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Intel Bill Slashes Big Ticket Satellites

File photo of a recent classified NRO launch.
by Shaun Waterman
UPI Homeland and National Security Editor
Washington July 10 (SPX) Jul 10, 2005
The classified section of the 2006 intelligence authorization bill passed by the House reduces or eliminates funding for a small number of hugely expensive satellite programs, which critics charge have been set on a "disastrous path" towards lengthy delays and massive overspends by poor management and "sloppy performance."

The chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., told United Press International that the programs in question have been monitored closely for several years, but that despite repeated requests by lawmakers not enough had been done to get their management and cost under control.

"It's not just saying 'we're concerned.' We've been saying that for three-and-a-half years," he said.

Hoekstra added that the sprawling and fractious collection of agencies sometimes dubbed the intelligence community had repeatedly failed to come up with an overall plan for so-called technical collection -- spying using satellites, listening devices or other gadgets -- on which billions of dollars are secretly spent every year. As a result, "Money hasn't been spent as effectively as it could have been." he said.

Hoekstra declined to discuss the programs -- which are highly classified -- in any detail, but characterized the bill's spending cuts as part line-in-the-sand and part shots-across-the-bows.

"This is not hasty... We have talked about this stuff for years," he said, pointing out that concerns had been raised in legislation going back to the 2003 authorization bill.

"Now... we are making a call."

"When you put a marker down that says 'The House does not authorize any more money to be put into this program,' or 'X amount of dollars are going to fenced off until certain things happen' that is a marker in the sand that somebody has to respond to."

"It was high time that that happened on some of these programs," he said, adding that "a couple" of them were affected in this way by the bill.

He said that at least one of the programs was so poorly managed, late and over budget that it could not be allowed to continue.

"We're going to hold the people on this program accountable for sloppy performance and we're going to hold the community responsible -- by canceling some programs -- for the unwillingness to put together a coherent strategic plan."

"The current path we're on is a disastrous path; we're not going to going to go down it any more."

The bill did not cancel this program because it "is intended to fill a key critical national security need, so we need it done."

He added that the move had "got the attention of the vendor" on the mismanaged program and of the newly minted Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and his deputy, Gen. Michael Hayden.

"They got the message," he added. "This is a mess. I believe that (Hayden and Negroponte) agree."

On the other hand, he made clear that he expected negotiations over the future of the cut programs to continue as the bill moves through Congress, having been voted out of his committee with Democratic support and then passed overwhelmingly by the whole House last month.

The Senate has not yet taken up its version of the bill, and the two will have to be reconciled in a bicameral conference, probably in the fall.

I have no doubt that it'll be an energetic conference," said Hoekstra, urging the director of national intelligence and the White House to participate fully in a debate about the future of the contested programs and of technical collection more generally.

"The administration and the (intelligence) community can get involved and get their hands dirty and work with us (on the bill), or they can sit on the sidelines and we'll hand them a finished product," he said.

Beth Marple, a spokeswoman for Negroponte, told UPI that he intended to take the first option.

"The 2006 budget is before Congress," she said, "and to the extent that Congress decides to alter the budget, the (director), as head of the intelligence community, will participate in the process."

Hoekstra said that enforcing accountability -- hard enough within any federal bureaucracy -- was particularly difficult in regard to the intelligence community, because its budget is classified and the money is spent in secret.

"That is a problem," he told UPI, "because one of the tools Congress typically has for oversight is, if you can't get the attention of the agency, you can always run to the press."

Democrats on the House intelligence committee say they share Hoekstra's concern about the need to complete programs on time and in budget, but fret that canceling them might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

"I want to be sure that we are not, in some rigid way, throwing out capabilities and people that we're going to need," the committee's ranking member, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said.

Fellow minority member and Californian, Rep. Anna Eshoo, explained that simply stopping the programs could damage the intellectual and industrial capability that the nation's big intelligence agencies had built up through their relationship with contractor teams who might disband or go out of business altogether if the programs were canceled.

