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Order Code RL31369
CRS Report for Congress
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Imagery Intelligence: Issues for Congress
April 12, 2002
Richard A. Best, Jr
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ~ The Library of Congress
Imagery Intelligence: Issues for Congress
Intelligence derived from satellites has become an essential element of military operations and foreign policymaking. In particular, precise imagery from space-based collection systems makes possible the effective use of precision-guided munitions that is becoming the basis of U.S. defense planning. Imagery intelligence also provides the factual bases for addressing many foreign policy issues.
Imagery is collected by satellites acquired and operated by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), an organization with a record of enormous technological achievements since its creation in 1961. Imagery collected by the NRO is processed, analyzed, exploited, and disseminated by another organization, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA). NIMA was established in 1996, incorporating the Defense Mapping Agency and various intelligence offices.
Congress has been concerned with satellite imagery because of its critical importance and its high costs. Independent commissions established by Congress to assess the state of the imagery intelligence effort have concluded that significant changes need to be made in the way the Nation’s imagery effort is conducted. There is a consensus that greater emphasis should be placed on better collection targeting and improving processing, exploitation, and dissemination (the processes collectively termed TPED); that greater attention should be given to acquiring commercial imagery; and that the management of the imagery effort may need to be changed.
Even before the events of September 11, 2001, there appeared to be a fairly widespread view within congressional committees that at least some additional funding should be directed towards imagery collection and TPED. Subsequent military campaigns have underscored the use of imagery in military operations and other counterterrorist efforts. TPED encompasses the establishment of a “multi-int” database, i.e. an electronic file containing information from all intelligence sources, that will require the balancing of different needs of intelligence agencies and government consumers. Congress has encouraged NIMA’s role in establishing this database, but obstacles include costs, inherent technical difficulties, and the administrative and security complications of placing one agency in charge of maintaining and editing data for a multitude of users.
Some observers advocate more fundamental changes. These include significantly greater reliance on commercial imagery and a reduction in coverage by Government satellites. In this approach, the NRO and NIMA would concentrate on developing cutting edge technologies and on meeting special requirements beyond the capabilities of the private sector. Some would reconsider the next generation of imagery-collecting satellites. Satellite imagery is among the most important technological achievements of the Intelligence Community; maintaining a capability to support military operations that avoid inflicting vast civilian damages provides the underlying justification for a continuing effort.
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Issues for Congress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Tasking, Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (TPED) . . . . . . . . . . 7
Funding TPED . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Commercial Imagery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Management and Personnel Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Appendix A. National Reconnaissance Organization (NRO) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Appendix B. The National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) . . . . . . . . . 28
Imagery Intelligence: Issues for Congress
The NATO campaign against Serbian forces in Kosovo undertaken in the spring of 1999 has been termed both a brilliant success and a harbinger of military operations in the twenty-first century. Among other things, it demonstrated the increasing importance of precise imagery intelligence that permitted NATO to attack and destroy crucial Serbian targets with minimal friendly losses or collateral damage. Over 9,300 strike sorties were flown with NATO losing no aircrews and only two aircraft. Without the need for a costly ground campaign, Serbian forces pulled out of Kosovo and Albanian refugees were able to return to their homes.
In the midst of this successful air campaign, however, occurred a significant blunder that was to have major repercussions on the other side of the globe and demonstrated significant weaknesses in the imagery analysis and dissemination process. On May 7, 1999, a U.S. B-2 bomber fired a 2000 lb. guided bomb and precisely destroyed a building believed to be the Headquarters of the Yugoslav Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement (FDSP), a legitimate military target. The building was first designated by intelligence officers at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Unfortunately, the building was not the FDSP headquarters, but the Embassy of China.
As a result of the attack, three Chinese officials were killed and the United States had to apologize formally and pay restitution. Despite the apology and restitution, the mistaken bombing was deeply resented in Beijing and may have contributed to a general deterioration of Sino-American relations. The misidentification of this Belgrade office building reflects both the crucial importance that intelligence has come to have in military operations and the serious consequences of what Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Tenet acknowledged as an intelligence failure. As Tenet later testified: When cities were struck in past wars, none doubted that civilians, embassies, hospitals, and schools would be in harm’s way.
