National Intelligence Folly: How a Tragic Unsolved Murder Led to Billions of Dollars of Program Fraud, Waste and Abuse Part 12

In parts 1-11, I detailed some of the issues and problems-often caused by folly of one sort or another-that consistently undermined many government Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) activities. I also covered the murder of a security guard at the new NRO construction site that led to the discovery of the building by congress, which then led to the firing of DIR Jeff Harris and DD Jimmie D. Hill (I’m not inferring or offering the view that they shouldn’t have been fired: I lack sufficient details to opine on that point.)

A firing that I believe contributed-if not wholesale caused-the disastrous results stemming from DIR Keith Hall and DD Dennis Fitzgerald’s 1999 decision to award Boeing the FIA contract.

We do well to remember the context of why this seemed like somewhat of a pre-ordained train wreck: FIA contract winner Boeing had not engineered a single satellite for the US government up to this award: not a single one! While second place winner/first loser Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMC) had engineered all of them. Boeing proved to be capable of delivering the radar portion of the contract: it was the “magical” capabilities they proffered to engineer for the optical component that proved their undoing, when the impossible task(s) they proposed proved to be-well-impossible to engineer to their proposed-and well-funded-specifications that were the basis of the award (more on that later.)

One of the cardinal sins in engineering or fabrication of any system, service or process, is if there is a “then a miracle occurs” moment in the system function. I will get into this as I describe the GAP processes as they unfolded, as it is a good question why these “miracles” did not receive more “weight” in the bid & review process. Most of the GAP Mitigation Team had not seen or read the Boeing proposal because (1) it was “contract sensitive” and restricted by the government (2) only published in the government contract facility because on top of that it was Boeing Proprietary (requiring additional govt safeguards) (3) simply not available to anyone who was (a) not on the Boeing capture team (b) part of the government FIA procurement review or budget/finance/cost team: a NIMA rep, NRO member, contract or Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) expert (4) a specially designated, high skills individual given special access by the lead NRO decision executive.

Just in the way of a teaser up front, I arranged early on for our GAP Team to spend a full day reading through the proposal-all of it- accompanied by a run through of the entire proposal from subject matter experts (SME) starting with viewing the formal proposal presentation and the pertinent documents. It was an absolute shock to nearly the entire team familiar with satellite design and the state of the art of the various components-especially the LMC SIs who were assigned to the team-who were normally the trusted agents to advise the NRO on these matters-who had never seen any of it-to discover two miracle “unicorns, sparkles and rainbows” in the midst of a very well written, detailed proposal: they were not just a little risky, it was like the vendor pursuing the C-17 contract proposed not only a vertical takeoff and landing capability, but also options for carrier operations at full load…

I’m reminded of some work I did in support of a test and there was disappointment expressed in the control room when the “object under test” was detected by radar when making turns and some maneuvers: several members of the team had serious reservations about issuing passing grades, given these observations. It was awkward explaining the important-and seemingly blinding flash of the obvious that this was a stealth platform, not an invisible one: there is a reason the flight planning profiles and presentation at key points in the mission profile are so critical to mission operational security.

The new NRO leadership team came in sometime after the completion of the first of three phases, Phase A: they weren’t dumb, nor incompetent, nor inexperienced. But they eventually accepted an imprudent risk that I believe stemmed from either not reading the proposal (not unusual at their level)-while relying on others who were enamored with the glitter, while not concerned or frightened by the risk (when you want the opposite to be the case)-or fell for or were swayed by the oldest trick in the book: the seemingly cheaper vendor (much like a used car,) in this case the allure of saving a billion dollars: and it is not unfair to observe that if you believe ~5B was a reasonable price for this program-then you may still believe that Boeing was “this close to delivering it.” But it takes more than money to get a miracle, never mind 2…

I hate to think anybody would be so vane or silly enough to want to send a message to LMC through the Boeing award, cause-if so-that was a costly message for everybody involved (Where is your nose??? You cut it off???)

