National Intelligence Folly: How a Tragic Unsolved Murder Led to Billions of Dollars of Program Fraud, Waste and Abuse Part 29: A Crappy People Problem

My diversion from our Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) and GAP Mitigation Study (GAP) topic is warranted in my mind because I have been non-stop describing poorly executed programs and bashing incompetent program managers, but have yet to describe what the problem is, and what the government can and should do about it. That requires pretty specific details and recommendations, thus my diversion from the central topic.

During my four decades or more in the government-near equally split between the military (Army) and civilian service, I witnessed a considerable change in culture in both organizations-neither for the better. My focus with this series is civilians and contractors involved in the procurement and acquisition process.

At issue is whether or not, and how government program managers are trained and why they have such a spotty performance record. I made the case earlier through an example of replacing tape robots for how to do technology-based procurements differently to deal with Moore’s Law and obsolescence caused by longer acquisition cycles with large proportions of technology (computers/chips, hardware, software and firmware.) These programs would benefit from deliberate technology or risk reduction cycles or spirals-within the procurement timelines-that could be merged-through deliberate planning-into the mainline development as I described.

But all my program stories and verbiage and tiptoeing in the margins around the root cause is only going to extend my series and not provide the bottom-line explanation for the problems.

We can talk about program problems, best and worst practices, lessons learned, management techniques, Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) training and certification, experience, skills, knowledge, and abilities etc., ad nauseum, to infinity and beyond: there is simply a banquet-a city worth of details on such problems.

That is all true, wonderful and instructive, but there is no avoiding the true reason for these problems. The fact is that at the core of most of these problems are crappy people: serpents willing to do what they need to do in order to get their way. Crappy, low life, mean spirited, small-minded people.

At the heart of the FIA debacle-for instance-that begat the necessity to do the GAP Study to avoid further embarrassing the Intelligence Community (IC) and leader-Director of Central Intelligence (DCI)-George Tenant, was a chintzy, small minded person or a likeminded cabal of people who wanted to teach the “mean girls” from Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMC) a lesson: they were willing to risk their credibility, reputations and the potential of embarrassing the entire IC to do it. There is no getting around that fact-it was single digits-a handful of people responsible: we know who they are-they weren’t fired, sanctioned, tarred or feathered.

In the aggregate their small-minded actions cost their organization prestige that had been gained an inch at a time over four decades, as well as American taxpayers-us-a minimum of thirty billion dollars. Take the counter point and argue me out of this position…

If we fast forward nearly 21 years, we see the same reckless risk taking, a willingness to lie, cheat, steal and show their fuzzy arses to the public by these supposedly wizened and definitely experienced nifty 51 IC idjiots over another asinine issue involving the Hunter Biden laptop that-much like the FIA procurement decision-it was a layup-do the right and smart (ethical) thing: don’t touch it. What were they thinking getting involved in the defense of a crackhead ne’re do well while freely admitting they had no evidence, facts or basis of information for the crap they nonetheless opined on?

There is a rumor about Harry Truman that he once said, “one of the problems with the swamp is most of them believe you can pick-up a piece of dung by the clean end.

The reason the above was such a corrupt undertaking is it was on the heels of a bunch of these just plain scurrilous human beings giving testimony to congress under oath that they lacked any information whatsoever about Russian collusion with President Trump: zero Jim-squatola, none, nada, zippo, zilch-ain’t got it!

Yet each individual serpent opined and sang for their supper in front of the bright lights and small partisan national audience of the faux news, that Orange Man Bad, Russia, Russia, Russia Pee Pee Hoax, Putin treating Trump like he is “his handler:” the most senior intelligence leader in the United States stating that the President of the United States of America is a foreign intelligence asset for Russia: what a crappy, asinine thing to do and say! I don’t think these folks-particularly Clapper-have gotten the notoriety and the shaming they deserve over these issues-the lot of them-but particularly Brennan and Hayden (argue me of out of that characterization!)

I’m going to switch gears a bit and give a top-level description of examples of just plain dumb, incompetent, Machiavellian, or just plain schitty human beings and the underhanded, unethical things they pulled over the years. These are all firsthand experiences that I have detailed knowledge about that I will endeavor to cover in brief else risk the potential to double this series-which I could not-in good conscious-do to dear reader. Maybe a book down the road or perhaps two, but an attempt to list some of the bigger ones in order to get back on topic next week.

