Secrecy News

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 (pdf).  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.

3 thoughts on “Geospatial Intel Agency Releases Declassified Budget Docs

  1. Interesting that the documents don’t mention the NGA Integrated Operations Center – Southwest. IOC Denver shows up in the glossary as IOC-D, but not IOC-SW, which seems to be a going concern as indicated by a google for the strings “Las Cruces” “TS/SCI”

  2. Actually IOC-Southwest does appear in the glossary for FY 2009 and for FY 2010, though not for FY 2011 (and not in the main text of any of the volumes as released). Not sure what to make of that.

  3. I’m not sure either. IIRC, there was some sort of consolidation of NGA functions going on in connection with the construction of their new HQ at Ft. Belvoir and conceivably they pulled IOC-SW people back there. But the jobs notices sure look like they’re still hiring at Las Cruces.

    FWIW, there was a vacancy notice from mid-2010 that helpfully described IOC-SW:

    “The Integrated Operations Center-Southwest (IOC-SW) is a diverse Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) Community spanning most of NGA’s corporate and functional management responsibilities to include tasking; processing; exploitation; analysis and production; dissemination; national and international partnerships; GEOINT policy; training and outreach; research and development; acquisition; and technology insertion. Located in Las Cruces, New Mexico at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Aerospace Data Facility-Southwest (ADF-SW), the IOC-SW is not a traditional, hierarchical organization working a narrow NGA mission set under a single chain of command. Rather, it is a microcosm of NGA and includes elements of other GEOINT organizations as well responsible for 12 different core missions and a host of enabling activities. At present, this GEOINT Community consists of individuals representing 16 different NGA home offices from nine KC’s and two military service components, with most members organizationally, programmatically, and operationally linked to those external offices/components.”

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