Today, our ability to strike precisely has created the impression that sensitive sites can be safe in the middle of a war zone. Our desire to protect innocents in the line of fire has added an enormous burden on all of us that we accept. The incident demonstrated the crucial importance of integrating satellite imagery of major installations with other forms of intelligence that would identify what was going on inside them. Tenet also suggested the origins of the mistakea failure to maintain accurate data bases. “We have diverted resources and attention away from basic intelligence and data base maintenance to support current operations for too long.”1
In the post-September 11, 2001 campaign against the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists, imagery intelligence has continued to be of great value. Aircraft based in the U.S. are able to attack ground (and underground) targets with precision weapons using imagery obtained by reconnaissance satellites. Imagery intelligence is also an important component of the global war against terrorism in which it is tied to information from other intelligence sources and from unclassified, open sources to locate terrorist facilities and activities. The additional funding becoming available for intelligence in the wake of September 11 is expected to alleviate some of the problems encountered in the Kosovo campaign, but the overarching challenges of aligning the agencies involved and maximizing the usability of their products by both policymakers and the operating forces remain to be resolved.
The Intelligence Community has emphasized the development and operation of satellites of great technical complexity, but exploitation and dissemination of the data collected have fared less well. Furthermore, the changing nature of warfare has required that information be transmitted to theater commanders immediately (in “real time”) not just forwarded to Washington agencies. These two requirementsthe need for better analysis and the requirement to move the data rapidly to field commandersunderlie the challenges facing two agencies charged respectively with collecting and producing imagery intelligence from satellites, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA).2
Background on the two agencies is provided in the appendices.
Imagery from satellites is used in conjunction with imagery from airborne systemsmanned aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). These much less expensive systems have been used extensively in recent combat operations but can be vulnerable to enemy attack and lack the technical capabilities possessed by satellites. In many cases aircraft and UAVs do not collect imagery for use by national intelligence agencies to build permanent databases.3
It is possible that reviews of intelligence organization underway since early in the current Bush Administration may result in recommendations to make major changes in the organization of the imagery effort by placing the NRO and NIMA directly under the DCI. Earlier, one influential study group proposed the abolition of the NRO and the transfer of its program offices to NIMA and NSA the national managers of the overall imagery and sigint efforts.4
While observers believe that such proposals would be likely to face substantial resistance, the technical, administrative, and budgetary challenges that have been identified by the NRO and NIMA Commissions will be central considerations for the future of the imagery effort under any circumstances. The nature of these challenges involves billions of dollars which are required for satellite imagery collection and processing. Costs of intelligence programs are not made public (being authorized in the classified annexes to defense and intelligence authorization bills), but it widely understood that satellite programs cost several billion dollars annually and absorb a large proportion of the budget of the National Foreign Intelligence Program.
DCI Statement on the Belgrade Chinese Embassy Bombing, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Open Hearing, 22 July 1999.
The National Security Agency (NSA) is responsible for tasking and analyzing signals intelligence collected by satellites; its role is discussed in CRS Report RL30740, National Security Agency: Issues for Congress, updated January 6, 2001, by Richard A. Best, Jr. See CRS Report RL30727, Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR): the U-2 Aircraft and Global Hawk UAV Programs by Richard A. Best, Jr. and Christopher Bolkcom, updated December 1, 2000.
Concerned with the future of imagery programs, in 1999 Congress created two commissions to assess space-based intelligence issues, one addressing the NRO and the other NIMA.5 Both have issued reports with a number of recommendations that are currently under consideration in the executive branch and Congress. Congress also mandated the establishment of a commission to assess national security space management and organization.6 The latter commission’s concerns extended far beyond intelligence collection platforms, but it addressed organizational issues involving both the Defense Department and the Intelligence Community. The establishment of these commissions reflected congressional concerns in particular about several aspects of the Nation’s imagery intelligence effort:
Walter Pincus, “Intelligence Shakeup Would Boost CIA,” Washington Post, November 8, 2001, p. A1; National Institute for Public Policy, Modernizing Intelligence: Structure and Change for the 21st Century, September1997. The chairman of the study group was Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, a former Director of NSA.5 The National Commission for the Review of the National Reconnaissance Office, established pursuant to Title VII of the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY2000 (P.L. 106-120) and the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, established pursuant to the classified annex to the Conference Report (H.Rept. 106-371) accompanying the Defense Appropriations Act for FY2000 (P.L. 106-79).
The report of the former is Report of the National Commission for the Review of the National Reconnaissance Office, The NRO at the Crossroads, November 1, 2000, hereafter cited as NRO Commission Report. The report of the latter is The Information Edge: Imagery Intelligence and Geospatial Information In an Evolving National Security Environment: Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, 10 January 2001, hereafter cited as NIMA Commission Report.6
The Commission to Assess National Security Space Management and Organization [Space Commission]; established pursuant to the Defense Authorization Act for FY2000 (P.L. 106-65). This commission was initially headed by Donald H. Rumsfeld, subsequently appointed Secretary of Defense. For further background, see Marcia S. Smith, Military Space Activities: Highlights of the Rumsfeld Commission Report and Key Organization and Management Issues, CRS Report RS20824, February 21, 2001.