Earlier in this series I walked through a handful of instances and the systems involved where the National Imagery and Mapping Agency-now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) acquisition and enterprise directorate leaders would complain to Director LTG James King-get him all riled up-about the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) doing something that was (1) in our “lane,” our job (2) supporting our customers (3) confusing customers over roles, missions, and lanes.

Most of these issues were garbage, rabble rousing by conniving people who learned how to push LTG King’s buttons. The proof was when these systems transitioned to NIMA-along with the program funding lines meant to sustain them until they were included in NIMA’s program-which never happened. Most of them disappeared into the acquisition or enterprise “morass” while the money was “repurposed” for higher priorities (and I want to call your attention to the phrase as the last bastion of a conniving acquisition professional: “higher priorities.”)

Many systems tried (to transfer) and many died through the above sneaky, scummy tactics. Until the NRO wizened up and used two tracks to neuter NIMA/NGA efforts. One was demonstrated on the BRITE Program that provided imagery through broadcast communications means (Joint Broadcast Service at the time) for Special Operations Forces to aid in operational planning and targeting. The NRO briefed House Armed Service Committee (HASC) members and staff on the success of the program using a handful of “scum bag” takedowns and provided a program update detailing the transition to NIMA and the importance of continued funding (as well as accounting for the program funds going with the program to provide initial continuity.) It showed up in congressional language and-viola-any changes would have to be briefed to the HASC: serpents neutralized.

The other tactic was done for a program I covered previously in great detail, the Product Imagery Mission Element (PRIME,) Customer Product Network (CPN,) NIMA Library Pathfinder Mission Element (NL/Prime,) and later the Web Based Archive and Retrieval Prototype (WARP) system.

WARP was transitioned to NIMA in 1998 or so, along with contract funding and recap dollars because the servers were approaching failure in late 1999 or 2000: NIMA took the dollars, transitioned the system, did a faux study showing it was a mission that was already being done within the NIMA Library System, and gave orders to the contract officer representative (COR) to cease any and all upgrades-change orders-or improvements-the equivalent of taking the patient off life support.

An NRO person-whose name escapes me-and I (when I was a contractor) went to a congressional worker bee and staffers social hour called the “Cockroaches” meeting at the Capital Grill in DC-deep in the swamp-and discussed potential strategies to see what could be done to keep the NL/PRIME system alive. He was invited to a small group member meeting to further discuss options and money suddenly appeared that next week-earmarked specifically for NL/Prime server recap-to the chagrin of the slimy schemers from our enterprise and acquisition directorate.

My government POC warned me that she needed help in many of the areas she was working because of the large number of slime balls she had to deal with. Little did I realize that this was the opening salvo in a battle joined in a war that would simmer and heat up and percolate for the better part of the next fifteen years fighting with some of these same jackbutts hell bent on shutting the system down.

It is somewhat of a long, torturous, but instructive story that I will later cover in detail in what probably warrants a dedicated article by itself. The underhanded and crappy schemes pursued in trying to shut the system down were novel, inventive, and ultimately scummy. And to quote somebody who knows, I caught them-caught them all-and I still have the email-exhibit number “you are furfed” that was presented to Dir Clapper as evidence.

What is fascinating about it is the folks I was doing battle with were clueless about what made it such a great program and an elegant solution for Warfighters working at the pointy end of the spear who had nothing else in the kit bag like it. At the time (1999) there were some ~3K or so users and they grew to over ~12K over the years.

Its value proposition was simple, being the NRO NETFLIX offering to NIMA’s Blockbuster Video store. During a site assistance visit to check on our embedded analyst at Al Udeid with the Joint Forces Air Component Command, Combined Air Operations Center (JFACC CAOC,) Joint Stars manager and also the targeting cell, we lucked out and there was an operation ongoing. The imagery the Lt Col and Maj called up to produce a target graphic for the strike package and to get a refined coordinate was ~6 months old-I was like-no way! We signed onto SIPRNET (Secret Internet Protocol Network)-went to WARP via a web browser-and pulled up a National Technical Means (satellite) image that was several hours old and we helped get a better desired mean point of impact based on the updated information.

