Events & Coverage

2003 - 2009


Materials presented in chronological order.

Defense Science Board/Air Force Scientific Advisory Board Joint Task Force. Acquisition of National Security Space Programs. Washington, DC: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, May 2003. []

Steven Aftergood, "Military Space Programs in Disarray," Secrecy News, 5 Sep. 2003, notes that the DSB/AFSCB report finds that there are "systemic problems" in the U.S. military and national security space programs. This includes the conclusion that "the next generation spy satellite program, known as the Future Imagery Architecture, is 'technically flawed' ... and 'not executable.'"

Pasternak, Douglas. "Lack of Intelligence." U.S. News & World Report, 11 Aug. 2003. []

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) "is in crisis. Despite its $7 billion annual budget, its satellites don't always work as promised. Its projects run billions in the red and years behind schedule. Some national security experts say the place just doesn't work." In response, "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and CIA Director George tenet [last year] created a new top-secret office to develop cutting-edge spy satellite technologies. The office is an arm of the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology. The new office maintains bogus commercial 'cover' facilities outside the agency's headquarters in Langley, VA.

"The coming months will be pivotal for the NRO. The agency hasn't put up a satellite in 22 months, and planned launches have been repeatedly delayed. But if all goes well, the NRO will launch two satellites before the end of the year."

Clark comment: This is a very interesting and informative article. It is recommended reading about a critical part of the Intelligence Community that rarely gets attention from the mainstream media.

Teets, Peter. "National Security Space in the Twenty-First Century." Air and Space Power Journal 18, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 4-8.

The Air Force Undersecretary and NRO Director writes: "Our challenge lies in shaping a future which will ensure that our space capabilities support tomorrow's successes. To meet that challenge, we will focus on five top priorities: achieving mission success in operations and acquisition, developing and maintaining a team of space professionals, integrating space capabilities for national intelligence and war fighting, producing innovative solutions for the most challenging national security problems, and ensuring freedom of action in space."

Fitzgerald, Dennis D. "Risk Management and National Reconnaissance from the Cold War Up to the Global War on Terrorism." National Reconnaissance: Journal of the Discipline and Practice (2005-U1): 9-18. [A scanned version is available at]

The NRO Deputy Director stresses that as the NRO "addresses the application of its resources to support the Global War on Terrorism, it is being faced not only with new emerging demands, but also with traditional demands.... However, the long-term fiscal experience has been one where the budgetary environment had been flat or declining."

From its beginning until the end of the Cold War, the NRO's successes and achievements resulted in "a reputation as an organization that was exceptionally successful at pushing the boundaries of technology and that always exceeded requirements.... This reputation and trackrecord was, in no small part, because of the streamlined financial and oversight environment that existed." But that environment changed from about 1990 forward to the aftermath of 9/11.

"Current expectations are that there can be no coverage gaps in overhead intelligence collection capabilities because the military is heavily dependent upon NRO systems and products for planning and operations." This environment "has led the NRO to become increasingly conservative in terms of ensuring continued mission performance at a time when there is also tremendous pressure to move on to the next-generation systems." NRO's "organizational imperative has shifted from advancing technology boundaries to meeting current mission requirements."

Widlake, Patrick. "National Reconnaissance Leadership for the 21st Century: Lessons from the NRO's Heritage." National Reconnaissance: Journal of the Discipline and Practice (2005-U1): 19-34. [A scanned version is available at]

"[T]he intelligence priorities of the 21st century constitute a difficult targeting challenge for [NRO satellite] systems that were optimal for Cold War era spying.... The insurgents aligned against the U.S. in its ongoing combat operations pose, in many ways, a more difficult reconnaissance challenge than the one faced by reconnaissance pioneers....

"The key lessons [from the past] for national reconnaissance leadership to consider are: cooperation between government and its industry partners helped leverage success; a strong industrial base is essential for knowledge and production; access to leadership at the highest levels can garner the support for research and development that increases the chances for program success; leaders and scientists must rekindle the creative spark; and risk is integral to achieving technological breakthroughs."

