A Glimpse of the 2010 NRO Budget Request (Redacted)

07.01.10 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The National Reconnaissance Office — the U.S. spy satellite agency — “brings unique core capabilities to bear in support of national security objectives by acquiring and operating the most capable set of satellite intelligence collection platforms ever built.”

So begins the text of the newly released and redacted FY2010 NRO budget justification book (pdf).  A copy was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The US is arguably more reliant on overhead collection than ever before,” the NRO said.  “To a large extent, satellite reconnaissance is the foundation for global situational awareness, and as such, it is an essential underpinning of the entire US intelligence effort.  Space collection provides unique access to otherwise denied areas… and it does so without risk to human collectors or infringing upon the territorial sovereignty of other nations.  It also enables users to quickly focus on almost any point on the globe to rapidly respond to emerging situations or to monitor ongoing events.”

“In times of heightened tensions, crisis, or even humanitarian or natural disasters, the value of NRO systems is even greater. At this time, NRO systems are not only the first responders of choice for the DoD, IC, or key decisionmakers–they are often the only source of information,” the NRO said.

Most of the NRO budget book and all of the budget figures have been withheld from disclosure.  Only 116 pages out of the total of 484 pages contain substantial intelligible text.  But the released portion at least provides a sense of the NRO budget structure as well as a sometimes detailed description of the agency’s less sensitive activities and initiatives.

So, for example: In FY2009, the NRO expected to “execute over 25 operational test and evaluation events for on-orbit SIGINT assets” (p. 162).  The NRO Security program supports government and industry personnel “in over 900 NRO-sponsored facilities and almost 3,000 information networks” (p. 253).  Due to competing demands on fewer launch vehicles, “NRO is likely to continue to experience some launch-related delays” (p. 335).  And so on.  Even the (redacted) glossary at the end may be of interest to close students of NRO.

Until quite recently, the NRO refused to disclose even these unclassified portions of its budget request, contending that they were “operational” and therefore exempt from the disclosure requirements of the FOIA.  But in a FOIA lawsuit brought by the Federation of American Scientists in 2006, Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled against the NRO (pdf) and ordered the agency to disgorge the unclassified budget material.

Since that time, most other U.S. intelligence agencies have followed suit and have released comparable material.  Only the National Security Agency, citing its own more expansive statutory exemption from disclosure, has refused to do so.