! perceived imbalances between funds allocated to launching and operating satellites on one hand and that spent on tasking, processing, exploitation, and dissemination on the other;
! the decision to choose a new generation of satellites that was designed to meet established criteria rather than extend the envelope of technical capabilities;
! the possibility of making greater use of commercial imagery;
! ongoing, but disjointed, efforts by NIMA to create and maintain a worldwide geospatial grid.
Dealing with imagery issues is undertaken against an unstable geopolitical environment in which access to high-quality intelligence and communications equipment is becoming available to many other countries and even terrorist organizations. Some observers fear that hostile countries could leap-frog the technological capabilities that the United States has acquired after many years and end up with virtually comparable intelligence at a fraction of the investment made by this country.7
Given the growing importance of space-based intelligence and the sums of money involved, some analysts believe that evaluating, and possibly redefining the responsibilities of the NRO and NIMA will be among the most important challenges facing the Intelligence Community and congressional armed services and intelligence committees in the next decade. Imagery intelligence lies at the heart of efforts to transform the post-Cold War defense establishment, but it is costly. Balancing the opportunities with the costs is a crucial responsibility of both Congress and the executive branch.
The need for space-based intelligence became evident in the earliest years of the Cold War long before the United States developed the capacity to launch and operate satellites. In the late 1940s and the 1950s, ignorance of the military capabilities of the Soviet Union was a source of profound concern given the pervasive fear of Soviet aggression. Overflights near and over Soviet territory were undertaken to collect aerial photography, but there were great risks involved, as demonstrated when a U-2 aircraft operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was shot down over Soviet territory in May 1960 and the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, put on public trial in Moscow.
The U-2 shootdown provided strong impetus for a satellite program already planned that could provide intelligence from space without risking either pilots’ lives or diplomatic crises.8 (See Report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, January 11, 2001, pp. 19-22, hereafter cited as Space Commission Report. A even greater concern expressed by some observers is the possibility that a foreign entity could find a way to “blind,” disrupt, or falsify a comprehensive intelligence database that had become an integral part of U.S. military operations. Ibid.)
The satellite reconnaissance program grew in importance throughout the remainder of the Cold War, providing the necessary intelligence foundation for U.S. defense programs, national security policies, and, especially, for arms control negotiations. Additional satellites provided different forms of intelligencefrom electronic and communications transmissions, radar and telemetry. By the end of the Cold War, satellite programs provided an major portion of the intelligence needed to formulate national security policy and consumed a sizable percentage of the intelligence budget.9
Throughout the Cold War satellite reconnaissance data was primarily used by national-level policymakers and planners focused on the threat of strategic nuclear conflicts involving the West and major communist countries. Many of the collection targets were fixed installations missile bases, shipyards, defense industry factories, etc. The data acquired was the basis for targeting aircraft and missiles and for arms control discussions, but it was not, for the most part, integrated directly into ongoing military operations.
The Persian Gulf War in 1990 against Iraq, however, saw extensive use of satellite-derived data in contemporaneous combat operations, a practice that was to have a profound influence on military planning for the post-Cold War environment. The much greater tactical use of satellite reconnaissance resulted in part from the fact that the flat desert terrain was ideally suited to overhead imaging (as compared, for instance, to the triple-canopy jungles of Southeast Asia). In part, it was made possible by the end of the Soviet threat that allowed the diversion of satellite coverage to non-Warsaw Pact targets. The potential value of satellite imagery was quickly grasped by military commanders, but there were many complaints that the ability to disseminate the product was woefully inadequate in some cases, imagery had to be hand-carried to various Desert Storm commands. The use of satellite data in Desert Storm was a key part of a major technological breakthrough, in large measure unanticipated:
Yet what, in the end, largely predetermined the allied victory had never been tested before, least of all in the synergistic combination that roved so overwhelming against Iraq. The power of a few stealthy F-117s to operate with impunity and to substitute for mass by way of precision, the confident knowledge of the battlefield at any moment that air- and space-based information superiority gave the coalition’s commanders, and the strategic effectiveness of round-th-clock bombing of Iraqi ground forces were all, to varying degrees, revelations whose extent of leverage became clear only as the war progressed.10
The legality of space-based reconnaissance is recognized in international legal instruments including the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, and the United Nations General Assembly December 1986 document, Principles Relating to Remote Sensing of the Earth from Outer Space.
