National Intelligence Folly: How a Tragic Unsolved Murder Led to Billions of Dollars of Program Fraud, Waste and Abuse Part 11

In Parts 1-10 I liberally used pieces and parts of some of the history of the US government travails and foibles associated with the development of our national reconnaissance and satellite intelligence development capabilities from about 1955 to present, while somewhat haphazardly sprinkling in subject matter expert (SME) contributions from a few friends who wish to remain anonymous.

The reason they requested anonymity is that in this world of hateful rat basswich, grown spoiled children, who seem to have no appreciation for informed but different opinions than their own, nor toleration for same, or the classic style of exchange of information in the public square, there is a very real fear on the part of many that contrarian ideas or viewpoints that clash with or don’t toe the proverbial “party line-” in this case, the governments-might be monetarily harmed or burn a bridge on opportunities that make it just not worth the risk to opine publicly: not only a shame but often a tragic loss to the public square of informed opinion that could be impactful or enlightening.

In that regard I endeavored to write the story as I and others who were involved in this adventure lived it, understood and remember it, while trying to clearly indicate where a contributor’s thoughts or opinions were given, vice facts.

That can make for a lively exchange between and among myriad people who had a ringside seat to these “frivolities,” but formed their opinions from a “benefit of the doubt” approach that admirably took a positive view of these events. But any serious person who was in this arena who believes that-for instance-the contractor for FIA-Boeing-was “this close” to getting the measure of this challenge I’ve been describing-specifically getting on top of the engineering required to meet the optical task-either saw different facts than “we” did, had a different goal in mind other than the top-shelf one, is a zealot-delusional-or a liar (or like Robert (Bob) Kohler, a nicely compensated Boeing senior advisor: which nobody begrudged him for in the end.)

In truth, by the time my colleague got involved in a serious way in the manner necessary to lead a government, military, contract and Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) expert team to gather and review the facts, available data and situation defining the problem, the US government had allowed itself-through frankly an ill-advised, worst practice and amateurishly run procurement action-to be driven to the precipice of a potential “gap” in capability-that if realized-would have profound adverse implications for the fate of our nation: representing an embarrassment that could result in the firing of our most senior IC leadership.

But don’t take my word for it. What precipitated this action is reflected in everything I’ve gone through in the previous 10 articles, sometimes foibles, sometimes follies, firings, decisions or bureaucratic action on the part of some that was borderline fool hardy and reckless when you consider what was necessary-in the final analysis-to fix things.

Culminating in the person in charge of the IC-the DCI-taking action to determine the risk of continuing FIA on the course of action underway and to unequivocally prove whether there was the potential-or not-to suffer a gap in our capabilities, and if so, what could be done to mitigate it to avoid losing critical and fundamental future capability in the process.

On 8 July 2002 a DCI Memorandum was generated for action to NIMA and the NRO, info all the other IC and DoD leadership. Things moved fast at this point and the task had made its way to NIMA Westfields Office-co-located with the NRO-by midmorning. (This will be written first person reflecting my colleague’s input.)

I was making my way down the corridor for a coffee re-fill when I spotted what my gut told me was a conspiratorial discussion going on between my boss and his boss, both looking at me. I slowed down a bit and jokingly turned on my heel in an exaggerated, Monty Python-like “run-away” manner and took a few steps the other way: and should have kept going! But I turned around and closed on them and my boss said, “He’s the only guy available who can handle the task,” while his boss said, “I’ll let Joanne (NIMA DD) know” and strode off. And the question was-“What just happened?”

NIMA had been tasked to do the so-called Gap Mitigation study (Gap), and leadership decided it should be led by InnoVision-a newly formed Directorate stood up under Robert Zitz when DIR Clapper took over 12 September 2001, while standing down NIMA’s customer outreach unit, Plans and Customer Operations.

InnoVision’s Plans and Program Analysis was the business unit co-located with NRO IMINT in their Westfields facility, a key nucleus that was responsible for Program Analysis, Future Concepts, community coordination via the United States Imagery and Geospatial System (USIGS) Community Evaluation Group (UCEG,) responsible for GEOSPATIAL Functional Management (FM,) the Community Imagery Needs Forecast (CINF,) architecture development and modeling and simulation, and the ongoing effort to produce myriad JROC and MRB requirements documents, including the Imagery and Geospatial Capstone Requirements Document (IGCRD) that described how NIMA would operate in the future.

