Shelby and the Honorable Robert Kerrey, May 18, 1998. Unclassified.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

NRO Director Hall informs the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) that the DCI has approved the declassification of GRAB/DYNO material, describes what GRAB is, and states that "this will be the first SIGINT satellite information released to the public." It also assures the SSCI leadership that a team of technical and security experts has evaluated the information to be released to determine if there would be any risk to national security.

 

Document 34: NSA Staff, To: Director, NSA, Subject: POPPY Declassification, January 27, 2003. Secret/BYEMAN/TALENT-KEYHOLE.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo, written about five-and-a-half years after the declassification of POPPY was proposed and four-and-a-half years after the declassification of GRAB/DYNO, is part of the resumption of the POPPY declassification process. It notes the background of the issue, reports that reviews have been conducted by two interagency committees concerning the consequences of the proposed release, and identifies three approval decisions facing the NSA Director (at the time Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who succeeded Minihan in 1999) with regard to POPPY. As indicated by the initials on the second page, Hayden concurs in all three release recommendations.

 

Document 35: [Deleted], Chairman, POPPY Declassification, IPT, Memorandum for Director of National Intelligence et. al., Subject: Declassification of POPPY Electronic Intelligence Reconnaissance Satellite Program (1962-1977), August 16, 2005. For Official Use Only.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo announces that CIA Director Porter J. Goss has approved the declassification of the POPPY program - almost eight years after declassification was proposed by the Director of NSA. It also provides information on events planned by NRO and NSA to disclose information about and commemorate the POPPY program.

 

Document 36: Donald M. Kerr, Director, NRO, NRO Director's Note 2005-18, "Declassification of the POPPY Program," August 24, 2005. Unclassified.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In addition to informing NRO employees of the forthcoming POPPY ceremony, this memo from the organization's director, provides information on POPPY's functions, the number of launches, and the time period in which those launches occurred.

 

Document 37: Robert A. McDonald and Sharon K. Moreno, Raising the Periscope ... Grab and Poppy: America's Early ELINT Satellites (Chantilly, Va.: NRO, September 2005).

Source: National Reconnaissance Office.

This 25-page booklet provides a basic historical account of the GRAB and POPPY programs - including its origins, various codenames and security systems for the program, missions, satellite operations, receiving equipment, intelligence contributions, and information on launch dates and launch sites.

 

PART V: DECLASSIFICATION OF KH-7 and KH-9 IMAGERY

Document 38: George J. Tenet, Acting Director of Central Intelligence, Memorandum for: Richard J. Wilhelm et al., Subject: (FOUO) Imagery Declassification, December 21, 1996.

Secret.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo notes the requirement in President Clinton's February 22, 1995 executive order for a review of imagery from the KH-9 system (with the objective of declassifying as much of the imagery as possible), and that a panel would be leading such a review. It also informs the drecipients that the National Imagery and Mapping Agency would establish a small interagency group, emphasizing that it would be a small group, to facilitate the use of imagery in support of a variety of customers - from military commanders to civil agencies.

 

Document 39: Keith R. Hall, Memorandum for Director, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Subject: [Deleted] Declassification Initiative, March 7, 1997. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo represents the beginning of a process, initiated by NRO Director Keith Hall, to declassify details of both the GAMBIT and HEXAGON satellite imagery programs - to include the programmatic, operational, and technical details as well as the imagery produced. The redactions in the document are the consequence of the failure (in 1997) to obtain approval for declassification of anything beyond the imagery produced by the KH-7 component of GAMBIT and the mapping imagery from the KH-9, along with some details of the missions flown to obtain the imagery. An unredacted version is Document 60.

 

Document 40: Keith R. Hall, Memorandum for Acting Director of Central Intelligence, Subject: Request for Declassification Authority for Select [Deleted] Programmatic Materials (S/TK), June 9, 1997. Secret/BYEMAN/TALENT-KEYHOLE. w/att: Guidelines for Review of Programmatic Data Associated with Deactivated Imaging Satellite Reconnaissance Programs.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo to Acting DCI George Tenet from NRO Director Hall requests that, under the authority granted the DCI by Presidential Decision Directive 49, "National Space Policy," he declassify the existence of imagery from one or more unidentified (in the redacted memo) satellite imagery systems. Further, Hall, requests that Tenet delegate to him the authority to declassify program data and technology associated with the programs. The redacted material undoubtedly refers to the GAMBIT and HEXAGON satellite programs.