For background, see CRS Issue Brief IB92011, U.S. Space Programs: Civilian, Military, and Commercial, by Marcia S. Smith.
Benjamin S. Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power (Ithaca: Cornell
In the 1990s, at the urging of military commanders and congressional committees, the Defense Department smoothed out dissemination problem to ensure that satellite-derived intelligence could be transmitted without delay to consumers. This required new communications links, equipment changes, and the development of new analytical and dissemination procedures, including the lifting of restrictions on disseminating information that had previously been strictly accessible only to users with certain special clearances. Much had been accomplished by the time of the NATO-led attack on Serbian forces in the spring of 1999 (Operation Allied Force). As a result, in part, of faster dissemination of satellite data, the Kosovo air campaign achieved most of its objectives. It did so with almost no loss of Allied life and minimal loss of civilian lives on the grounddespite the lamentable attack on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.11
In the post-Cold War environment, requirements for satellite data are closely tied to the growing use of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) that allow very specific targets to be destroyed while minimizing loss of civilian life and damage to civilian facilities. Targeting PGMs depends on very precise locating data that are acquired from satellite data supplemented by airborne reconnaissance.
Current defense planning documents such as Joint Vision 2020 describe precision engagement as including more than the employment of PGMs, encompassing a vision of information superiority that “will enhance the capability of the joint force commander to understand the situation, determine the effects desired, select a course of action and the forces to execute it, accurately assess the effects of that action, and reengage as necessary while minimizing collateral damage.”12 Growing reliance on information superiority by civilian policymakers as well as military leaders will result in increased requirements for space-based imagerya major consideration for planning the future evolution of the Intelligence Community.
Issues for Congress
Satellites consume a major proportion of the intelligence budget and are thus a focus of congressional attention. In its oversight of the NRO and NIMA and in authorizing and appropriating funds, Congress will ultimately determine the shape of future imagery programs.13 It can augment or decrease funding for the NRO and NIMA.
(...continued) University Press, 2000), p. 260.
The question of whether the air campaign by itself brought about the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo is controversial and lies beyond the scope of this report.
Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Vision 2020 [http://www.dtic.mil/jv2020] .
For the significance of congressional oversight of the NRO, see Clayton D. Laurie, Congress and the National Reconnaissance Office (Unpublished ms., Office of the Historian, National Reconnaissance Office, October 2000). Also, Jeffrey T. Richelson, “Out of the Black: the Disclosure and Declassification of the National Reconnaissance Office,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Spring 1998. For congressional involvement in the creation of NIMA, see Anne Daugherty Miles, The Creation (continued...)
It can budget for innovative but expensive research. It can realign agency roles and responsibilities. At the same time, Congress cannot direct Presidents to devote more of their personal time to satellite issues, nor can Congress mandate effective cooperation among agency heads within the executive branch. Commissions and many observers have argued against the need for new legislative initiatives. Many believe the number of congressional committees involved and the separate legislative vehicles by which funds are authorized and appropriated for space collection, analysis, and dissemination complicate efforts to address space-based intelligence issues.
Observers note in particular the potential for different priorities among armed services and intelligence committees as well as the budgetary pressures on space-related programs that have existed in recent years. Another view, however, is that the evolution of space-based intelligence may have to be guided by new statutory authorities. Existing or potential overlap among the current authorities of DOD and the Intelligence Community, as well as funding changes and trade-offs that may be required among high-cost programs, may, according to this view, lead to a necessarily larger congressional role. Given the central role of space-based intelligence in future military planning and in intelligence effort, most observers expect a continued high level of congressional interest.
Tasking, Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (TPED)
TPED is the collective term used to describe the tasking of satellites to image a particular area at a particular time, downloading the “take,” analyzing it, and disseminating it within specified times to the officials or agencies who use it, the “consumers.” TPED is the core NIMA mission and it is at once a major technological challenge, a significant budgetary issue, and a matter of contention among intelligence agencies.
TPED is seen as encompassing a vast information system that includes inputs from various collection systems that are immediately accessible to users at many levels to use for their own information requirements. It is the foundation of the Defense Department’s determination to use information to secure decisive military results.
Joint Vision 2020 argues that:
The evolution of information technology will increasingly permit us to integrate the traditional forms of information operations with sophisticated all-source intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in a fully synchronized information campaign. The development of a concept labeled the global information grid will provide the network-centric environment required to achieve this goal. The grid will be the globally interconnected, end-to-end set of information capabilities, associated processes, and people to manage and provide information on demand to warfighters, policy makers, and support personnel. It will enhance combat power and contribute to the success of noncombat military operations as well.