It was the NIMA business unit that led the Tasking Processing Exploitation and Dissemination (TPED) Assessment Program (TAP) Modernization Plan that resulted in some 1.5B dollars provided to NIMA to work changes needed to prepare for FIA. That action by congress notwithstanding, they tasked Peter Marino and a team of experts to conduct the NIMA Commission in 2000 to get a status report on where things stood with TPED preparations for FIA and myriad other issues four years into establishment. As an aside, one of the documents produced somewhat parallel to the Commission was done by Rand, led by Dr. Annette Kriegel, formerly CITO head and well-respected Army study expert Rita Lewis, called “Getting Started.

The study addressed-among other things-actions that had been taken to provide for a more professional and trained acquisition corps within NIMA, and what specific actions should be taken to rectify what had been an uneven performance over the years. Among the recommendations was to develop and appoint a Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) lead and to provide leadership emphasis and a certification process for program managers. I don’t want to be persnickety about it, but this-NIMA-was now a billion-dollar agency that had been given another billion and a half by congress to-as they say-“fix what ails them.” And one of the things involved basic, fundamental acquisition best practices that were expected everywhere throughout government and had been for the better part of two decades…

DIR Clapper and DD Isham were making a significant statement by having InnoVision lead this effort so soon after standup, rather than acquisition, CITO-who was in this business, or analysis, who arguably had the most to lose or biggest stake in the game from a mission reporting standpoint. But a not so well-known secret is that many of the workforce contractors and cadre in Westfields came from CITO, NRO, the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO,) the Defense Dissemination Program Office, or the not very well-known Army Intelligence Master Plan office and were “steeped” in these issues. A little-known and even less publicized fact was that the TAP Mod Plan funding was a down payment, as the fully funded program-according to DIR NIMA, LTG King-was over $4B.

There soon was the classic mission analysis ongoing in the conference room, where a group of maybe 12-15 key staff digested the memo. My boss and his boss and I went to his office to talk through the task, including strategy, resources and “stuff.”

The timeline was straightforward-start immediately, the report was to be presented to the DCI, CMS and “Principals” at 1300, 11 October 2002 in the Assistant Deputy Director of the CIA for Collection’s conference room, Old Headquarters Building, Langley: pretty straightforward.

I was not a newbie-having worked with this group on and off since spring 1999 or so but had just been hired back in the government 15 April 2002 (really.) In that short space of time I led the agency delta Program Objective Memorandum (POM) effort that had particular significance in 2002, as it was the first cut at the resources needed to provide the additional requirements in support of the 9-11 operations ongoing and anticipated: the CIA was on the ground in Afghanistan within days, we stood up our 24×7 mission support cell and we soon discovered our Afghanistan Mapping Charting and Geodesy (MC&G) holdings were woefully “out dated”: we were forced-in most cases-to rely on Soviet era maps (and yes, they were bad.)

Our POM input was nearly a billion dollars-in fact, several-or almost 300% of our agency budget by the time the COCOM requirements and corresponding actions were racked and stacked and cut into three priorities (must do, should do, revisit if circumstances change.)

I had also put the finishing touches on what DIR Clapper came to call the “Triple A Roadmap,” the schedule and projection of national and commercial satellites flying out through 2015: shortly thereafter updated with the Pentagon Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) fielding/deployment plan, which encompassed at least 4 theaters and 26 orbits of 3-4 UAVs each, depending on the type(s) of UAV. We also started tracking implied relay allocations in terms of Theater Broadcast (TIBS, TRAP) or Theater commercial (KU) band communications. It made for a nice bedsheet, as it was too big for Power Point, but was becoming extremely busy and took quite a bit of time to brief. What made it worth the price of admission is there were several significant “increments” of improved capability that would take place over this time period: entries were color coded to portray funding status, which was not a pretty picture either from an NRO or DoD comms budget perspective.

We were in the middle of one cycle that would see enhancements as the last satellites-before FIA-flew out with enhanced capability that included improved optics, a capability to provide larger or more detailed images (improved pixel structure, image stabilization algorithms, improved satellite bus logic to manage throughput more elegantly, and bigger file size capacities,) a wider range of products and ground processing improvements. With the projected FIA program added to the mix, coupled with other programs on the books, we would see a near five-eight-fold increase in processing and dissemination requirements over the Triple A horizon that was not programmed-and not likely to be if Boeing continued to flounder amid rising FIA costs.

There was a 30-day Measurement and Signatures (MASINT) Community Study-that took 85 days, and I was executing the approved Airborne Integration Program Plan (AIP2) that Dir Clapper and Maj Gen Schaefer signed out 12 April 2002 that-among other things-called for a senior from Acquisition to be designated as the lead: word soon came through the grapevine they were going to slow roll this action and it became like a quest to complete.

