National Intelligence Folly: How a Tragic Unsolved Murder Led to Billions of Dollars of Program Fraud, Waste and Abuse Part 5

In parts 1-4 I outlined some of the high-level details regarding how the government typically dealt with some of the bigger issues that happened in one little sphere of the government bureaucratic world I was working during the timeframe I’ve been covering from the 1970s through about 2010. There were two significant firings and several hugely significant decisions during this time period that stand out in the intelligence discipline I’ve been describing. So far, I’ve covered one of the firings-that of NIMA Director Lt. Gen James R. Clapper, Jr.-by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in June 2006, because Clapper was not toeing the desired “Rumsfeld party line” on the need for the Combat Support Agencies-particularly the National Security Agency (NSA) and the National GEOSPATIAL-Intelligence Agency (NGA), to continue reporting to the Pentagon/SECDEF after the establishment of the Director of National intelligence (DNI.) In truth this decision most likely-in fact-almost certainly stemmed from the testy relationship that had developed between Dir Clapper and USDI Dr. Stephen Cambone.

A huge game changing decision was to declassify the “fact of” the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in late Fiscal Year 1992. There was also the fruition of the congressional legislation to establish the DNI in FY 2005, and the pre-emptive move by Rumsfeld establishing the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (USDI) in 2003.

My challenge is communicating this story and the significance or ramification of these actions, while staying out of the classification jail yard that is beckoning with every detail. I didn’t provide much detail relating the ramifications of the firing of NGA Dir Clapper, but that was a perfect example of an act that resulted in events best understood by Doc’s “time-space continuum” explanation from back to the future. Clapper was a force of nature in the Intelligence Community (IC) during his time at NIMA/NGA, engaging in and helping contribute to the resolution of myriad IC program battles that are inevitably about mission and program dollars. He never shied away from, and in fact was quick to take up the cause to clarify the key issues and provide well thought through courses of action of so many of these that had remained unsettled for varying timeframes.

Whether such clarification or resolution was good or bad is really in the eye of the beholder! He certainly put on the proverbial Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) Functional Manager’s (FM) hat-in fact, he created it-informed by his USAF peer and colleague NSA Director Gen Mike Hayden, the Cryptologic/Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) FM, the fount through which most funds, training, and guidance flow from for US SIGINT operations-and later cyber policy. Clapper embraced this community role like no other geospatial leader before him, although in fairness to former leaders, he technically took over a new organization in 2001 that had been somewhat struggling to shake out of its standup daze after nearly being created in 1994, but finally established in FY1996, that combined elements of eight separate and distinct entities with at least 3 separate personnel and policy systems, a mish-mash of national and military or Department of Defense (DoD) funded payrolls.

But more importantly cultures that contrasted much greater than night and day, anchored on the one side by the former Defense Mapping Agency (DMA) that constituted a huge chunk of the pie, an organization in the Mapping, Charting and Geodesy (MC&G) business that functioned best when given a five-year defense program to execute and left to itself to execute the bulk of the task whether producing maps, incorporating the emergent Global Positioning System (GPS) impact on the business of MC&G, navigation and more importantly, targeting, or spending money on the next media to come into fashion to use to export MC&G products to customers, such as Digital Point Position Data Base (DPPDB.) Best later typified working through the fruits of a great scientific effort (2000) to produce Digital Elevation Models (DEM) from Digital Terrain Elevation Data (DTED) of the entire planet from the Shuttle Radar Topography Missions.

It was the DMA part of NIMA that carried forth the mantra of “Not in Mapping Anymore” when NIMA was finally established, carrying a proverbial chip on the shoulder that actually scoffed at the utility of “Intel imagery,” a phrase or term I had never heard in my 25 years of interpreting imagery up to that point in my life, having pursued a cartography minor as late as the 1980s. With the insinuation that it was less accurate and of limited use than imagery collected through tighter mission parameters used for maps, which the average soldier-like me-was surprised to learn had a good relative accuracy, but an actual accuracy that mimicked the map scale (e.g., a 1:50K map had an~50-foot error.)

Clapper was the GEOINT FM, creating the term and was the embodiment of GEOINT as the face to the community as leader of the discipline of his own creation: spanning DoD and the IC, doing battle with naysayers at DoD, the CIA, DIA and eventually USDI. Once the USDI stood up, there followed a perennial and useless dialogue led by USDI, but rabble roused greatly by DIA that charged NIMA/NGA as being bad dogs and doing All Source Intelligence Analysis reporting, which was the “province” of only DIA and CIA at the national level, and the service intel entities within the mission lane of their service capability.

