Spy Satellites Are Under Scrutiny

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By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Bush administration intelligence chief John D. Negroponte is reviewing two multibillion-dollar spy satellite programs, according to congressional and administration sources, and will make recommendations on their future to House and Senate intelligence committees next month.

Although Negroponte has made some decisions on reprogramming funding in the current fiscal 2005 budget, his recommendations on the satellite programs -- which have been controversial on Capitol Hill -- will be the first major budgetary changes he will propose for next year's spending, sources said. Those reviews come as Negroponte begins to exercise new authority under the intelligence restructuring passed last year by Congress, which created Negroponte's position, director of national intelligence (DNI), and gave that person control over funds spent by the 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community.

Negroponte's deputy, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, told members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last month that the DNI's spending recommendations for the 2006 budget will be Negroponte's assessments, not the result of consensus among numerous government agencies. The decision-making is being done "in a way that it didn't exist before," Hayden said. "This is not going to be a group answer; it's going to be the answer of the DNI."

Hayden did not specifically discuss the satellite effort to be reviewed, but he alluded to it: "It's a very classified program, but it's very expensive, very important."

One of the systems under scrutiny by Negroponte is a classified program to build the next generation of stealth satellites, whose estimated costs have nearly doubled to $9.5 billion in recent years, according to sources.

The program has been severely criticized in closed session by members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who have objected to the rising costs and who argue that it is ineffective against modern adversaries such as terrorist networks. The Senate panel has tried to kill the program in the past, sources said, but it has been supported by House and Senate appropriations committees and the House intelligence panel.

Because of their small size, these satellites -- early generations had been code-named Misty -- would be almost invisible among existing space debris to enemy radars. But those same small dimensions would also limit some of their collection capabilities, according to John Pike, an expert in space vehicles with GlobalSecurity.org.

The other futuristic spy satellite program that Negroponte has focused on is the new generation of non-stealth space vehicles -- using optical, radar, listening and infrared-red capabilities -- known collectively as the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA). Development of these satellites, which has been going on since the late 1990s, has also had major cost increases, now estimated at more than $25 billion over the next decade. As a result, the House intelligence panel voted sharp reductions in its version of the fiscal 2006 intelligence authorization bill.

The intelligence authorization bill has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

A DNI spokesman confirmed that Negroponte would be giving Congress the "DNI position" on classified intelligence programs when the legislators return after Labor Day but would not confirm the programs involved.

The two new generations of spy satellites are being developed by the National Reconnaissance Office, a Pentagon agency that also reports to the DNI. There was a recent change of leadership at the office, with Donald M. Kerr moving over from the CIA, where he had headed the science and technology division. Negroponte played a role in the choice of Kerr, who in the past has run the FBI's criminal laboratory and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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