Secrecy News

Redacted Budget Book Provides a Peek at the NRO

The National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates U.S. intelligence satellites, has just released the unclassified portions of its FY 2014 Congressional Budget Justification, a detailed account of its budget request for the current year.

Although more than 90% of the 534-page document (dated April 2013) was withheld from public release under the Freedom of Information Act, some substantive material was approved for public disclosure, providing a rare glimpse of agency operations, future plans and self-perceptions.  Some examples:

*    NRO says it recently achieved an “88 percent reduction in collection-to-analyst dissemination timelines,” facilitating the rapid dissemination of time-sensitive data.

*    The 2014 budget request “represents the biggest restructure of the NRO portfolio in a decade.”

*    The NRO research agenda includes “patterns of life.” This refers to the “ability to take advantage of massive data sets, multiple data sources, and high-speed machine processing to identify patterns without a priori knowledge or pattern definition… to detect, characterize, and identify elusive targets.”

*    Other research objectives include development of technologies for “collecting previously unknown or unobservable phenomena and improving collection of known phenomena; providing persistent surveillance; reducing satellite vulnerability; … innovative adaptation of video game and IT technologies…” and more.

*    “A primary responsibility of the NRO is ensuring that the entire NRO [satellite] constellation is replenished efficiently and in time to guarantee mission success.”

*    The NRO’s implementation of the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (IC ITE), an effort to establish a common IC-wide IT architecture, is discussed at some length. “The DNI’s IC ITE architecture paves the way for a fundamental shift toward operating as an IC Enterprise that uses common, secure, shared capabilities and services.”

*    With respect to security, NRO employs “automated insider threat detection tools, analyzes collected data in conjunction with disparate data sources to produce investigative leads, [and] performs assessments to rule out malicious activity occurring on NRO networks.”  NRO counterintelligence activities “concentrate on insider threat, traditional, and asymmetric methodologies.”

The National Reconnaissance Office has an annual budget of approximately $10 billion ($10.4 billion in FY 2012), according to classified budget documents obtained by the Washington Post. It employs around 975 people.

“I am proud to report that all of our major system acquisition programs are green– meeting or beating all performance, costs and schedule goals,” said Betty Sapp, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, at a March 2013 hearing. “Additionally, for the fourth year in a row, the NRO received a clean audit opinion on our financial statements,” an unprecedented feat in the U.S. intelligence community, which has largely eluded financial accountability.

“Over the coming years, the NRO will incorporate revolutionary new technologies into our architecture that will provide enhanced support to the warfighter while also improving the resiliency of our systems,” Director Sapp testified.

 

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