The decision was believed by many to be a mistake as early as summer 2000-less than a year after the award. It became a serious concern for DCI George Tenet post 9-11, particularly in the wake of new NRO DIR Peter B. Teets directing a review of the program in spring 2002 that returned pessimistic results. Tenet took extraordinary action, immediately, issuing a study task for NIMA and NRO 8 July 2002 to get to the bottom-line on FIA, which was proven to be a mistake through the efforts of the Gap Mitigation Study team by Oct 2002.

The optical component of the Boeing FIA contract was mercifully terminated by the first Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Negroponte in 2005 (with the concurrence of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.) The government concurrently contracted with LMC to build the FIA imaging satellites, which at this point were almost two years behind schedule and at least ~9-10B over budget: But I’m getting a bit ahead of the story.

Part 11 also introduced the drastic measures that were undertaken by then DCI George Tenet to task the IC to get a handle on this potential disaster that might lead to a “GAP” in US collection capability. I closed Part 11 with the start of another folly or foible that would play out for the IC, generated from United States Central Command (CENTCOM.)

You may view some these “stories” as interesting anecdotes or peripheral stories, or largely irrelevant and distractions from the main story. But what makes these incidents relevant-to me-is how often the same sorry type of actions happened over this time period (in my article from 1955-2005 or so) that (1) always cost more money (2) never delivered on the capability that was (a) promised (b) funded (c) needed (3) but the money was spent: rinse and repeat. We would often rant and rave about congress and “stuff”-but how could you blame them in light of some of this information and these type actions they follow as closely-if not moreso-than we do?

GEN Keith B. Alexander, US Military Academy (1974,) did very well over a career that spanned some 4 decades, particularly after starting out as a tanker (a damned azz tanker) and later a Force Alignment Program (FAP) MI officer (aka, a combat arms late comer to MI): he made up for it quickly…He commanded just about every important Army Military intelligence Unit and was the first Cyber Command leader as a full-grown general (four star.) He achieved tremendous success at all levels, but the thing that stands out the most was his interest and penchant for technology improvements. And also, the fact that in a MICA golf tournament at Fort Belvoir, Va in ~2009 or so, he won the prize for the longest drive against folks at least half his age and won the scramble that year-and he insisted it was legit)….

This story in particular exemplifies how-and why-Keith pursued what can only be described as a quest for technology and mission improvements throughout his career and as an objective in each of his General Officer assignments. It is the bent of his character, inclined to harness compute power-cloud analytics-deep subject matter expertise, in support of a theme that emerged in his last several assignments where he pioneered and pursued a classic Army Cavalry concept that started out as “Overwatch” as early as USCENTCOM J-2, but particularly at the Intelligence and Security Command, and to infinity and beyond with the pioneer work done to build the Real Time Gateway (RTG) at NSA.

Now I wasn’t going to sidetrack on this, but the reason Keith’s folks got the measure of the RTG after about 3 years of effort-it took some time to get “humm’n”-was the persistent focus on the emerging cloud analytics and development of a hybrid native cloud effort that focused on a best athlete capability and leveraged the processing power to make it work. NSA-Dave Hurry-was adamant that it was too early in the process to commit to a single vender when the nuances, software releases and innovations were happening weekly. As long as they implemented systems to commercial cloud standards-things would work-and they did. Jim Heath was Keith’s cloud lead at INSCOM working the Overwatch Program, followed him to NSA-Cyber Command and then IronNet.

There were a few key tenets associated with the cloud work ongoing between NSA and NGA, NGA and INSCOM, and NGA-NRO and DNI. My approach was if you have a lot of haystacks, you need much bigger and more powerful magnets: algorithms, cloud analytics and a data scrubbing approach that cleans up data and attributes: I was advocating a Bloomberg approach to the data ingestion process. Keith’s approach was big on the treatment of data attributes and storage, based on the reality that you can’t analyze data you don’t have-so his plan stored everything they had.