 

Document 41: Executive Director for Intelligence Community Affairs, Memorandum for: Director of Central Intelligence, Subject: Declassification of KH-7, -[8], and -9 Technology, August 13, 1997. Secret.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

DCI George Tenet provides background on the NRO-initiated declassification effort - including that it involved declassification of imagery and programmatic data about the KH-7, KH-8, and KH-9 programs (the GAMBIT and HEXAGON programs), that the declassified material was part of a special ceremony and NRO event, and that it was used to plan an academic-style conference, similar to the 1995 CORONA conference. The memo further provides information on the declassification guidelines for the review and the current status of the effort. It also recommends that the DCI authorize declassification.

 

Document 42: Edward G. Abington to George J. Tenet, September 15, 1998. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In this letter to the DCI, the State Department's acting secretary of state for intelligence and research (and simultaneously head of the department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research) provides the department's views on the proposed declassification of satellite imagery and program data. Abington reports that the State Department supports the ongoing review and believes certain imagery could be declassified immediately. The redacted memo notes the advantages of blanket declassification, but also seems to suggest that there might be value in a release that would produce no extreme foreign reaction that would force the U.S. government to restrict relatively high-resolution commercial imagery.

 

Document 43: George J. Tenet to Edward G. Abington, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, September 30, 1998. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

DCI Tenet thanks Abington for his letter (Document 42). He indicates that Abington has suggested that rather than declassify the imagery from both the KH-9 imaging and mapping cameras he postpone any decision on release of imagery from the former - almost certainly because the 1-2 foot resolution of the images produced by the intelligence imagery camera were more precise than any in the public domain, including those produced by new and forthcoming commercial imagery satellites.

 

Document 44: [Deleted], Member, Senior Steering Committee, Historical Imagery Declassification Review, Subject: [Deleted] CIA Response on KH-7 Historical Imagery Declassification, October 16, 1998. Secret/BYEMAN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo informs the chairman of the historical imagery declassification review committee that the CIA supports the blanket declassification of KH-7 imagery. It also notes that two unidentified area divisions (probably including the division responsible for Israel) of the CIA Directorate of Operations oppose blanket declassification of either KH-7 or KH-9 imagery. It further reports that CIA support for blanket KH-7 imagery declassification does not imply support for other blanket proposals.

 

Document 45: Lt. Gen. James J. King, Director, National Imagery and Mapp;ing Agency, Memorandum for Director of Central Intelligence, Subject: Declassification of KH-7 and KH-9 Mapping (Frame) Camera Imagery (S), January 7, 2000. Secret/[TALENT-KEYHOLE]

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo from the Director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency to DCI George Tenet indicates that the review process directed by President Clinton's February 24, 1995 executive order (Document 10) is still ongoing. It reports that the Imagery Policy and Security Committee (IPSCOM) has reviewed KH-7 and KH-9 imagery and that IPSCOM has detected no opposition in "recommending declassification of KH-7 imagery." The redacted portions of the second paragraph may have included recommendations to exclude imagery of Israel from the release of KH-7 imagery and releasing only KH-9 mapping camera imagery.

 

Document 46: Joan Dempsey, DDCI/CM, Executive Correspondence Routing Sheet, Subject: [Deleted] D/NIMA memo on Issues with Declassification of KH-7 and KH-9 Imagery, January 13, 2000, Secret/[Deleted] w/att: Memorandum for: Director of Central Intelligence, Subject: [Deleted], Declassification of KH-7 and KH-9 Mapping (Frame) Camera Imagery, February 24, 2000. Secret/[Deleted]

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

The routing sheet from the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence for community management recommends that the DCI concur in the recommendations of the attached memo. That memo recommends that the DCI approve NIMA's development of an implementation plan for declassification of KH-7 and KH-9 mapping camera imagery.

 

Document 47: George J. Tenet, Memorandum for: Director, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Subject: [Deleted] KH-7 and KH-9 Declassification, March 8, 2000. Secret/[Deleted].

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

The Director of Central Intelligence informs the Director of NIMA that he should proceed with the declassification review, prepare a final recommendations package for declassifying KH-7 and KH-9 mapping camera imagery, and identify risks associated with the declassification. It also directs that the package be sent to the Secretaries of State and Defense.