We helped the cell get accounts and walked them through how to get current imagery for any targets that were being serviced through the air tasking order or spins or CENTCOM’S Joint Target Coordination Board approved list (Joint Prioritized Integrated Target List). These images would routinely be collected for CENTCOM but were rarely passed forward to the CAOC servicing Image Product Library because they were at a higher classification level (a key feature WARP provided-the same image at collateral-secret.)

Our enterprise and acquisition folks could just as easily have-way back when-done an unbiased analysis, recognized the potential and value of the program, leveraged the emerging capability based on web services (early instantiation of NETSCAPE,) embraced two-factor authentication, adopted novel web browser streaming services implementing emerging JPEG and JPIP streaming protocol, and made themselves heroes by making WARP into the legendary targeting capability it became for those 12k users.

But it was “not invented here:” these were schemers looking to turn the system off and harvest the funds to use for “higher priorities.”

One of the early tasks I was given after returning to government was leading the consolidation of inputs on the agency delta POM (Program Objective Memorandum) effort focused on identifying tasks and funding to support the push for operations in Afghanistan and select spots around the world in support of the Global War On Terror (GWOT,) the so-called 9-11 GWOT delta POM cycle. One of the NRO projects “we” had been closely following was a novel processing effort called SIEGE that fell under the Advanced Geospatial Intelligence (AGI) product category I described in detail early in this series reference radar coverage of the Nepal earthquake (2015.)

The NRO was proposing to implement an automated segment processing capability that would routinely produce a range of standard radar products (e.g., two-color multi-view, change detection, movement graph, etc.) that would be available for posting to the NIMA Library for customers.

I was briefing a group of seniors on the emerging priorities when our agency acquisition lead went off on an impassioned rant about SIEGE being an example of the NRO doing our job and getting in our lane and he wanted it taken off the list.

I was surprised-and Spidey sense suspicious-over his frankly emotional-over the top outburst-and walked him through the fact that our users (SOF, Brits and Canadians) had been increasingly requesting these formats for night time operations-that it currently took too long to produce them using existing means because we had to wait until the entire mission processed and then go back to pull and reprocess the imagery as special orders-which had to be hand jammed into the system by the field and the processing team-it was currently a pretty unique skill set on both ends.

The emerging program information was the NRO was already making the changes to allow somewhat automatic processing on the fly, and these dollars reflected companion costs on our side of the interface to handle the formats, processing, storage, entry into the library holdings and exposure for discovery in the library catalogue, as well as the product dissemination bill.

I had been warned in the discussion of the project details that he might have an “adverse reaction” to the program.

He basically came near unhinged and wanted to know where I had gotten the information from-and if it was Steve Xxxxx from MITRE: he would fire him. I didn’t want to get Steve fired but said-hey look-I’ve been working with NRO IMINT-Lt Col Jeff …. and Maj Keith …. on this project for a year to expand opportunities and support for nighttime operations-we aren’t doing enough of these products because of processing limitations-we just added the formats to WARP to serve tactical users-this would expand the capability tenfold initially and reduce the timeline for delivery by 80%-and we are not on track to do this because of a lack of money.

Customers have been asking for these products to support targeting ops to verify whether targets are still there or not. It can’t be evidence of someone doing our job if we aren’t doing it.

But you know what? If you don’t want it on here, I will take it off. He was adamant and I went to delete it. Others spoke up and said-don’t delete it, just move it to the Pri 3 category in case we get enough money. I was like-this is a good project that is going to get done whether we take action or not. We should either request funds for our side of the interface engineering or have the NRO do it and we can transition it down the road if we don’t have the bandwidth. But this is an important nighttime operations capability that is higher than a Pri 3-and I will talk further with the NRO to get more details on the plans. But we won’t have the option of not doing anything about this project if they get funded on their side of the interface.

This was a continuation of the definition of a whine fest. NIMA at standup was expected to pick-up much of the imagery processing burden in recognition of the logical demarcation between the NRO and NIMA missions. We were six years in at this point (above) and NIMA had yet to put together a plan to take over the mission processing aspects that produced exploitable images yet was constantly sniping at the NRO over being in “our lane.”

Not invented here syndrome and lane violations were extremely triggering concepts, negatively motivating the DMA engineering residue crew.

20 January 2023

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