And so what, huh: most are familiar with the story. When Principle Deputy Director of National Intelligence (PDDNI) Stephanie O’Sullivan powered through the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE,) the biggest winner was certainly the CIA (where did the PDDNI come from…..,) and the biggest loser was certainly NSA, who was at a minimum a half decade ahead on native hybrid cloud implementation and analytics, very little of which based on Amazon Web Services (AWS) mainly because they decided against going with a cloud philosophy that “quacked” like a Microsoft product line. Now the CIA had signed up for a copy of IBM WATSON and also stood up a digital office, but they were just leaving the proverbial gate with their cloud efforts as ICITE became a thing.

I know this is dated, but my point here is that the NSA (RTG) was probably the first large scale cloud implementation in the IC not hosted in an FFRDC: ICITE came along some nearly ~6 years later and not only undercut all the momentum of NSA-while cutting the IC IT budgets from ~14M a year to ~6M-but also somehow left out the DoD components of the community and that rift is still being patched as we speak. One wonders where all that IT money went (question in the back-CIA programs? Don’t know…)

I would be remiss if I didn’t quickly go over the non-sweetness and light parts of this (Keith’s) story. INSCOM prior to and after Alexander departed was pursuing a cloud-based set of initiatives for the Army Distributed Common Ground Station (DCGS) known as “Red Disk.” Russ Richardson-who would later follow Keith to IronNet, seemed to have myriad conflicts of interests and would attract the ire of congressman Duncan Hunter over what seemed like an insider software purchase that disenfranchised-among others-Peter Thiel’s analytics offering called Palantir, with whom the Army would later settle a huge lawsuit.

One of the resulting actions from these problems (besides growing into a stinky, swampy story) was that Army Deputy Chief of Staff, Intelligence, LTG Mary Legere did not receive a nomination to head up DIA and retired.

Back to the Proof of Concept (POC) work we’re discussing.

Dear reader was left at the point in part 11 where GAP discussions were taking place with CITO and TV amidst a backdrop of a little programmatic prior history. CENTCOM Intel Chief-J-2-BG Keith Alexander was looking in ~2000 at increasing the cyclic rate on intelligence support by poking the “bear” that was the typical pace of national intelligence information represented largely by NIMA’s CITO and analysis shops, and their perceived responsiveness or lack thereof.

Now CENTCOM was not exactly the “poor kid” on the block-that would certainly be SOUTHCOM-as evidenced by a CENTCOM Joint Intelligence Center (JIC) that was some 2500 strong and the recent Gulf effort where they had been provided “Primacy” in regard to collection, which may come back into the story later.

But the US govt was coming out of another seeming near disaster attempting to support NATO actions in Kosovo-Serbia-Bosnia where the IC was pretty much found wanting to support intelligence requirements, particularly National Technical Means (NTM) priorities. Keith briefed his concept to the old Military Intelligence Board (MIB,) that considered IC-wide systems issues, then chaired by Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director VADM Thomas R. Wilson, which included most IC agency heads, the JROC and the CMS (Joan Dempsey)-a group known as the “Magnificent Seven,” who roundly and strongly supported his project.

His Interoperability Senior Steering Group Proof of Concept (ISSG POC 1 and 2) focused on addressing a number of identified shortfalls that first surfaced-and had lingered-since Desert Storm. The bottom line to keep it relatively short was Keith rightly felt that IC agencies in the DC area in general lacked sufficient-and the right tools-to communicate with the COCOMs trying to do their business. And the COCOMS to a great extent also lacked necessary tools and interaction to do the same. The lack of commonality and shared situational awareness views resulted in numerous, hand jamming or work arounds to get the daily mission completed.

TV’s CITO shop at the “Area” was a particular target for improvement because at the time CENTCOM only received about two updates a day on the “big collection picture,” and all other updates were conducted manually by phone or message traffic between the J-2 Collection Management Shop and the DIA Departmental Requirements Officer (DRO.)