Waterman, Shaun. "New Chief of US Spy Satellite Agency Named." United Press International, 25 Jul. 2005. []

Donald Kerr will become NRO director in August 2005. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld made the appointment "with ... the agreement" of DNI John Negroponte. Previously, Kerr was the CIA's deputy director for science and technology. Prior to that, he was an FBI assistant director responsible for its Laboratory Division. He directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1979 to 1985.

Pincus, Walter. "Reconnaissance Office Role to Be Reviewed: Satellite Agency's Place Is Uncertain." Washington Post, 2 Sep. 2005, A27. []

NRO Director Donald M. Kerr said on 1 September 2005 that "Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had ordered a review of the role of the organization.." Kerr said that it is "still uncertain whether he would have a Pentagon title, as had his predecessors who served as undersecretaries of the Air Force with responsibilities beyond NRO."

Aftergood, Steven. "NRO Budget Book for FY 2006 (Redacted)." Secrecy News (from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy), 11 Jan. 2007. []

"A redacted version" of the NRO Congressional Budget Justification Book for FY-06 "was released" to the FAS last week in response to a FOIA lawsuit and "in compliance with a court order. The more intelligible portions of the document" are posted at:

Aftergood, Steven. "Commercial Satellites as 'National Technical Means.'" Secrecy News, 5 Mar. 2008. []

In a 2007 study, an advisory panel told the Directors of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) that "U.S. intelligence agencies could do more to incorporate commercial satellite capabilities into the U.S. intelligence satellite architecture."

The "National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Advisory Group" was chaired by Peter Marino. The group's report, "Independent Study of the Roles of Commercial Remote Sensing in the Future National System for Geospatial-Intelligence (NSG)," dated 16 July 2007, is available at: It posits that "the US government can commercially acquire robust commercial remote sensing capabilities to meet minimal acceptable requirements through the adoption of acquisition strategies that 'buy' proven, complex technologies but are modularly designed so as to maximize flexibility to meet dynamic mission needs."

Singer, Jeremy. "U.S. Air Force, Spy Agency Team up for Space Protection." Space News, 9 Apr. 2008. []

Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of Air Force Space Command, said on 8 April 2008 that the U.S. Air Force Space Command and the NRO "have joined together to create a new program to advise the military and intelligence community on how to protect space assets." The "top priority at the moment is the development of a congressionally mandated space protection strategy that is due in July, he added."

Aftergood, Steven. "FY 2008 NRO Budget Book Released." Secrecy News, 6 Nov. 2008. []

The NRO "has released a heavily redacted version of the Fiscal Year 2008 Congressional Budget Justification Book for the National Reconnaissance Program. It provides a few intriguing glimpses of the intelligence agency in transition."

Shalal-Esa, Andrea. "Spy Satellite Agency Boss Resigns." Reuters, 9 Apr. 2009. []

According to an NRO spokesman on 9 April 2009, NRO Director Scott Large has announced his resignation effective on 18 April 2009. He had held the position since October 2007.

Aftergood, Steven. "2006 Satellite Failure Remains a Mystery, NRO Says." Secrecy News, 25 Jun. 2009. []

Scott Large, then-NRO director, told the House Armed Services Committee on 5 March 2008 that the reason a U.S. intelligence satellite had failed shortly after launch in December 2006 remains unknown. Large also told Congress that "[t]he era of Acquisition Reform ... has left the NRO in a fragile state with a poor history of performance."

On 12 June 2009, "Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, with concurrence of the DNI, appointed retired Air Force Gen. Bruce Carlson as the 17th director" of the NRO.

Aftergood, Steven. "NRO Releases Portion of 2009 Budget Justification." Secrecy News, 13 Jul. 2009. []

The NRO has "released most of the unclassified portions ... of its Congressional Budget Justification Book for FY2009.  While those unclassified portions are only a small fraction of the full budget document, they still provide a fresh glimpse or two of the agency " The redacted document -- "National Reconnaissance Program, FY2009 Congressional Budget Justification," February 2008 -- is available at:

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