"Once that industrial base is dispersed, you can't put Humpty Dumpty together again," she said in a recent interview.

Harman echoed Hoekstra's conviction that the House bill would not be the last word on the matter. "We need to continue to work on this," she said.

Harman also said she agreed with Hoekstra about the need for a comprehensive review of technical collection programs, "to make certain that (they're) designed to field the capabilities we need against current and future threats."

Eshoo said that such a review -- "a long, hard-nosed, professional look" at cost and effectiveness "by people with no axe to grind" -- was already underway in Negroponte's office, and that the bill effectively pre-empted its outcome.

"The jury is still out," she said.

Negroponte's office declined comment on the matter, citing the delicacy of negotiations with Congress, but strategic decisions about collection -- or what one official called "knowing what we need to know" -- are the purview of Mary Margaret Graham, Negroponte's deputy director for collection.

Graham is a former CIA clandestine service officer who was the agency's senior-most counterintelligence official prior to joining Negroponte's staff.

As a budget matter, such a review would also have to involve Deputy Director for Management, Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, a career Foreign Service official who worked for Negroponte at the United Nations. Kennedy is responsible for the office's policies on acquisition and budget issues.

Eshoo strongly hinted that the review might not be finished in time for its results to be considered by the conference.

The bill's timetable, she said, "doesn't necessarily coincide with some of the efforts underway to evaluate" the programs it cuts.

Nonetheless Hoekstra insisted that by the time Congress was ready to conference the bill, "Negroponte and Gen. Hayden will have had three or four months to really take a look at (this) and allow the administration to step rather forcefully up as to what they think needs to be done."

On the program he singled out, he added, "we will probably get recommendations from a couple of different places as to whether we should go ahead or not."

He was adamant that decisions about the program's future could not be postponed any longer. If the review was incomplete, "the ship is gonna sail without them. We're not going to wait 12 more months to make those decisions."

Hoekstra said his concern about the cost and effectiveness of individual programs -- and the entire technical collection architecture -- dated back to 2002, when he had been asked by then-committee Chairman Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., now the CIA Director, to look into these big ticket items in his role as chairman of the Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence.

"There was a particular program he was concerned about -- that he wanted me to monitor very, very closely. I've been doing that. He also wanted me to take a look at the strategic framework: What are we building? Why are we building it? How much are we paying?"

Hoekstra added the poor performance of U.S. intelligence agencies in bringing in such huge projects on time and on budget was part of larger problem.

"There is not a coherent strategic plan for technical (collection)," he told UPI, which means that decisions about individual programs are taken in more-or-less of a vacuum.

"We had duplicative programs; we had programs that -- from my perspective -- there might not have been a clear need for, with no clear set of requirements coming out of the (intelligence) community as to why we needed them," he said.

The problem, he said, was that budget over-runs meant that something would have to give.

"We don't know exactly what the cost over-runs are going to be," on the vital but poorly managed program he singled out, "but it's going to be a big number.

"This money doesn't grow on trees," he went on. "Either you've got to come back to Congress and ask for more money, or you've got to go back (into the budget) and rob a bunch of other programs," he said.

He said that the bottom line was that "We can no longer be pushing forward on all of these programs with the resources that we have.

"We either gotta get more resources so we can do all these programs or we have to make choices about which programs we're going to do and which we're not," he said.

If the administration came back asking for more money to fund all of the programs, he said Congress should agree only if lawmakers were satisfied that the programs could be rigorously justified.

"Even if they decided to do all of them, they'd have to answer our questions as to -- we think the capabilities of this program duplicate what's available over here, why are we doing both of them?"

All rights reserved. Copyright 2005 by United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of by United Press International.

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US Panel Seeks To Shift Spy Money From Satellite To Agents: Report
Washington (SPX) Jun 16, 2005
The US Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives is proposing a major shift of financing away from costly space-based spying to bolster the ranksof agents and analysts, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

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