National Intelligence Folly: How a Tragic Unsolved Murder Led to Billions of Dollars of Program Fraud, Waste and Abuse Part 6

In parts 1-5 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. The relationship between the two was bound to deteriorate from the get-go because they were opposites from many respects, Cambone a political animal who was steeped in academia and the scientific community, but simply not wizened in the ways of DoD infighting and IC politics like many folks like Clapper, a military brat who had grown up in that tar pit.

Cambone used his political connections and relationship to SECDEF Rumsfeld as his buffer, protection, power base and authority. The only leader I was involved with during this time who made better use of his boss to power actions was Gil Klinger, who we dealt with a lot over the emerging commercial imagery policy work involving limitations on the quality the commercial vendors were allowed to produce or achieve, and so called “shutter control” that involved restrictions on which images could and could not enter the global or universal catalogue maintained by the vendors and-therefore-available to the public-or the implementation of specified timeframes or delays in the posting of particular images.

Additionally, there was no physical or actual design or materiel technical limitation in the quality achievable by the commercial vendors, so Gil via the State Department license process for satellite authorization was inflicting an artificial constraint on these vendors to limit their Ground Sample Distance and their resulting imagery resolution, which many of us thought was somewhat counterintuitive, misguided and infringed on their capability to compete-if such was an objective of the govt-if they were sincere in desiring a competitive, ubiquitous commercial capability as a long term US commercial goal. No other government was restricting the design and resolution capability of any other nations satellites-Israel, Russia, Germany, Italy, Canada, etc.

This may seem like a smart or common-sense thing to do, and nobody was taking issue with addressing some type of operational security for American Military installations or operations, national security related sites like nuclear power plants, or Hoover Dam, or the timing of availability when operations were underway, etc., but artificially limiting quality and resolution would impact these companies’ ability to generate income and compete with other satellite venders who were not under similar constraints and were funded by their governments. Hamstringing to a degree their ability to raise capital which would impact the building-out of more robust constellations over time, as well as expanding capabilities beyond electro-optic to embrace government persistent surveillance goals to include radar, LIDAR, Hyperspectral and Multi-Spectral, etc.: it just seemed somewhat counter-intuitive.

Clapper was way ahead of the curve as he took action near immediately upon taking over NIMA to move out on the concepts that were roiling in the government at the time to address lingering deficiencies in our long in the tooth Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance Program (PARPRO.) Two significant steps he took pronto in September 2001 was to stand up a dedicated advanced technology shop called InnoVision, and to charter an Airborne Integrated Product Team to produce what we eventually called the Airborne Integrated Program Plan-or what I liked to call the AIP-also (or AIP2.)

This was not a very popular idea in an organization-particularly with our analytic arm, Analysis and Production (P), nor our Central Imagery Tasking Office-CITO-as well as our Acquisition Directorate-(A)-who were set in their ways that they were in the national intelligence business-and they only worked with what they could control, which was national technical means-and the only airborne assets they paid much attention to were the national missions conducted by the U-2 and SR-71 over the Middle East flown for the state department amidst treaty obligations, or at times the Berlin Corridor Creek Misty mission-but that was largely a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) effort.

My first briefing to Clapper on our AIP2 effort in my role as somewhat of the technical advisor to the program manager (I was a contractor,) happened within weeks of his assumption as NIMA Director. It confirmed how serious he was, as the government lead-Dave Lehner, retired USAF intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) background-and one of many of us who “benefitted” from Clinton’s Voluntary Early Retirement Program-but just a very savvy and smart budget and program guy: a good thinker, calm demeanor, different kind of government civilian (😊)-and I presented what we had put together as the “contours” of the project that provided somewhat decisionable objectives for the task.

Now I should mention we had already gotten off to somewhat of a bad start on the effort, as the two people initially picked to lead it came from Acquisition and InnoVision-the new business unit established by Clapper-led by visionary Rob Zitz-but they messed up from the get go, disinviting Pentagon leads LTC Larry Turner and Ltc Jeff Wilson-who worked for former DARO senior Kevin Meiners, who was somewhat of the Pentagon airborne and Distributed Common Ground Station (DCGS) lead under ASDC3I (Assistant Secretary of Defense, Command, Control and Communications.) When Kevin’s leads were turned away at the door from the kickoff meeting because we did not have our stuff together yet, we heard about it at the Deputy Director level immediately. Then we started limiting the objectives of the effort to service common ground systems, which NIMA led in an Integrated Product Team effort with the services to prioritize NIMA funding and engineering efforts.