 

Document 48: J. Stapleton Roy, To: The Secretary, Subject: Declassification of Old Satellite Imagery, June 14, 2000. Secret/NOFORN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo from the chief of the department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research to Secretary of State Madeline Albright presents the secretary with the issue for decision - whether to sign an attached memorandum recommending declassification of historical imagery from the KH-7 system and KH-9 mapping camera. It also provides a discussion of the background, including the provisions of President Clinton's February 22, 1995 executive order (Document 10) concerning the role of the Secretary of State in the declassification process, a discussion of the essential factors, and a recommendation for approval of the declassification of KH-7 imagery and KH-9 mapping camera imagery. It also indicates that the KH-7 release would exclude imagery of Israel.

 

Document 49: Joan A. Dempsey, Note for: Director of Central Intelligence, Subject: Declassification of KH-7/9 Imagery, August 11, 2000. Secret/[Deleted].

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo, from the deputy Director of Central Intelligence for community management, informs DCI Tenet that the declassification process has cleared all hurdles and recommends his approval of the declassification.

 

Document 50: National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Historical Imagery Declassification Conference, America's Eyes: What We Were Seeing, September 2002. Unclassified.

Source: National Imagery and Mapping Agency.

Despite all the approvals for declassification of review of imagery having been completed before the end of August 2000, it would not be until September 2002 that actual declassification took place. As part of the declassification, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency organized a conference in which aspects of the KH-7 and KH-9 mapping efforts were discussed. It also released the booklet providing an overview of the KH-7 and KH-9 mapping system and the imagery they produced.

 

PART VI: DECLASSIFICATION OF "FACT OF" SELECTED NRO MISSION GROUND STATIONS

Document 51: Donald M. Kerr, Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Subject: National Reconnaissance Office Mission Ground Station Declassification Study, May 23, 2007. Secret/TALENT-KEYHOLE.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

Kerr notifies recipients that the NRO has completed the first phase of its effort to declassify the "fact of" several NRO ground stations, including those at Pine Gap, Australia, and Menwith Hill Station, United Kingdom. He also states that he plans to proceed with the second phase, then request approval of the Director of National Intelligence for declassification.

 

Document 52: Donald M. Kerr, Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Letter to [Deleted], May 23, 2007. Secret/TALENT-KEYHOLE.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This is one of several letters to recipients whose identities are redacted from the versions released under the FOIA - possibly because they are foreign intelligence officials. It also includes some language apparently deleted from Document 51 - noting that Kerr has no plans to publicize the declassification or declassify information that pre-dates the "fact of" declassification.

 

Document 53: Scott F. Large, Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Memorandum for Director of National Intelligence, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Subject: National Reconnaissance Office Mission Ground Station Declassification, February 22, 2008. Secret/TK.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This memo to the DNI and Principal DDNI notes the NRO director's plans to declassify the "fact- of" NRO Mission Ground Stations located near Washington, D.C., Denver, Colorado, and Las Cruces, New Mexico, as well as those at Alice Springs (Pine Gap), Australia, and Menwith Hill, U.K.. Some of the deletions may indicate that the ground stations whose existence is to be acknowledged are those that have been identified in media accounts.

 

Document 54: National Reconnaissance Office, National Reconnaissance Office Mission Ground Station Declassification Program Plan, February 29, 2008. Secret/TK.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This plan, attached to Scott Large's memo to the DNI (Document 53), outlines the basic declassification plan and a number of annexes describing the responsibilities of specific annex managers - including those for business plans and operations, security & counterintelligence, and systems operations. It reveals the official designations for the Washington area and Las Cruces ground stations as well as their new designations at the time of declassification.

 

Document 55: Ralph S. Haller, National Reconnaissance Office, Principal Deputy Director's Note Number 2008-01, "Mission Ground Station Declassification," August 22, 2008. Secret/TK.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

Haller's memo to NRO employees notes that the DNI has concurred with the NRO plan to declassify the "fact of" several NRO ground stations in the United States and abroad. It also notes that the declassification applies only to "fact of" and not "facts about" activities or people at the acknowledged locations.

