Pentagon and Intelligence Community at Odds Over BASIC

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  Space News Business

Pentagon and Intelligence Community at Odds Over BASIC

By TURNER BRINTON
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 02 September 2008
03:58 pm ET






WASHINGTON
— The bureaucratic dispute over a
U.S.
government imaging satellite procurement program has flared up anew, with a senior Pentagon official accusing his intelligence community counterparts of overstepping their bounds and trying to undo previous agreements on how to proceed.

The program in question is called Broad Area Surveillance Intelligence Capability (BASIC), which includes two satellites and related ground systems for collecting imagery at resolutions of a half-meter or better. The program is intended to serve both the military and intelligence communities, and has been the subject of previous disputes between the two camps.

The latest evidence of discord came in the form of an Aug. 15 memo from John Young,
U.S.
undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. In it, Young voiced disagreement on a number of counts with a draft memo circulated by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) concerning the $1.7 billion BASIC program.

News of the latest dispute was reported first by DoDBuzz, a blog on the Web site military.com. Space News independently obtained a copy of Young’s memo; the ODNI memo is classified.

“The BASIC program could be underway if every decision was not constantly being re-litigated and if key stakeholders would collaboratively work the issues,” Young said in his memo.

The missive, distributed to senior defense and intelligence officials, cited a number of specific disagreements with the ODNI draft memo, including one about who has so-called milestone decision authority over the BASIC space segment. Milestone decision authority is procurement parlance for the final say in whether a development program is ready to move from one phase to the next. Young argued that since the BASIC space segment is Pentagon-funded, that authority should rest entirely in his office. “I non-concur on splitting the acquisition milestone decision authority,” he wrote.

Young also said while the ODNI memo calls on the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to develop requirements for the BASIC ground segment, it fails to issue any such guidance for the space segment. This is necessary, he said, given the substantial capabilities of the commercial satellite imagery sector, he said.

Two
U.S.
companies, DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo., and GeoEye of Dulles,
Va.
, operate or are set to launch imaging satellites whose capabilities could overlap with those of the BASIC spacecraft. “The space segment requirement should similarly consider and document purchases from Commercial Data Providers satisfying Tier 2 requirements,” Young said. Tier 2 refers to imagery that in terms of quality falls somewhere between that which is available commercially and data collected by the classified satellites operated by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

Since the BASIC program was conceived there have been questions about its compliance with a
U.S.
policy dictating that defense and intelligence agencies rely to the maximum practical extent on commercial imagery. Young earlier this year put the brakes on the program in part due to concerns about compliance with the policy, and raised them again in his Aug. 15 memo.

For example, Young noted that a previous senior level agreement concerning BASIC left open the possibility that the government-owned satellites could be operated commercially. “This is not reflected in the [ODNI] memorandum. Indeed, government ownership and operation of two commercial-class satellites is inconsistent with the Presidential Directive (NSPD-27) and almost certainly will compete” with purchases of certain data from commercial satellite operators, he wrote.

Young also pointed out that the national security community intends to spend $1.5 billion on commercial imagery during the next several years but the ODNI memo fails to clearly address the need to integrate that data into the overall imagery processing architecture.

Michael Birmingham, a spokesman for ODNI, confirmed the authenticity of both memos Aug. 28, but could not release the memo from his office because it is classified.
Birmingham
noted that the ODNI memo specifically asked for responses from its recipients and was by no means a final draft.

Pentagon spokesman Chris Isleib could not comment on the memos by press time.

An industry source said U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell are scheduled to meet Sept. 5 to hash out the matter.