There was perhaps no stupider, more wasteful effort pursued by DIA in particular-Clapper’s seemingly mortal enemy Dir ADM Jake Jacoby and his senior leadership team that Clapper had not fondly talked of-often-over the years as the “government civil servants who were capable of holding their breath for 3 years to out sit/wait out their DIR,” who found a ready partner in Cambone’s USDI staff and Cambone himself.

The same charge was often levied at NSA and the crazy part about this “spat” with NIMA was it ignored historical imagery and airborne reporting (that most people probably only know about because of Gary Powers U-2 shootdown over the Soviet Union and the Cuban Missile Crisis,) that most often had been the province of the CIA National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) forever, a business unit-along with elements of DIA-that had just about lock, stock and reticle re-flagged to NIMA upon standup in 1996. All those historical accounts and all that expertise resident in NPIC was now in NIMA/NGA, so if they produced a third phase commerce and military trafficability study in Africa or Indonesia based on months of analysis of satellite imagery, SIGINT and published Human Intelligence (HUMINT,) that was somewhat of an annual third phase project done for the community where the expertise to do so now resided in NIMA/NGA.

The craziest part about it was that the argument was conducted in public and on the hill with the HPSCI or SSCI-oversight-in a seeming attempt to cut analysts and funding from NIMA/NGA, but in truth these “ALL SOURCE ANALYSIS REPORTS” (he cried) were not duplicative nor being produced anywhere else and represented domain Subject Matter Expertise (SME) that had been cultivated by the CIA and was part of the traditional deep expertise in pockets across the IC. This fact was perhaps best exemplified by the State Department, who at the time under Tom Fingar, their average experience on account at INR was ~23 years. The modern leaders of the IC-particularly at NGA-would endeavor to change this metric, pushing analysts to become managers in one of the worst practices imaginable at NGA after Clapper was replaced by increasingly bureaucratic leaders whose best feature seemed to be “bureacratting.”

When you are in the IC analysis business, disincentivizing the best analysts from becoming leading community topic SME’s and making rank via that traditional route, vice by promoting those who pursue management and supervisory jobs, rather than deep domain SME’dom, is nonsensical, counterproductive, and eventually debilitating. As is the also very popular, but totally counter-productive notion introduced by the DNI in some sort of misguided corporate IC citizen concept pushed by Human Development/Resources, of developing community analysts like some IC fellow program, requiring joint duty assignments that must be pursued to qualify for promotion to the higher ranks. Which ensures that your best analysts are going to spend a job or two doing largely paperwork shuffling of some sort that has nothing to do with their core expertise: most often in budget or congressional liaison shops.

Clapper’s total commitment and embrace of the GEOSPATIAL FM role was perhaps best exemplified by the huge, oversized cowboy hat he was given and proudly wore at a United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) Symposium one year in San Antonio, Texas. The USGIF Symposium has been a huge success over the years, an annual forum that spawned tradecraft sessions for members, student scholarships, community projects, tradecraft seminars from SMEs, work programs recruiting for the government, charitable efforts to raise funds for community issues like military and PTSD, amid tremendous support from the IC and Geospatial community.

One of the best ever held was the Symposium conducted as the ODNI stood up, that included righteous indignation from congressional staff over the numbers of personnel-1500-in the approved staffing document. The first DNI Chief of Collections-Mary Margaret Graham (MMG)-was a big hit as she either inadvertently (or vertently??) let slip that the ODNI was working on the $48 billion dollar IC budget justification: I let out a gasp and an “OMG” when I heard that and some civilian friends of mine in the commercial imagery business asked what the big deal was: that was the first time in the history of the IC there had been public acknowledgement of the total IC budget. Now at times pieces and parts slipped out as CIA tried to finesse NSA or whomever on the hill, or to leak program info to make somebody look bad, but that was a first heard of the whole enchilada!

Newly designated DNI John Negroponte addressed the group (it was thoroughly unremarkable, a tale of the battle to establish the office as if none were witting or had been privy to the idea all along,) as did the Principal Deputy DNI (PDDNI) Gen Michael Hayden. He wasted no time in going after the congressional staff who had questioned the DNI numbers the day before-which played out in the local paper-as did MMGs disclosure (transparency is fun!)

