Secrecy News

A New Directive for the National Reconnaissance Office

Last month, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates issued a new DoD Directive (pdf) on the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the agency that builds, launches and operates U.S. intelligence satellites.  The new directive, which is unclassified, cancels and replaces an earlier directive (pdf) from 1964, which was originally classified Top Secret.

The new directive generally describes the mission, organization and management of the NRO, and does so with a fair amount of detail.  It makes explicit, for example, the fact that the NRO is funded through both the National Intelligence Program (NIP) and the Military Intelligence Program (MIP), reflecting the agency’s dual role in supporting national policymakers and providing support to military operations.

The directive also makes reference to the normally sensitive subject of intelligence liaison relationships, stating, for example, that the NRO Director should “leverage overhead reconnaissance capabilities of foreign partners with whom NRO has an established relationship….”

See DoD Directive 5105.23, “National Reconnaissance Office (NRO),” June 28, 2011.

The very existence of the NRO itself was considered a national security secret until September 1992, when it was declassified by then-NRO Director Martin Faga.  Some of his erstwhile colleagues “still haven’t forgiven me,” Mr. Faga said recently.