Keith really wanted maybe 5 updates a day-but the not so hidden agenda/desire-was continuous updates throughout and a more dynamic operation where they would have-ideally-pass-to-pass insight to opportunities, as they did under Desert Storm and Primacy. Neither was going to happen-CENTCOM was one of at least a dozen customers that would have loved to have such a capability, but this was a national collection asset and resource management effort-and the COCOMs had resources they could use for Area of Responsibility collections.

Part of Keith’s initiative was to bundle a number of targeting and visualization initiative capabilities-such as the Battlefield Visualization Initiative (BVI-Brendan Callahan’s tool for NTM situational awareness,) PRISM (a EUCOM targeting synchronization tool put together by Ronnie Baham,) Global Command and Control System (GCCS,) Common Operational Picture (COP,) fielded to CENTCOM during Roving Sands 1996 in the 9th Air Force CAOC-replacing a number of systems, including the theretofore standard Joint Electronic Analysis Program (JEAP,),  when the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA-former Defense Communications Agency) began the massive fielding of GCCS and the Joint Defense Information Control System-Deployed (JDIICS-D,) a suite of network management tools provided as an interim until the Army Joint Network Management System fielded, and the Satellite Tool Kit, among other programs, in order for all involved, but particularly IC elements like CITO, to have better online communications.

The Joint Deployable Imagery Support System (JDISS) Program Office under LCDR Chris Page was going to work the programmatics, integration work and fielding.

Another important data point here is the MIB had been somewhat instrumental in previous years of forcing the community-particularly the Army-to neck down and consolidate or coalesce candidate collection management systems in favor of the DIA COL Reid Huff-former Ft. Huachuca Intel Battle Lab Chief-led Joint Collection Management Tools (JCMT): and if you’ve never heard of it, it’s because it never made it. Neither did the Multi-Source Requirements Data Base Architecture (MSRDA)-an NRO Bob Silsby project that you’ve probably (ditto,) that was bundled into the consolidator program called the Intelligence Community Mission Applications Program (ICMAP,) which you may not have heard of (ditto…)

Keith Alexander was cutting his teeth growing up in 18th Airborne Corps watching these systems die on the vine as warfighters struggled to manage this increasingly blob-like enterprise that promised myriad and fabulous tools over his career-but almost none of them made it (I’m talking about you-Army All Source Analysis System (Another Suck Azz System.))

Frustrations grew so high over this issue that was truly impacting training and operations, that the Army Space Program Office funded in 1990 or so the Imagery Mission Planning System whose initial instantiation (some don’t like that word-tennis apology, Flan Dog) was simply an electronic or digital, interactive version of the Joint Tactical Exploitation of National Systems, Tactical Exploitation of National Capabilities manual/handbook (JTENS/TENCAP.) It was worth the price of admission for most new users due to the interactive version of the 1684 (national tasking request) that helped new-and experienced users alike-to navigate the required and increasingly archaic and non-intuitive fields: which were daunting, mind numbing and jargon laden. Never heard of that one, either? It never made it because it was going to be built into ASAS as a module, JCMT as a service, and then ICMAP as one of the sponsored Army initiatives (none of them made it-same tired movie.)

One thing you have to give huge props to Keith for, is he was right about the need for these tools and the pent-up frustration in the field over the lack of tools: and you can’t discount the fact that this savvy ex-Army Intel Master Plan strategist likely knew the JCMT money was hanging out in the system somewhere, ripe for the picking-and this was a great big project to get it spent on….

While nothing is free, the ISSG POC (JDISS PO) was going to coordinate installation of some of the identified capability to facilitate POC 1 and 2 execution. TV’s folks were none too thrilled about the idea of adding additional coordination to go out of their way to have more interaction with anybody at this point, particularly the COCOMs, as their aged and archaic tools struggled to keep up with a day’s work in a day.