But the best part of that USGIF Symposium was when former CIA and DCI Dir George Tenet-who had retired and completed his book-spent 45 minutes doing a tour de force on “what was going on in the IC” when 9-11 hit: how could we have missed it? His walk-through of myriad issues that were in his in-box-the priorities of leaders-the president, vice-president, WH Chief of Staff, congress, etc., and on the mind of the community, was one of the best presentations ever of a day in the life of an IC leader. I don’t know if this session is on the USGIF web site-I’ve never looked for it, because I remember it so well.

The USGIF Symposium was a project task given to one of our most talented research scientists who specialized in all things motion imagery and high-definition motion video-Steve Long-well before it became “a thing” to everybody. Steve produced a few standard and high-definition resolution camera “balls” that were integrated on airborne platforms to work all manner of integration issues-many with the Australians-that he sponsored and helped create documentation and eventually the refined implementation standard and production capability. Later there would be a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between the Agency, General Atomics (GA) and NGA to build an H.264 encoder and decoder to mate up with the sensor ball to produce a bread-or-brass board capability to test compatibility and to pave the way for implementation as a computer card on the mil-spec chassis that would enable the identification of humans from the objective Pred orbit (26K feet, although often operated at 19K.)

This was very good work done by the so-called NIMA Motion Imagery laboratory and high definition pioneer who was largely responsible for the relative ease with which the community-NATO and the US IC-adopted motion video into the architecture, particularly efforts for implementation of the high definition standard that led to NGA’s support of producing a capability for the GNAT and Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV,) and the collaboration that produced the integration process and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures that paired with a Hellfire missile integrated by the CIA, which became a scumbag killing solution (Project XX7.)

The first USGIF Symposium was held in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2004-the year the Tournament Players Golf Course opened up in New Orleans-in fact the grass was still taking root on the course when we held what became a yearly charitable event. The next year Katrina hit, and the Symposium had to be moved at the last minute, ending up in Tennessee at the home of the Grand Ole Opry (I think) that year. I attended every Symposium through 2016, when all of a sudden, the number of people we were sending became an issue and I thought it was a better idea to have our younger analysts attend if money was tight or whatever. It grew from a humble beginning of some 1000 to 1200 attendees or so to the current forum that has some ~4500 plus that attend from all over the world.

I’m going long on my description of Dir Clapper and some of the things he accomplished during his time, but in truth it was the high-water mark for NGA and the IC community. He brought a standard to the job through his leadership that inspired subordinate leaders, brought out the best in people and fostered accountability, motivation, inventiveness and excellence.

His firing had nothing to do with his leadership of NGA and everything to do with what small ball was being played in the Pentagon at the time, trying to finesse and influence the IC as the standup of the DNI was being put together by congress.

I want to get back to some of the things Clapper did as Dir NGA, as he truly was a unique and inspirational leader to many in the community he interacted with over the years, and he created a boatload of good leaders in his wake. He was a true force of nature-it was not unusual to work with him on some topic during the day, only to get some type of update or guidance at 0300 or 0330 with clarifying guidance and recommendations going forward. He was indefatigable and seemingly worked 24×7 routinely.

The proof of his value to the community was re-affirmed when Clapper did not stay in hiatus very long, coming back to take two jobs he had vehemently argued against, three if you count the standup of NIMA. Clapper would come back to lead the USDI, and later still become the DNI-another job he railed against. I am going to leave Clapper for now and perhaps return going forward to share some of the programmatic initiatives he pursued that made a huge impact on the community.

One of the other just brilliant leaders of this time-the right guy in the right job-was NRO Dir Jeffrey Harris. Perhaps no senior in the IC was positioned in the absolute right place at the right time as the NRO competed the concept and design phase for FIA. But with the building fiasco playing out, the outrage expanded tremendously when it was discovered that Harris could not account for some ~2B dollars in program funds. There might have been a little bit of money on construction for another building project in the Reston area to connect two buildings via an underground tunnel to help protect the fact of certain programs that would explain costs that would not be disclosed to any humans not cleared, but the bottom line is neither Harris nor his Deputy Jimmie Hill would survive the retribution of congress, who fired both of them and sent one of their own-Keith Hall-to replace the fired Harris.

To bring Doc and Back to the Future to bear on the case, I don’t believe that Jeff Harris would have awarded the FIA contract to Boeing (I have some “detes” on that) and that means that LMC would have won and saved the NRO a lot of money, budget issues, time, energy and everything that went with that dreaded period where Boeing was floundering and government leadership was sweating bullets over potential failure of the FIA program-particularly the optical component-that might lead to a gap in national capabilities.

More to follow on that in part 6.

11 November 2022

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