Space intel wars
Defense officials say a turf war is shaping up that could diminish the capabilities of the government’s most important space intelligence center, the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC).
The Air Force center, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, was the key center in identifying China’s secret anti-satellite weapons program and monitoring the provocative Jan. 11 test by China of an anti-satellite weapon.
The officials say NASIC’s spacethreat analysis work is in danger as a result of a Defense Intelligence Agency reorganization plan that seeks to take the space-threat missions from NASIC, which is under the Air Combat Command, and give it to DIA-run components, including the Missile and Space Intelligence Center in Huntsville, Ala., the Army National Ground Intelligence Center in Charlottesville and the Office of Naval Intelligence.
“These actions by DIA are clearly not based on the outstanding performance of NASIC in this area over the last 10 plus years, but rather demonstrate DIA’s gross mismanagement of defense intelligence by putting political interests ahead of providing the best intelligence for the nation,” said one official opposed to the move.
Critics say the reason for the move is that DIA was “asleep at the switch” on the Chinese antisatellite program.
“DIA has repeatedly ignored requests by NASIC over the last four years for more resources to work the counterspace-threat issue,” the official said. “During this same period of time, DIA allowed, and quite possibly encouraged, other defense intelligence organizations to ignore their counterspace-threat analysis missions.”
Moves to gut NASIC could also be coming from the National Reconnaissance Office, which has opposed NASIC’s threat analysis of growing space-weapons dangers and sought threat assessments from contractors. The NRO, which builds and operates military spy satellites, has sought to play down the growing threat to its “birds” in space and is now facing the danger that by 2010, China could destroy all low Earth orbit satellites in a series of strikes, effectively blinding the military.
“The NRO prefers [and rewards its contractors] for threats that are in sync their corporate plans,” the official said. “NASIC has been providing threat information to the NRO for over 10 years, and over the last four to five years many of NASIC threat analyses have caused a great deal of anxiety at the NRO.”
Both DIA and NRO spokesmen denied that NASIC is being gutted.
A DIA statement said their agency and the Air Force are “in discussions” over the “alignment of analytic priorities and responsibilities with regard to a handful of missile systems.”
“We do not expect these discussions to result in moving missions, personnel or resources from either [the Missile and Space Intelligence Center] or NASIC,” the statement said.
An NRO spokesman denied that the agency was shopping for less alarming space-threat analyses from defense contractors outside NASIC.
However, an April letter to Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, the DIA director, from 12 Ohio members of Congress calls for the DIA to review its plans for NASIC. Officials said as a result, Gen. Maples has placed the effort on hold.