Realization of the full potential of these changes requires not only technological improvements, but the continued evolution of organizations and doctrine and the development of relevant training to sustain a comparative advantage in the information environment.14 Further discussion of the geospatial grid may be found in Appendix B, but, put simply, the goal is to provide a database built around a geographic display (essentially a map displayed on a computer screen); the user clicks a computer mouse on a specific point on the display to obtain information about geographic features such as rivers or hills, the location of manmade structures such as buildings, bridges or weapon emplacements, information about activities likely occurring within buildings, the presence or absence of personnel, etc.
(...continued) of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency: Congress’s Role as Overseer (Joint Military Intelligence College, Occasional Paper Number 9, April 2001).
This information is intended to permit the recipients to take appropriate action with confidence that targets can be hit, refugees rescued, etc. Much of the discussion of the geospatial grid is focused on the needs of military commanders, but this type of information could be of great utility to government officials outside DOD. For instance, during the Kosovo conflict, NIMA made a daily presentation to the State Department that provided:
! A geospatial reference, including shaded terrain relief overlaid with towns and roads;
! Over this was layered census data showing the distribution percentage of
! Over which was satellite and aircraft imagery of burning houses; added to
! Imagery or graphics of the movements of Serbian paramilitary forces and the resulting flow of displaced Albanians.15
NIMA’s role as the functional manager of the whole enterprise is a matter of significant concern. Managing the grid includes making many technical decisions regarding information reliability, communications systems, message formats, access controls, etc., all of which will be difficult to establish on a government-wide basis since, in practice, there may be different needs by different consumerssome with great cloutfor specific types of data within different time constraints. Observers express concern that NIMA, as a new agency, will find it difficult to make final judgments resolving differences. Beyond bureaucratic concerns, observers consider that NIMA has far to go in being able to exploit the vast quantities of data collected.
Nevertheless, most observers have reached the conclusion that NIMA should retain control of the geospatial grid. The NIMA Commission concluded, “To whom should we entrust ...[the responsibility to fuse imagery and sigint]? Against all odds, the Commission feels the answer may well be NIMA.” According to the Commission, “the geospatial construct is the obvious foundation upon which fusion should take place.”16 However, the Commission expressed concern not just about NIMA’s ability to manage the TPED process, but also about the agency’s ability to manage the acquisition of TPED systems even for its own staff. Joint Vision 2020. Ibid, p. 64. NIMA Commission Report, p. 48.
“The current TPED acquisition effort lacks a clear baseline, which should tie clearly to overall strategy, requirements, and cost constraints. In addition to the lack of a common definition of TPED, there is similarly confusion as to the requirements that TPED must satisfy.”17 The Commission expressed concern about NIMA’s lack of plans to integrate imagery from airborne collectorsaircraft such as the U2 and UAVsinto TPED based on the FIA. According to the Commission current plans do not address either the integration of airborne imagery or multi-INT integration. Similarly, the Defense Science Board Task Force concluded that NIMA, “as the government agency responsible as the functional manager for imagery and geospatial intelligence, will be at the center of the ‘information revolution’ as it affects individuals and organizations that contribute to national security.”18
According to the Task Force, NIMA should “have the clout to bring other communities to accept the architecture and the standards necessary to build an integrated TPED system.”19 More specifically, the Task Force argued that NIMA should act as the single functional manager for imagery and geospatial information, define future TPED architecture, products, and services; task (and make tradeoffs between) commercial and government collectors, and review budgets of agencies responsible for imagery and geospatial efforts.20
The Senate Intelligence Committee has expressed concern that NIMA “does not exercise comprehensive functional management authority over U.S. imagery and geospatial programs.” The Committee noted in particular the NIMA’s absence of authority to set standards and review investment and RDT&E programs of tactical efforts of the military services.21 The conference report accompanying the FY2001 Defense Authorization Act also took note of the need for an integrated multi-int TPED architecture. NIMA was directed to undertake a review regarding means to achieve the development of such an architecture with “the direct and personal involvement by the Deputy Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence.” The report anticipates the establishment of a universal architecture that would include information collection not only from overhead satellite systems, but also aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles and all tasking, data, storage, processing, exploitation, analysis and disseminations systems.
NIMA Commission Report, p. 87.