Dave was immediately appointed to take charge of the effort and he selected me to be his technical lead. The re-focus was going to be on classic and emerging capability represented by the U-2 Electro Optic or optical mission, the emerging Global Hawk platform that was about to transition from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to the USAF at Milestone II, with a multi-sensor capability that included Moving Target Information/radar capability, Predator/project XX7 with primarily the motion video capability, F&A-18 Sharps Pod going into production with the US Navy, and the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) to implement a robust MTI capability in the enterprise to produce what we were going to call Moving Intelligence or MOVINT to augment National Technical Means and cue other airborne sources. The plan was to consist of three engineering tiers that would have a 250m, 500m and 750m or so threshold of funding limit over the Five-Year Defense Plan (FYDP,) depending on how much Clapper wanted to bite off.

I should add that one of the reasons Clapper was adamant about moving out on such a plan was the incorporation of the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO) into NIMA at standup and the results of the NIMA Commission held in 2000 that said-among other things-that NIMA was pretty much ignoring many capabilities that congress believed were in their job jar, including airborne, the emerging UAV capability and security video of all kinds (story for another day.)

At the very first meeting we learned a lot about our new boss, as he wanted to know why we would consider limiting the options by program dollars, when we should be putting together a costed concept of operations and letting the costs fall out as they might. Which I agreed with wholeheartedly-notwithstanding that was not the way government typically did things like that in my experience. He was adamant that we should do a full capability briefing on what was required to do the integration and we would derive cost from the goodness of the effort, rather than provide some artificial, limiting cap: that was astounding good news: almost frightening.

Clapper was a unique guy-he had been burnt by civilian leadership while at DIA-and his “spidey sense” would get tingling when he was interacting with civilians. I wasn’t even two minutes into the contours of the briefing when he put his hand up to stop me-he said, “Where do I know you from?” I said, “Well sir, I briefed you several months ago with the transition group and you asked me to explain “WMD.” He said no-that was recent, I’m talking about at least 10 years ago. And he was right, “I used to work for COL Jim Babich (who is married to Clapper’s sister Chris) at Fort Huachuca, and you came out one time on leave when you were in charge of DIA and I briefed you on our Extended Tether (U-2) JCS Special Project-and you wanted to know what else I was working on, so I briefed on about 6 other tests, including Top Gallant-Single Source Processor for SIGINT for Department of the Army G-2, AN/APR39A (XE-2) a Multi Service Test for the USA, USAF, and USMC out at China Lake and Tonopah, the UAV-MTI Concept Evaluation Program for Fort Huachuca, and my favorite acronym-Automatic Radar Pattern Recognition, Prototype Intrapulse, Signals Characterization Exploitation System (ARPR PISCES) for INSCOM and DA G-2, and the JCS TENCAP theater missile defense efforts under the Torpid Shadow category.” Clapper wanted to know why I was out of the Army-I told him Clinton’s program and it was just a good time to move on to something else. He said, “let’s talk after this meeting.” Clapper wanted to know what it would take to get me back in government-he really respected his brother-in-law, who had told him I was the best, most technical officer he had worked with in 28 years in the Army (good to know.)

Clapper would eventually approve the AIP2 plan in April-the 12th-if you are counting at home-coincidentally my last day as a contractor, as I started with the government that next week. The plan was co-signed by the USAF IN-Major General Glenn Schaeffer-which was a big deal, as he simultaneously signed out a Memorandum of Agreement that allowed NIMA to receive any-and all-airborne missions flown by the USAF in any theater for any Combatant Commander: that was a big Lesko deal.

I should move on here, but nothing in NIMA came easily. One of the things Clapper tasked us to do was to articulate what needed to be done immediately and how much it cost. Given that the ingest and dissemination of the airborne reconnaissance and surveillance information was the longest pole in the proverbial airborne tent, we asked for 5.7M dollars for FY 2002 and were going to-among other things-robust the only somewhat malleable system we had in our architecture-the NIMA Library Pathfinder, Imagery Management Element (NL-PRIME,) which had transitioned over from the NRO (formerly known as CP-Net or Prime program-the genius idea of NRO radar legend COL Edward T (Ted) Cope.)

NLPRIME provided collateral secret NTM at a time when nobody believed you could view satellite imagery out of compartmented channels, using a novel-and new-NETSCAPE browser that used the relatively unknown two-factor authentication to achieve access on the secret internet protocol router network (SIPRNET) for users in the field: you had to attest that you were viewing it alone and in an inconspicuous place where you could not be observed by others. It was genius and targeted for an immediate death and demise because it showed up NIMA’s library system, which at the time was a three-legged dog.

What I called at the time the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA) “acquisition mafia-” or our Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) special needs kids, were pretty cranky about Clapper taking on airborne, in fact in one of the sessions where I broached the idea of robusting NLPRIME-which was now known as the Web Based Access and Retrieval Prototype-WARP-changing the name to protect the child that was the target of our DAWIA professional paperwork shufflers-there was hate and discontent and one of our analysis seniors-Mark XXXXXXX-told Clapper it was illegal to spend NIMA funds on the WARP effort because it was national funds being spent on a military or tactical program. Clapper was “bullspit” over that ridiculous charge and tore him one or two new ones on the spot: I was in the middle of the briefing and enjoyed every second.

