The top U.S. defense and intelligence officials have decided to undo a 2001 management change intended to foster better coordination of classified and unclassified military space activities, according to sources in the intelligence community, industry and on Capitol Hill.
The plan to split the positions of undersecretary of the U.S. Air Force and director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) was hammered out at meeting in early July, these sources said. Among those in attendance were Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Negroponte, they said.
The duties of NRO director have been handled by Dennis Fitzgerald, the agency’s deputy director, on an acting basis since Peter B. Teets, who also held the title of Air Force undersecretary, retired in April. Ronald Sega was nominated to take the undersecretary job June 29, and service officials had expected him to be given the NRO position after his Senate confirmation.
But now it appears that those expectations will not come to pass. Don Kerr, currently deputy director of science and technology at the Central Intelligence Agency, is expected to become the new NRO director, the sources said. The NRO director’s post does not require Senate confirmation.
Hilary White, a DNI spokeswoman, declined to comment on the matter . Air Force Lt. Col. Tracy O’Grady, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
The Pentagon combined the positions of Air Force undersecretary and NRO director in accordance with a recommendation by an expert panel chaired by Rumsfeld prior to his nomination to serve as secretary of defense in 2001. The undersecretary of the Air Force was given the additional duties of executive agent for U.S. military space programs.
Sega is expected to retain the executive agent for space responsibilities, according to congressional and industry sources.
The decision to consolidate oversight of all national security space programs was designed to create efficiencies but did not sit well with some in the intelligence community, and as Teets’ April retirement approached there was a push on Capitol Hill for its reversal. Teets lobbied during his final public speeches to keep the Air Force undersecretary and NRO director positions together.
On July 12, Gen. Lance Lord, commander of Air Force Space Command, told the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee that he believed keeping a single official in both roles was the best way to get the operators of classified and unclassified space systems to work more closely together.
But Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), chairman of the House Intelligence subcommittee on tactical and technical intelligence and a former National Security Council staffer, said the job is too big for one official. Teets was consumed by his Air Force duties and was not able to spend sufficient time at the NRO’s Chantilly, Va., headquarters, she said in a July 13 interview.
“The intel community has had a concern that they needed a full-time director at the NRO, and there was an [NRO] inspector general’s review last year that found the undersecretary spent 80 percent of his time away from the NRO,” Wilson said.
Robert S. Dickman, who served as Teets’ deputy for military space programs, disagreed.
“The idea [that] the job is too big for one person is ludicrous,” said Dickman, a retired Air Force major general whose uniformed career concluded with a two-year posting at the NRO.
Dickman, who currently serves as executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said splitting the duties will jeopardize efforts to better integrate classified and unclassified space programs . He said these programs share the same requirements, the same industrial base and much of the same technology, and that the efficiencies to be gained by more-closely integrating the two now stand to be lost.
U.S. Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, said he opposes separating the NRO and Air Force duties, but conceded that it is unlikely that Congress can stop the Pentagon and DNI from making the change.
“Air Force and NRO space systems [have] the same users, but we have created an artificial barrier by separating black-and-white space,” Everett said in a July 14 interview. “Continued integration is essential to reduce duplication, increase communication and leverage common investment for common missions.”
Everett said he planned to write a letter to “the powers that be” registering his strong preference for keeping the NRO director and Air Force undersecretary positions together.
by COLIN CLARK & JEREMY SINGER