U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on National Imagery and Mapping Agency [hereafter cited as Defense Science Board], April 2000, p. 9. [Defense Science Board, p. 26. 20 Ibid, p. 29. 21 U.S. Congress, 106th Congress, 2d session, Senate, Select Committee on Intelligence, Authorizing Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2001 for the Intelligence Activities of the United States Government and the Central Intelligence Agency Retirement and Disability System, May 4, 2000, S.Rept. 106-279, p. 30.
The report indicates that NIMA should aim for a 2005-era vision for the imagery TPED architecture and concept of operations.22 NIMA may not be ready to accept such a broad role within the Intelligence Community. According to a media account, Robert Zitz, a senior NIMA official, has stated that for the present integrating imagery and geospatial data and imagery remains the agency’s primary focus; “right now,” according to Zitz, “we don’t feel that we are ready to take on the challenge of doing imagery and signals intelligence both in one architecture.”23 NIMA officials undoubtedly recognize that such fusion would not only be technically challenging but it could involve conflicts with other, older, and larger agencies that could complicate NIMA’s overall missions.
Peter Marino, the chairman of the NIMA Commission, in April 3, 2001 testimony, indicated continuing concern that NIMA lacks adequate resources for such a task: and I think what you’re creating is a recipe for disaster for the day when [FIA] starts dropping down volumes of data that is considerably greater than the volumes of data that we’re seeing today and expects an organization like NIMA to start processing and exploiting that data. That doesn’t close at all right now with the budget that NIMA has to do TPED.24
Beyond questions of resources, some observers express concern that the heavy responsibility of managing a multi-int geospatial grid would be assigned to a relatively new organization that is a DOD combat support agency. According to this view, developing and acquiring the necessary systems that manage the flow of imagery will be a daunting task that NIMA will probably be able to accomplish only with additional funding and by drawing upon outside assistance. They suggest that establishment of collection requirementsdetermining which targets should get the highest prioritiesmore appropriately should become the responsibility of the DCI who has, in any event, been assigned the responsibility by statute.25
Nor do they believe would NIMA be a logical candidate to address the tasking of the sigint collection efforts of the National Security Agency (NSA) for which longstanding interagency procedures exist. Organizing a process by which analysts in various agencies can annotate data on an imagery base would be a logical NIMA responsibility, but attempting to become a “final authority” for validating such annotation would, at least in some cases, appear to be an overstretch that could cause prolonged interagency disagreements.
In addition to NIMA’s apparent ambivalence, it should be noted that the NRO Commission recommended that imagery and signals intelligence requirements committees should be returned to the DCI instead of being left with NIMA and NSA in order to ensure the balance and priority of requirements between military and national consumers is maintained.26 It is possible that the DCI’s staff has been reluctant to become overly involved in the operational activities of a DOD combat support agency, but many observers believe that to the extent that NIMA becomes responsible for managing the geospatial grid for a wide variety of Government consumers, inside and outside DOD, there will have to be a significant role for the DCI if for no other purpose than ensuring that NIMA decisions are acceptable to the entire Intelligence Community.
U.S. Congress, 106th Congress, 2d session, Committee of Conference, Enactment of Provisions of H.R. 5408, Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001, H. Rept. 106-945, October 6, 2000, pp. 713-715.
Amy Butler, “NIMA Official Says Agency Can’t Yet Handle ‘Multi-INT’ Responsibilities,” Defense Information and Electronics Report, February 16, 2001.
Testimony to the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, April 3, 2001, Federal Document Clearing House transcript. 50 USC 404f.]
It cannot not of course be proven that different organizational arrangements for identifying geospatial data would have prevented the mistaken bombing of China’s Embassy in Belgrade, but almost all observers agree that there needs to be better arrangements for bringing all forms of data including human reportingto bear on target selection and other functions. Establishing systematic collection and review procedures and fixing responsibilities would arguably serve to minimize blunders in the future.
Funding TPED. The question of NIMA’s ability to manage the geospatial grid is closely related to the adequacy of funding for TPED. Reacting to the longstanding tendency to favor collection systems over analysis, Congress has expressed concern that planned investment in FIA has not been matched with a willingness to make the necessary investment in TPED, creating a potential for excessive collection of data that cannot be effectively used. In 1998 Congress authorized FIA but inserted provisions in the FY1999 Intelligence Authorization Act requiring that FIA funds be embargoed pending the identification of TPED requirements.27 In 1999 the Senate Intelligence Committee noted that the FIA program “focuses on collection and pays relatively less attention to the tasking, processing, exploitation, and dissemination functions necessary to a coherent and comprehensive end-to-end architecture.” As a result the Committee urged maintaining a cap on the FIA budget until all requirements, including TPED, were identified.28
In floor debate prior to passage of the FY2000 Intelligence Authorization Act (P.L. 106-120), Representative Jerry Lewis (who also served as Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense), noted that while the FIA “will be the most expensive program in the history of the intelligence community,” there had been “no plan to fund TPED and not even an understanding of how we ought to go about it.” As a result the FY2000 Act included provisions that advised the executive branch that Congress would not fund FIA “unless there is a plan implemented that will process the satellite data that FIA will collect.”
