SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 98
October 18, 2011

Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/

GEOSPATIAL INTEL AGENCY RELEASES DECLASSIFIED BUDGET DOCS

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) hired 600 to 700 new employees each year between 2005 and 2008, newly released budget documents indicate. Still, "the coming wave of retirement... presents significant risks that the program will lose valuable institutional knowledge and critical skills and capability."

These observations were presented in NGA's annual budget justification materials for fiscal years 2009, 2010 and 2011. Unclassified excerpts of the budget documents were released by NGA last week in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from the Federation of American Scientists.

NGA is an intelligence agency that provides all manner of imagery, mapping and other "geospatial intelligence" (GEOINT) products for national security as well as other applications. It is funded through the National Intelligence Program (NIP) and also through the Military Intelligence Program (MIP).

NGA products "support mission planning, mapping, environmental monitoring, urban planning, treaty monitoring, safe navigation, management of natural resources, homeland defense planning, emergency preparedness, and responses to natural and manmade disasters worldwide," the budget documents say.

Only a fraction -- perhaps 10% or so -- of the classified NGA budget documents survived the declassification process and were released under FOIA. Some of the coherent themes that emerge from the declassified documents include the transition to a new Agency headquarters at Fort Belvoir, which was completed last year, and the continuing integration of commercial satellite imagery into the NGA product line. The Agency's classified programs and activities (and spending levels) were not disclosed.

But many unfamiliar fine details of Agency operation and management were described. The National GEOINT Committee was established as an Intelligence Community body chaired by NGA to promote cross-discipline collaboration on GEOINT issues. Beginning in FY 2010, a program or process called "LEAR JET" was introduced as "a CI [counterintelligence] network monitoring tool to combat the cyber insider threat." And so on.

These budget justification materials are the first such documents to be released by NGA. The move invites the question: Why did the Agency release them? (This in turn is a subset of a broader question: Why and how does secrecy policy ever change?)

In this case, several factors leading up to release can be identified. First, there was a "demand" for the documents; they would not have been spontaneously released. Second, the Agency might have attempted to withhold them anyway, but a ruling by Judge Reggie B. Walton in a 2006 lawsuit against the National Reconnaissance Office found that such documents are subject to the FOIA.

But even that might not have been enough without an indispensable measure of good faith on the part of the Agency. "NGA wants to make it easy for the public to understand who we are," said NGA Director Letitia Long earlier this month.


INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY ANTICIPATES BUDGET CUTS

U.S. intelligence agencies are anticipating budget reductions of billions of dollars, said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper yesterday. He said he had just submitted a draft budget to OMB (presumably for FY 2013) that involved "double digit" cuts to the intelligence budget. See "U.S. Spies Facing Tens of Billions in Budget Cuts" by Sharon Weinberger, Wired Danger Room, October 17:

"In the last 10 years,... all we had to do essentially was preside over handing out more money and more people every year," DNI Clapper told a joint hearing of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees last month.

But "now we're in a 'we're-running-out-of-money-so-we-must-begin-to-think' mode," he said. "I think that is serving as the stimulus, if you will, to do some more creative thinking. I think this would do wonders in terms of saving money, efficiency, and promoting integration."

"Everything we do in intelligence... is not of equal merit. Some things are more valuable than others, particularly as we look to the future. I think it's very important to try to protect that valuable and most valuable resource we have, which is our people. We must continue some way of hiring every year, which we didn't do in many cases during that seven-year hiatus period [in the 1990s]. We must try to sustain healthy R&D for the future. And I think we have to be rather cold-hearted and objective about the real contribution the various systems make. So that's kind of the approach we're going to take," DNI Clapper told Congress last month.

"I don't want anyone to be under the mistaken impression that we are going to sustain all the capabilities we have today, because we're not," he said.

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Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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