The magnitude of the “Gap” task directed by the DCI is-if anything-more sobering looking back on the 20th anniversary of the date we provided our “homework” in the briefing to the DCI, than it was at the time-if that’s possible. It was a big deal at the time and there was not only an “all hands-on deck” attitude by nearly every senior involved in this action, but as our plan came together and we refined requirements and identified things that needed staffing resources or money-whatever-it was provided. Our core team of 67 or so doing the daily meetings and executing tasks never discussed a contingency if we failed to answer the mail: I never thought about it once I fleshed out the plan.

During a subsequent enterprise architecture effort on another project some nearly ten years later, our systems integration team reprised the NASA theme that “Failure was not an option:” that applied in spades on this effort, to infinity and beyond.

You don’t often hear senior leaders talk about their legacy unless they are being fired or retiring. In one of the early meetings to brief the DCI on the plan-week two-he made it clear as can be that there would be no “Gap on his watch.” He also made it clear that he was convinced-based on all the information he had available and all the money that had been spent-that this wasn’t just another “Gap” exercise like had been often done in the past. When he said that I looked at our DD Ms. Isham and she gave an imperceptible acknowledgement-a nod of sorts-what I’ve christened the “pointy chin maneuver,” where a boss or someone in the hot seat or middle of something acknowledges “transmission and receipt.”

It is nothing like it-but my joke is that more people have disappeared as a result of the “pointy chin maneuver” than any direct government or mafioso action, particularly in the CIA/DCI’s office…

I had to suppress a smile-Ms. Isham had given me a prioritized list of community seniors to contact-about 32 people-IC influencers-shakers-movers of all ranks, and types-government, contract, congressional POCs, to meet with, discuss our plan, get any advice they might offer and-as much as anything-introduce myself and somewhat calm the waters that NIMA-we-I-had the measure of this task. She was 100% correct on the necessity of doing so, as NIMA had a reputation pre-Clapper of being just as likely to send somebody from the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA) side of the house-since that was the source of most of our seniors-like 60% or more, vice somebody savvy about the IC MRB or the JROC processes.

I personally learned that lesson the hard way when I sent one of the engineers who had been sent over to “spy” and report on our Space Base Radar efforts, to attend a requirements and capabilities strategy session with a mission partner, and I received a call from the program manager asking me please, “not to send him back: a total distraction who did not know the first thing about JROC acronyms or requirements documentation or terminology”…one of our DAWIA certified engineers.

I was a relative unknown in this circle having moved back to DC in 1997 as a contractor-was not a senior-and came from the program analysis side of the house, vice the mission or analysis or CITO side: most three-letter heads of agencies would not react kindly if they thought the task was being given to a “newbie” or a “mapper.”

NIMA DD Joanne O’Rourke Isham was probably the most connected community senior in the IC (and a personal favorite of the DCI,) a Notre Dame grad who joined the CIA in her 20s in 1977 and held a variety of jobs of increasing responsibility that included Security Director for a highly classified program, Director of the CIA Congressional affairs, Associate Deputy Director CIA for the Directorate of Science and Technology and Deputy Director of NIMA and NGA from September 2001-April 2006, when she retired from Federal Service (accrued leave counts towards retirement, so over 30 years of service): as we say, she knew some “stuff” and she knew some people-like just about everybody-if there was a body buried somewhere in the IC, the odds are that she knew about it, and had probably planted a few…

One of the earliest meetings the first week-in fact I think it was the morning of 9 July 2002-was with the head of our Central Imagery Tasking Office (CITO)-TV-who was not quite dismissive, but listened to my introduction and overview of the task with what struck me as a ”bored or bemused” reaction that he backed up by making the comment that “we did one of these “exercises” every year-nothing ever comes of them-but it makes everyone feel good, and we all get back to work:” in other words, “don’t fret your pretty little head over this-the pros are on it-and it will be all right.”

I was surprised-and said so-in fact I said something to the effect that Ms. Isham might be surprised to hear that as well, given what I perceived as her sense of urgency: there might have been a little tightening of TV’s facial muscles and demeanor as I finished my comment.

I should stay on point here, but context is important, and I had done somewhat of a mini-battle that had been elevated by TVs folks to his “in-box” because they did not want to cooperate with a high-visibility project I was providing contract support to a few years back-in fact it hit in two waves.

End of Part 11

17 November 2022

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