“In English, it does not do any good to take pictures that no one will ever see.”29 The Clinton Administration’s FY2001 Defense budget request included additional funding for TPED as a down payment on a $1.5 billion multi-year TPED enhancement program. The Defense Science Board Task Force, however, concluded that TPED will actually require $3 billion.30 The report accompanying the House version of the FY2001 Intelligence Authorization bill noted that the “administration has, indeed, added funding ... in the fiscal year 2001 budget request. The Committee agrees that this figure represents a substantial investment. However, it is well short of the range of necessary investment reported to Congress by the administration both last year and in testimony this year.”31
NRO Commission, Report, p54.
This provision was criticized in floor debate for complicating the work of the NRO by Senator Thurmond, then chairman of the Armed Services Committee; he argued that some who were concerned about cost growth in FIA “also want to see FIA’s capabilities to support military users reduced so that savings can be used to support other programs. . .that have a more ‘national’ orientation.” Congressional Record, October 8, 1998, p. S11904.
U.S. Congress, 106th Congress, 1st session, Senate, Select Committee on Intelligence, Authorizing Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2000 for the Intelligence Activities of the United States Government and the Central Intelligence Agency Retirement and Disability System and for Other Purposes, S.Rept. 106-48, May 11, 1999, pp. 4-5.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, in reporting its bill the same month also asserted that funding for analysis “remains woefully inadequate” and discussed a NIMA report on TPED that described projected challenges and budgetary shortfalls related to FIA. The Committee noted that NIMA has proposed a three phase plan that would first (in 2001-2005) lay the infrastructure foundation for effective use of new space platforms, commercial imagery, and “minimal levels of modernization supporting airborne systems.” The second and subsequent phase (2002-2007) would see a transition to full support for using imagery from new satellite systems, provide greater support to airborne systems, and provide infrastructure “hooks” for all intelligence disciplines, including human intelligence (humint) and measurement and signature analysis (masint).
The third phase (2004-2009) would see the establishment of a common operational picture including full support for all intelligence disciplines, full support for airborne systems, and integrate moving target data.32 The Senate Committee expressed concern that the level of funding proposed by the Administration for the first year of the first phase was inadequate. “The Committee is concerned that the dramatic underfunding of Phase One TPED modernization in fiscal year 2001 is setting up a budgetary crunch wherein a disproportionate amount of funds will be required in subsequent years....”33 The following October, in floor debate in the House on the intelligence conference report, the late Representative Dixon, then the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, noted that in the previous year Congress had made clear its expectation that FIA would encompass an adequate balance between collection and TPED.
“Congress was clear in the description of the consequences that would flow from an executive branch decision not to make TPED investments sufficient to utilize fully the collection capabilities of the FIA. As the classified annex to this conference report makes clear, the resolve of Congress has not changed.”34 The report accompanying the House version of the FY2002 Intelligence Authorization bill (H.R. 2883), while noting “totally inadequate planning and investment,”indicated that the bill provided initial funding for NIMA’s modernization.
Congressional Record, November 9, 1999, p. H11758.
Defense Science Board, p. 32.
U.S. Congress, 106th Congress, 2d session, House of Representatives, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001, H.Rept. 106-620, May 16, 2000, p. 19.
U.S. Congress, 106th Congress, 2d session, Senate, Select Committee on Intelligence, Authorizing Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2001 for the Intelligence Activities of the United States Government and the Central Intelligence Agency Retirement and Disability System and for Other Purposes, S. Rept. 106-279, May 4, 2000, pp. 7-8.
S.Rept. 106-279, pp. 7,9.
“The funding will enable the initiation of acquisition reform, improved information management capabilities, new business processes to better produce innovative imagery and geo-spatial products, and greater access to all imagery sources.”35 The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) similarly noted “serious deficiencies in the NIMA’s preparedness to task, receive, and exploit data from the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) being developed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).”