 

Document 56: Scott F. Large, Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Subject: Declassification of the "fact of" National Reconnaissance Office Mission Ground Stations and the "fact of" presence at Harrogate, United Kingdom and Alice Springs, Australia,

September 24, 2008. Secret/TALENT-KEYHOLE.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

Large's memo to the Secretary of State, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a number of intelligence officials informs them that the DNI has concurred with the NRO initiative to declassify the "fact of" the NRO presence at sites in Australia and the United Kingdom - and that declassification will take place on October 15, 2008. It also explains the general intent behind the declassification.

 

Document 57: Scott F. Large, Letter to [Deleted], September 24, 2008. Secret/TALENT-KEYHOLE.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This is one of a number of letters to several unidentified (via redaction) recipients containing information similar to that in Document 56. It also provides the unclassified names and acronyms of the three U.S. ground stations, and the Harrogate (Menwith Hill) and Pine Gap facilities. In addition, it notes that NRO's Office of Security and Counterintelligence developed an education plan for personnel to implement the declassification. Similar letters were sent to relevant members of Congress.

 

Document 58: NRO Director of Security and Counterintelligence Note 2008-05, "Mission Ground Station Declassification Mandatory Training," October 23, 2008. Secret/TK.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This note informs NRO employees that the NRO Director has decided that all NRO employees and badged contractors will be required to complete Mission Ground Station Declassification awareness training - and that the completion of training will be necessary for visit certifications to the ground stations. The memo also notes that the domestic stations have been renamed.

 

Document 59: [Deleted], "Inside the Mission Ground Station Declassification Integrated Planning Team (IPT)," Space Sentinel, Winter 2009, Secret/SI/TK.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This article, from a classified NRO journal, provides a history of the Mission Ground Station declassification effort. It describes the impetuses for declassification, and the various phases of the effort - consideration, coordination, and implementation. It also provides a listing of the specific categories of information about the ground stations that remained classified - including, but not limited to, their history and "the locations of other classified NRO sites."

 

PART VII: DECLASSIFICATION OF THE GAMBIT AND HEXAGON SYSTEMS AND THEIR PRODUCT

Document 60: Keith R. Hall, Memorandum for Director, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Subject: HEXAGON and GAMBIT Declassification Initiative, March 7, 1997. Secret.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In this letter, from NRO Director Keith Hall, and written over fourteen years before declassification occurred, the Director of NIMA is informed that Hall has initiated "a plan to declassify the appropriate programmatic, operational, and technical aspects of both the HEXAGON (KH-9) and GAMBIT (KH-7 and KH-8) collection systems this year." (emphasis added). Hall expresses his desire to highlight the declassification in October, preceding NRO Family and suggests co-hosting with NIMA - in 1998 - a scholarly conference on the programs.

 

Document 61: Bruce Carlson, Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Memorandum for Director of National Intelligence, Subject: Declassification of GAMBIT and HEXAGON Systems and Selected Programmatic Data, April 28, 2010. Top Secret/SI/TK/NOFORN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In this memo to the Director of National Intelligence, NRO Director Bruce Carlson requests concurrence with his intent to declassify the "fact of" the GAMBIT and HEXAGON imaging systems and selected programmatic data. Carlson also notes that since the imagery produced is under the management authority of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency his request does not extend to declassification of the imagery.

 

Document 62: David C. Gompert, Acting Director of National Intelligence, Memorandum for: General Bruce Carlson, Director, National Reconnaissance Office, E/S 00408, Subject: Declassification of GAMBIT and HEXAGON Program Names, July 27, 2010.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

After referencing Carlson's April 28 memorandum, Acting DNI Gompert declares that as of that day (July 27) the program names GAMBIT and HEXAGON, as film-return imaging systems, and their association with the KH-7, KH-8, and KH-9 imaging missions, are declassified. He also notes that the decision is limited and that "until formally reviewed for declassification, any other data or information about, or derived from these systems will remain classified."

 

Document 63: Bruce Carlson, Memorandum for Director of National Intelligence, Subject: Declassification of GAMBIT and HEXAGON Program Names, August 13, 2010. Unclassified/For Official Use Only.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

After addressing his appreciation for David Gompert's July 27 declassification decision (Document 61), Carlson expresses some concerns to the new DNI, James R. Clapper. Specifically, he questions language in the July 27 memorandum that "seems to vest final declassification decisions in the ODNI and intrudes on the declassification authorities of an Agency head."