And it is hard to blame them because of the turnover, as well as the increasing sophistication of the system that imposed a steep learning curve on users that was not conducive to the military maintaining proficiency (put as delicately as I can: but I found this to be true throughout my career-the person screaming the loudest today will be in a different position next week-month-or year, and would rarely stay long enough to attain the proficiency necessary to effectively interact with national systems: I was one of them at one time.)

So that was not a long story made short. TV’s folks fought getting these systems and when I weighed-in to explain that they might want to consider that our own Dir NIMA-LTG King-(1) considered Keith a mentee (2) was one of the Magnificent Seven (3) had approved Keith’s plan (4) had specifically told Keith in the meeting at Clarendon that if there were any issues or problems, to call him personally-the next thing you know we-I- was in a meeting at the Area and my government POC (GPOC) was on leave.

It felt like a dinner appointment with the piranhas…TV asked who told me about the Clarendon meeting-and I told him-just like that day, it was an important meeting where the GPOC couldn’t make it-so I was at the meeting to say hello to Keith and two of his staff I served with-one was my 1SGT in Germany for a time-and that I had attended the MIB the last half year or so as somewhat the NIMA monitor for the Director’s Initiative Group.

The bottom-line is I convinced the group that if we did not participate in the ISSG POCs, we risked a loss of SME input that was sorely missing at this point that could help either eliminate systems that simply would not work or drive the systems to include things necessary to help us do our jobs. But in the worst-case scenario-we could fail to stop stupid things from happening that would ultimately embarrass our Dir when they failed, and we were seen as non-team players. To his credit TV overrode his team and decided to stand up a cell that later became the multi-Int Fusion Cell that was always a lively place to visit to see what was going on in the community.

Back to the TV discussion-while I acknowledged the GAP Study was not my typical NIMA lane, I had extensive Research, Development, Test and Experimentation experience-and if there was a pony in there-a problem to find and solve-I would be all over it like stink on you know what: but I needed their help and expertise.

I returned to the topic of what I was there for, which was to solicit his support with a sense of urgency, and to provide a single point of contact that would be available to attend our daily analysis status meeting and to execute actions that we needed immediately, which at the current time included: a copy of the current operations or collection deck, metrics on collection for the last several years, and a commitment to providing a dedicated modeling and simulation expert who would be available to work for probably several days to a week at some point as we fleshed out the boundaries of the GAP case.

And there might be more as we moved out, but Ms. Isham would vouch for any and all requests I made if there was an issue, problem or concern: and yes, there was a budget of the TBD variety, but it was believed the NRO was footing the bill (champagne all around😊.)

Now TV had been in the business for more than a day, had only met me a few times, and if he wasn’t on the fence, he had his hands on it ready to make a move. He turned towards Old Baldy-an Army buddy-and asked if he had gotten that: yes sir! So we had at least gotten to acknowledgement that there was going to be a dance at this point.

And to circle back (on my circle back,) Ms. Isham knew much better than I that TV was a key element of getting a thumbs up from the community-especially the CIA (Charlie Allen, Mark Lowenthal, Andy Palowitch, Don Kerr and the big guy-DCI,) as well as NIMA analysis-most of whom were agency.

When I reported to her that I thought the meeting was a success, she was excited right up to the point where I went full bore dumb with a bit too much information, when she asked me what my sense was with TV’s reaction, and I grabbed my number ten and jammed it mouth ward, as I mentioned that TV said we did one of these every year and nothing comes of it, so I was thinking maybe I should do some research of previous efforts to get familiar with the outcomes…at that point cheerful, friendly Ms. Isham disappeared and her twin sister the evil Hulkstress proceeded to jump down my throat about taking this seriously, and that this is how we’ve gotten into this mess in the first place, and wanting me to assure her that I was the right person for this job, that I understood the gravity of the situation and the importance of the study to the community and the DCI-who we owed so much to…About all I could think of was-wow, first time I felt like I was back in the Army in years….She asked Jimmy to get TV on the phone-got through right away-and told TV he was on speaker. Oh boy!

End of Part 12

Maxdribbler77@gmail.com

17 November 2022

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