washingtonpost.com  > Politics > Federal Page > Columns > Back Channels
Back Channels : The Intelligence Community

Mapping Agency Gets Boost From Critique

By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 15, 2001; Page A19

Far from a boring government report, a new assessment of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) by a congressional commission minces no words, concluding that "heroic measures" and huge infusions of cash are needed to modernize the agency and ensure America's "information superiority."

But even more surprising than this unusually frank assessment is the reaction of NIMA officials, who have abandoned their defensive crouch and welcomed its findings, delighted that outside authorities have taken their mission seriously and underscored the need for more resources.

_____On Washtech.com_____
Government IT

NIMA was created in 1996 to marry two disparate disciplines -- satellite imagery analysis from the CIA and the Pentagon's defense mapping bureaucracy. In the digital age, the fusion of satellite images and maps has been made possible through the use of computers.

This new realm of "geospatial information" held the promise of digital maps, images and terrain data available globally at the push of a button. Even more importantly, "geo-located" satellite images now enable military commanders to identify targets and program their smart weapons on a timely basis.

But the commission found that with the National Security Agency spending huge amounts of money modernizing its signals intelligence apparatus and the National Reconnaissance Office spending billions on a new generation of spy satellites, military and intelligence planners have failed to allocate billions needed by NIMA to build vast computer networks necessary for processing all of this new data.

"Woefully inadequate research and development" spending on those computer systems, the commission concluded, "holds hostage" the future success of NIMA, if not the whole goal of U.S. information superiority.

Rob Zitz, who heads an initiatives group for NIMA's director, Army Lt. Gen. James C. King, said the report "validates our strategic plan and underscores the importance of our U.S. Imagery and Geospatial Service Modernization Plan. When viewed together, these three documents give us a blueprint for success."

CZAR SZADY? David Szady, the FBI special agent in charge of the bureau's field office in Portland, Ore., has emerged as the leading candidate for the newly created post of national counterintelligence (CI) executive.

While President Clinton issued a directive three months after CIA traitor Aldrich H. Ames was arrested in 1994 that put a senior FBI executive permanently in charge of the CIA's counterespionage group, he sent out a new directive this month to ensure that CI efforts are "predictive" and "proactive" in government and private industry.

Szady ran the FBI's major foreign counterintelligence operation in San Francisco and served as the top FBI counterespionage official at the CIA before moving to Portland.

N. John MacGaffin, a former top CIA operations official and FBI consultant who developed the new CI initiative, said the new CI czar will be charged with identifying that which would be "unthinkable" to see in the hands of U.S. adversaries -- from nuclear weapons design to microchip technology -- and figuring out how to protect it.

"This," he said, "is a terribly powerful job."

CHANGING OF THE GUARD: Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the new ranking minority member on the House intelligence committee, and Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) is the new vice chairman of intelligence in the Senate.

Although Pelosi reached the standard eight-year limit on committee membership last term, House rules provide that the ranking member can serve an extra two years.

Pelosi, a liberal from San Francisco, said she has great respect for committee chairman Porter J. Goss, a conservative Republican from Sanibel, Fla. "We're personal friends, his family and mine," Pelosi said. But she added: "We're pretty far apart on the spectrum of things when it comes to intelligence matters. . . . It will be an interesting couple of years."

In the Senate, Democratic Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) allowed Graham to serve beyond the eight-year limit because he wanted continuity on the panel and the only other holdover Democrat, Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), could not fill the job because he is already ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Both parties have clearly opted to add firepower. The GOP has added Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.), joining Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), who is returning as chairman. The Democrats have added John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (W. Va.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and John Edwards (N.C.).

© 2001 The Washington Post Company