 

Document 64: James R. Clapper, Memorandum for General Bruce Carlson, E/S 00705, Subject: Declassification of GAMBIT and HEXAGON Program Names, September 24, 2010. Unclassified/FOUO.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In response to Carlson's August 13 memo (Document 62), Clapper writes that he agrees that "decisions on the details of NRO information are best left to the NRO declassification subject matter experts" and that "I concur that future declassification decisions should be made by the DNRO."

 

Document 65: Bruce Carlson, Memorandum, Subject: (U) Decision to Declassify GAMBIT and HEXAGON Programs, June 2, 2011. Unclassified.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

Carlson announces that effective June 2, he approves the phased declassification of the GAMBIT and HEXAGON programs - excluding the consideration of the film, "which is under the purview of the Director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency." He then specifies the phases of the declassification and directs actions to be taken by various senior NRO officials.

 

Document 66: Bruce Carlson, Office of the Director Announcement Number 2011-26, "Declassifying the GABMIT and HEXAGON Imagery Satellite Programs," July 7, 2011.

Unclassified/FOUO.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

Carlson notifies NRO employees of his June 2 decision (Document 65) to declassify "most aspects" of the GAMBIT and HEXAGON programs and that the NRO's Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance and the NRO Information Access and Release Team is preparing the release of information and artifacts for September 17 in conjunction with the NRO's 50th Anniversary Gala.

 

Document 67: Bruce Carlson, Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Letter to Honorable Mike Rogers, Chariman, Honorable C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Ranking Member, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, August 10, 2011. Unclassified/FOUO.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

This is one of several letters from NRO Director Carlson to key members of Congress concerning his September 17 declassification plans with regard to GAMBIT and HEXAGON - specifying the type of information to be declassified as well as categories of data that would remain classified (which include data concerning international partnerships or which would reveal facts about follow-on systems). He also notes that the imagery associated with the systems is being reviewed by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

 

PART VIII: DECLASSIFICATION OF THE QUILL PROGRAM

Document 68: Scott F. Large, Director of National Reconnaissance, Memorandum for Director of National Intelligence, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Subject: Declassification of the "Fact-of" National Reconnaissance Office Radar Satellite Reconnaissance, February 21, 2008. Secret .

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

A basis for the declassification of QUILL as a radar imager was the earlier declassification of the fact that the NRO was operating one or more satellites that gathered imagery through use of a radar. This memo notes earlier DNI approval of declassification of the "fact of" radar reconnaissance but also states that the DNI requires a fully coordinated implementation plan. It contains the requested implementation plan as an attachment.

 

Document 69: J.M. McConnell, Memorandum for: Scott F. Large, Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Subject: Implementation Plan for Declassification of the "Fact Of" National Reconnaissance Office Radar Satellite Reconnaissance, April 10, 2008. Secret.

This memo from the Director of National Intelligence informs NRO Director Scott Large that the DNI's office concurs with the NRO's plan to declassify the "fact of" the NRO's operation of a radar imagery satellite, and requests that the NRO keep the DNI's office informed as the implementation proceeds.

 

Document 70: Scott F. Large, Director's Note Number 2008-22, "Declassifying 'Fact of' NRO Radar Satellite Reconnaissance," April 30, 2008. SECRET.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

The NRO Director informs the organization's employees that he has received concurrence from the DNI to implement the plan to declassify the "fact of" NRO radar satellite reconnaissance, and notes that the effective date for declassification would be June 9, 2008. It also states that declassification is limited to "fact of" and that no formal public announcement is planned.

 

Document 71: Scott F. Large, Memorandum for Distribution, Subject; Declassification of the "Fact of" National Reconnaissance Office Radar Satellite Reconnaissance, May 29, 2008. Secret.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In this memo, the NRO Director informs a variety of intelligence and national security officials of the DNI's concurrence with his implementation plan and the limitation of the declassification to the "fact of."

 

Document 72: Betty J. Sapp, Principal Deputy Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Memorandum for Director of National Intelligence, Subject: Approval to Declassify "Fact of" QUILL as Radar Imager, September 25, 2009. Secret/TK/NOFORN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In addition to requesting the DNI's approval of the NRO's decision to declassify the existence of QUILL, this memo provides background to the request - including a brief history of the QUILL program, and that the NRO has received a FOIA request for the information about QUILL. It also notes that the author of the memo has been advised that the NRO could not legally maintain classification of QUILL as a radar imager.

