NRO Releases Parts of 2011 Budget Justification Book

06.06.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the U.S. intelligence agency that builds and operates intelligence satellites, has just released unclassified portions (pdf) of its Congressional Budget Justification Book for Fiscal Year 2011.  The large bulk of the document remains classified and unreleased, but the newly disclosed portions reveal a few scraps of new information.

“The NRO brings unique capabilities to bear in support of national security objectives by… acquiring and operating the most capable set of satellite intelligence collection platforms ever built,” the NRO told Congress.

“In times of heightened tension, crisis, or even humanitarian or natural disasters, the value of NRO systems is even greater,” the budget document said.  “NRO systems are not only the first responders of choice for the DoD, IC [intelligence community], or policy decision makers, but also they are often the only source of information.”

However, the NRO complained that its “financial flexibility has been lost due to a steady proliferation of budget control lines, more restrictive reprogramming limits, and greater external involvement in resource decisions” (p.2).  The NRO has a massive annual budget that is probably on the order of $10 billion.

The 2011 NRO budget document introduced some new unclassified code names and programs such as “Ardent Gunslinger” (a “three tiered replacement next generation CORE backbone replacing existing ATM [asynchronous transfer mode] network”) (p. 451) and “Puppet Master” (a “replacement to the Future Architecture for Command and Telemetry Services”) (p. 455), among other curious bits and pieces.

“The NRO acquires and operates satellites that provide constant global access to critical information otherwise unavailable to the President, his cabinet, other national leaders and numerous customers in the Defense and Intelligence communities.  These satellites provide services in three broad categories:  GEOINT [geospatial intelligence], SIGINT [signals intelligence], and Communications (COMM).”

The FY 2011 NRO budget book was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists.  As recently as 2006, the NRO had argued that its budget documents constituted “operational files” that are exempt from search and review under the FOIA.  We challenged that claim in a FOIA lawsuit and, remarkably enough, the court ruled (pdf) in our favor and against the agency.  Since that 2006 ruling by Judge Reggie B. Walton, the NRO has agreed to provide redacted versions of its budget book.  So have all other U.S. intelligence agencies except the National Security Agency, which uses a broad statutory exemption to withhold even unclassified agency information from public disclosure.