What made it pathetic and desperate is that WARP was pure NTM at the time, there was no WARP airborne capability but the U-2 to do Open Sky’s and also the Middle East Mission, but it was relatively easy to augment the data source fields to add some of our priorities to the system. But the major effort was to recap and robust the WARP servers, which had been starved ever since they transitioned to NIMA as “A” schemed to shut it down and harvest the program funds. By the time we started the recap process, WARP had some 4700 users-and growing…

Since we were talking about expanding our capability to exploit airborne and UAV imagery, our senior military officer-Brig Gen Mike Lee-came up with the seemingly brilliant idea to give the 480th down at Langley Air Force Base-led by the “Don,” Steve LaFata, 5 million dollars to get access to Global Hawk imagery. Now that might have seemed like a good idea to some people, but he never discussed it with Dave Lehner-Clapper’s AIP2 government lead, nor was there any discussion of what NIMA was going to get for that money: we were nuclear about this when we found out that Mike made this agreement without so much as a discussion.

I was given the task to find out what it meant-but pretty much already knew that number 1-what was available on the 480th web site was available to anyone with a browser: 2-it was not a full mission take, but highlights-snapshots of the mission that were like 12K size with no underlying meta data, so 3-it was not exploitable imagery.

Current DNI Chief Information Officer and a USAF Capt at the time, NIMA’s WARP Program Manager Matt Kozma and I discovered in our discussion with LaFata’s technical folks that they were going through a re-accreditation of their Distributed Common Ground System Processing Operations Center (DPOC,) including the trunk-originally termed “dark fiber” by the NRO-out to “site 6.” Matt was a very technical, just great guy to work with and had helped the DPOC quite a bit over the last year extending the WARP SIPRNET pop out to supported USAF units such as PACOM and at Al Udeid, with the idea of providing current NTM for targeting support.

I wasn’t quite as nice and thought that for the 5M dollars NIMA was going to provide, the least they could do is provide a connection for us-maybe a circuit card that we could use to connect WARP to the DPOC, which would help dissemination to one of our biggest customers, and also provide a capability for NIMA, bundled inside the new accreditation package: it was the least they could do and would likely prevent the wrath of Clapper and the embarrassment of Mike Lee once they discovered what we got for the original 5M.

They agreed, and when the deed was complete and the system buttoned back up, NIMA could now receive any system being fed to the DPOC, anywhere in the world, and the numbered USAF units had pretty much unlimited access-within reason-to NTM imagery available through WARP: it was quite a coup making such great lemonade out of what started out as a stinky NIMA classic story, for a measly 5M and it drove myriad modifications to WARP to enable it to ingest various metadata formats that were part of our plan, such as some of the U-2 Multi-Spectral Imagery missions……

Unfortunately, this would lead to Dave Lehner leaving the AIP2-he was just rightfully righteously indignant over this decision by all involved to spend almost all of our 2002 money on something that was never discussed, by people who were not involved in the plan (although one of our colleagues had become a point man of sorts for Brig Gen Lee…but that only made it worse…)

At the time our acquisition folks took most of the ideas that were “not invented here”-stoked up to LTG King to be indignant and accuse the NRO of doing our job (that we weren’t doing,) with many of the programs-but mainly the dollars-transitioning over to NIMA, where our acquisition dullards would faux transition the capability into some other 3 legged dog program, harvest the money, rename it, and much like Grizzley Adams once said about Ben Crenshaw’s head movement in his golf swing, if he had been his instructor when he was 14-you never would have heard of him…

Quite a few decent programs died in this “transition” process, including the Synthetic Imagery Generation System that allowed users to replicate UAV or airborne imagery from NTM for exercises and training purposes at a collateral secret level, the Primary Targeting Workstation which just kind of disappeared after transition in favor of the USAF Joint Targeting Workstation, what NLPRIME later became-the Web Based Archive and Retrieval Prototype-which we managed to save by folding it in as an AIP2 objective, but was a target forever until it was killed as one of the DAWIA Dweebs was retiring, although a genius USAF NRO officer named Lt Col Chris Quaid (RIP) came up with a system called “VAP” in the event NGA was ever dumb enough to kill WARP: we were.

Chris did amazing and leading-edge stuff for decades and deployed and supported deployers for his whole career. His may be one of the most tragic stories ever. During his retirement physical they found a good-sized lump in his head that turned out to be glioblastoma: he never enjoyed a single day of retirement and died some 14 months later: it still makes me a little weepy all these years later. Sometimes life is just not fair….

More to follow back to our main storyline in part 7.

14 November 2022

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