During last year’s budget process, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) objected to “a particular major funding acquisition program that I believe is totally unjustified and very wasteful and dangerous to national security.”

Rockefeller was criticizing a “stealth” satellite named Misty, which I had previously noted wasn’t particularly stealthy. In fact, Misty 1 and Misty 2 were sufficiently visible for amateur satellite observers to publish orbital elements for both on-line.

I initially suspected Rockefeller was referring to the National Reconnaissance Office’s troubled Future Imaging Architecture (or Future Imagery Architecture … hell, let’s just go with FIA). FIA was was propsed in 1997 as a revolution in how the United States gathered intelligence from space.

That was then, this is Thermidor.

Turns out, both programs are now on the chopping block.

Walter Pincus reports that John Negroponte is reviewing both FIA and Misty using his new budgetary authority as Director of National Intelligence:

Bush administration intelligence chief John D. Negroponte is reviewing two multibillion-dollar spy satellite programs, according to congressional and administration sources, and will make recommendations on their future to House and Senate intelligence committees next month.

Although Negroponte has made some decisions on reprogramming funding in the current fiscal 2005 budget, his recommendations on the satellite programs—which have been controversial on Capitol Hill—will be the first major budgetary changes he will propose for next year’s spending, sources said. Those reviews come as Negroponte begins to exercise new authority under the intelligence restructuring passed last year by Congress, which created Negroponte’s position, director of national intelligence (DNI), and gave that person control over funds spent by the 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community.

[snip]

One of the systems under scrutiny by Negroponte is a classified program to build the next generation of stealth satellites, whose estimated costs have nearly doubled to $9.5 billion in recent years, according to sources.

The program has been severely criticized in closed session by members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who have objected to the rising costs and who argue that it is ineffective against modern adversaries such as terrorist networks. The Senate panel has tried to kill the program in the past, sources said, but it has been supported by House and Senate appropriations committees and the House intelligence panel.

[snip]

The other futuristic spy satellite program that Negroponte has focused on is the new generation of non-stealth space vehicles—using optical, radar, listening and infrared-red capabilities—known collectively as the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA). Development of these satellites, which has been going on since the late 1990s, has also had major cost increases, now estimated at more than $25 billion over the next decade. As a result, the House intelligence panel voted sharp reductions in its version of the fiscal 2006 intelligence authorization bill.

The intelligence authorization bill has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

The Future Imaging Architecture appears to be an embarrassing waste of money.

At the time of Rockefeller’s assault, I pointed to Jeffrey Richelson’s great article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists documenting the sad history of the FIA program, entitled “The Satellite Gap.” I went for the low hanging fruit, observing :

If any intelligence program was going to be singled out for ritual humiliation, it would be FIA—a program so dreadful that the normally garrulous Pete Teets becomes unable to say any word other than “classified” when asked when we’ll see some results.

Since Richelson’s article, FIA was restructured yet again.

This time, NRO dropped a proposed radar capability from the architecture, allowing the program to focus exclusively on visual and infrared imaging. At least that’s what the ever-observant Allen Thomson thinks. Thomson figured NRO restructured the program along with another troubled satellite program—Space Radar—after Pete Teets began referring to Space Radar as the “single space radar effort for the nation…” Thomson dug around a bit, noticing the National Academies of Science Committee on the Navy’s Needs in Space for Providing Future Capabilites casually described FIA as a replacement for “national optical and infrared imaging satellites.”

This latest restructuring, however, doesn’t appear to have worked. The Lexington Institute’s Loren Thomspon told Space News that the most recent review was prompted by problems with FIA’s electro-optical segment—which for those keeping score at home is basically the only segment left.

I did notice that Boeing is hiring for the program:

El Segundo, CA and Rochester, NY

Comm Systems Engineer

Senior systems engineer to join Future Imaging Architecture (FIA) team to oversee complex imaging payload spanning multiple technologies and consisting of several subsystems integrated across multiple contractors. Clearance: SSBI. Req # 05-1018761

So, you know, if your resume includes “Miracle worker” ….

***

For more information on the travails of NRO, Robert Kohler—a retired senior CIA officer who spent almost 20 years supporting NRO programs—wrote a critical article in the CIA’s Studies of Intelligence. Dennis Fitzgerald, Deputy Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, responded. This debate was nicely summarized by Doug Pasternak of US News and World Report in “America’s secret spy satellites are costing you billions, but they can’t even get off the launch pad.”