 

Document 73: David C. Gompert, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Memorandum for: General Bruce Carlson, Director National Reconnaissance Office, Betty J. Sapp, Principal Deputy Director, National Reconnaissance Office, E/S 01272, Subject: Declassification of QUILL as a Radar Imager, November 27, 2009. Secret/TK/NOFORN.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

In response to Betty Sapp's September 25 memo, David Gompert, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, notes that he is declassifying the "fact of" QUILL as a radar imager. His memo also notes that his decision affects only "the fact of" QUILL as a radar imager and that all other data remains classified.

 

Document 74a: National Reconnaissance Office, "QUILL Declassification and Release, Meeting Minutes, 6 February 2012," n.d. Unclassified/FOUO.

Document 74b: National Reconnaissance Office, "QUILL Declassification and Release, Meeting Minutes, 18 April 2012, n.d. Unclassified/FOUO.

Document 74c: National Reconnaissance Office, "QUILL Declassification and Release, Meeting Minutes, 6 June 2012, n.d. Unclassified/FOUO.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release.

The acknowledgment of the "fact of" QUILL was followed by an NRO initiative to declassify programmatic details of the program - as described in several histories and memos that would be released in July 2012. The minutes of these meetings describe various elements of the declassification effort.

 


Notes

[1] See National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Books #225 (Secrecy and U.S. Satellite Reconnaissance, 1958-1976, July 13, 2007), #231 (Declassifying the "Fact of" Satellite Reconnaissance, October 1, 2007), and #257 ( Out of the Black: The Declassification of the NRO, September 18, 2008).

[2] The documentary record in Part I indicates the decision to declassify data from the Defense meteorological satellite system, but not existence of the specific satellite program. However, NRO director John McLucas decided to acknowledged the existence of the weather satellites due to their use in the Vietnam war and the provision of data to both the Commerce Department and the scientific community. See David N. Spires, Beyond Horizons: A Half Century of Air Force Space Leadership (Colorado Springs, Co.: Air Force Space Command, 1997), p, 147. McLucas discussed the weather satellites a few months in a trade magazine - see John McLucas, "A New Look from USAF's Weather Satellites," Air Force Magazine, June 1973, p. 64-67.

[3] See technical details on the KH-1 through KH-6 systems, see Dwayne A. Day, John M. Logsdon, and Brian Latell, Eye in the Sky: The Story of the CORONA Spy Satellites (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998), pp. 231-233.

[4] On June 26, 2012, the NRO posted a history of GRAB and POPPY on its website with new details about the programs: Ronald L. Potts, Reid D. Mayo, and Peter G. Wilhem, U.S. Navy/NRO Program C Electronic Intelligence Satellites (1958-1977), September 3, 1998.

[5] Among key earlier works on NRO ground stations are two by Desmond Ball: A Suitable Piece of Real Estate: American Installations in Australia (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1980), and Pine Gap: Australia and the US geostationary signals intelligence satellite program (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988). Also see, David Rosenberg, Inside Pine Gap: The Spy Who Came in from the Desert (Melbourne: Hardie Grant Books, 2011). Among the works discussing Menwith Hill are: Duncan Campbell, The Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier: American Military Power in Britain (London: Paladin, 1986). On the Colorado ground station, see Allan Thomson, Aerospace Data Facility - Colorado/Denver Security Operations Center, Buckley AFB, Colorado, November 28, 2011 (available at www.fas.org).

[6] Not represented with respect to the years 2010 and 2011 are documents from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. In response to a January 20, 2011 FOIA request for "All 2010-2011 memos to or from the Director of Deputy Director of NGA concerning the declassification of the GAMBIT and HEXAGON programs or their product," NGA claimed that the five responsive documents needed to be "withheld in their entirety pursuant to FOIA exemption (b) (1) [classified information]." The NGA has made a similar claim with regard to a document forwarded from the office of the DNI in response to a September 4, 2012 request for "All 2009-2010 Fiscal Year memos to and from the Office of the DNI concerning (a) the declassification of QUILL as a radar imager, or (b) the declassification of the fact of GAMBIT/HEXAGON overhead ISR missions."

[7] Jeffrey T. Richelson, The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology (Boulder, Co.: Westview, 2001), pp. 213, 247.


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