SASC lamented the necessary transfer of millions of dollars from NIMA’s modernization budget mostly to modify legacy systems for tasking, workflow management, and data transfer.36 The congressional power of the purse was dramatically demonstrated in August 2000 when funding for the Discoverer II radar satellite program was eliminated from the FY2001 Defense Appropriations Act (P.L. 106-259). Discoverer II would have tested new technology that would permit testing of movable antennae that could provide data on a 24-hour basis that is currently being collected by JSTARS aircraft and other systems.
House appropriators criticized likely development costs and foresaw costs of a fully-deployed system reaching some $25 billion. The House Appropriations Committee further noted that DOD “has conducted no trade-off analysis between Discoverer II and other systems and processes” that might accomplish the same tasks nor had DOD analyzed “the impact a Discoverer II constellation would have on an already overtaxed imagery processing, exploitation, and dissemination system.”37 Although plans for alternative approaches were underway in early 2001,38 the congressional willingness to cancel funds for Discoverer II to free up funding for TPED carried a clear and unmistakable message.
Congressional Record, October 12, 2000, p. H9854.
U.S. Congress, 107th Congress, 1st session, House of Representatives, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002, H.Rept. 107-219, September 26, 2001, p. 13.
U.S. Congress, 107th Congress, 1st session, Senate, Committee on Armed Services, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002, S.Rept. 107-62, September 12, 2001, p. 115.
U.S. Congress, 106th Congress, 2d session, House of Representatives, Committee on Appropriations, Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, 2001, H.Rept. 106-644, June 1, 2000, p. 150. A different perspective is provided by Zachary Lum, “Congress, Not Air Force, Stymies Progress in Space,” Defense News, September 11, 2000, p. 15. On the desire to find funds for TPED, see also Amy Butler, “Space-based Radar Funds May be Used to pay TPED bills, Officials Say,” Defense Information and Electronics Report, December 17, 1999, p. 5.38
Amy Butler, “AOA for Space-based Radar on the Horizon, Space Ops Chief Says,” Inside the Air Force, February 2, 2001.
While acknowledging that investment in collection efforts has not been matched by funding of TPED, some observers note that it may be technically appropriate in some cases to invest in systems before making the necessary arrangements for utilization of the data collected. Furthermore, there may be sound reasons to maintain an extensive imagery database that can be exploited in the event of unanticipated military operations.39
A second major issue is commercial imagery which some believe can reduce the need for massive investment in government satellite reconnaissance systems. Commercial imagery is increasingly available to customers, government and private, throughout the world.40 It is expected that the quality of resolution available, the extent of coverage, and timeliness of delivery of the finished product will be enhanced by more commercial satellites that are anticipated to be orbited in the coming decade. At some point, observers predict, continuous global coverage will become available on the open market.
Although there are obvious security concerns about high-quality imagery becoming available to other governments (and terrorist groups), the large inventory of commercial images that can be purchased will be of significant potential interest to intelligence agencies. NIMA is currently purchasing commercial imagery annually, but many observers argue that much larger amounts of commercial imagery could be purchased. Although cost data on government imagery is not public, a given amount of imagery purchased from commercial firms could, in some circumstances, cost considerably less than comparable government imagery. Thus, heavier reliance on acquiring commercial imagery could represent important cost savings, given the potential cost of FIA. The Space Commission argued that, with the currently available half-meter imagery, approximately half of NIMA’s requirements for information on the locations of objects on the Earth could be met.41 In particular, commercial imagery could provide coverage of wide-area surveillance and government satellites could be targeted on more challenging and more sensitive point-target reconnaissance.42
See the conclusions of conferees on the FY2002 Defense Authorization bill; U.S. Congress, 107th Congress, 1st session, House of Representatives, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002, H.Rept. 107-333, December 12, 2001, p. 507. See also remarks by NIMA Director Clapper quoted by Joanne Sperber, Military Information Technology, Vol. 6, No. 1 (2002): “There is the proverbial, perpetual metaphor that the intelligence community collects far more than we can possibly process and exploit. To a certain extent, that’s true; but that’s not all bad. The U.S. intelligence community has a global responsibility, so to the extent that we can collect and archive material that we can refer to late, it’s not all bad.”
See Yahya A. Dehqanzada and Ann M. Florini, Secrets for Sale: How Commercial Satellite Imagery Will Change the World (Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2000). A principal advocate of greater reliance on commercial imagery and other open source information is Robert David Steele, On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World (Fairfax, VA: AFCEA International Press, 2000).
In December 2000 the Clinton Administration licensed two U.S. firms to sell half-meter resolution imagery to customers worldwide. See Vernon Loeb, “U.S. Is Relaxing Rules on Sale of Satellite Photos,”Washington Post, December 16, 2000, p. A3.