Geoint2011

WASHINGTON: Worried that proposed cuts to the multi-billion commercial satellite imagery budget may be too deep, the White House has ordered a study to determine how much can or should be cut.

The study is being led by Roger Mason, associate director for systems and resource analyses in the Office of Director of National Intelligence, and Kevin Meiners, acting deputy undersecretary of intelligence for portfolio, programs and resources. It should be done by April. Keep reading →

San Antonio: The Pentagon’s intelligence leader said today that the U.S. has tracked and killed half of al Qaeda’s top 20 leaders this year, leaving only one of the terrorist group’s original leaders alive.

Al Qaeda operatives “feel besieged by the U.S,” said Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Mike Vickers. The persistent U.S counter terror efforts have eliminated Al Qaeda operatives “at a rate far faster than they can replace them.” The terror group is in “the worst shape” it’s been since the U.S. expelled it from Afghanistan soon after the 9/11 attacks.

“We seek nothing less than the complete defeat of al Qaeda,” Vickers said in address at the annual Geoint conference.

A key to this success has been highly accurate targeting data and other intelligence made possible by the National Reconnaissance Office’s spy satellites — referred to by Vickers as “national technical means” — and other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets such as the MC-12 Liberty program. The NRO’s satellite are “a critical, critical” tool in the fight against terrorists.

That ISR surge has also helped reverse the Taliban’s “momentum,” Vickers said.

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UPDATED San Antonio: After a decade of enormous budget increases the American intelligence community’s budget will probably decline by billions of dollars, Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper said here.

Clapper told more than 3,000 people at the annual Geoint conference that the intelligence community’s budget had been handed in to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. “We are all going to have to give at the office,” Clapper said. The bulk of the cuts will come from accounts labeled information technology, he said.

The commitment to cut across the intelligence budget poses an important challenge for Clapper, as he made clear to the audience. The president told him, “this was a litmus test for the Office of National Intelligence.” After a decade of intelligence increases, which allowed all boats to rise, this is the first real test of the DNI’s ability and clout to control the fractious intelligence community which has historically resisted central control.

“We are all going to have to share in the pain,” Clapper said in a clear message to the Defense Department and the alphabet soup of agencies that comprise the intelligence community: CIA, NGA, NSA, NRO, DIA, FBI, Coast Guard and the intelligence agencies of the military services.

A former congressional staffer who oversaw the intelligence budget on the House Appropriations Committee said the intelligence cuts “are inevitable.” But Steve Nixon, now a consultant, said that “the new national security environment also suggests that we break from the traditional ratio between DoD and IC, giving the IC a larger share of available dollars.” Historically, the Defense Department has provided the lion’s share of the intelligence budget through its funding of the NSA, NRO, DIA and the services intelligence agencies.

The biggest portion of the cuts, spread across 10 years, will come from anything labeled information technology, the director said. IT provides “huge potential for savings,” he said. How will it yield savings? Clapper said cloud computing — while not a “panacea” — makes possible much of those savings.

In a remarkable commitment, Gen. Keith Alexander, head of both the National Security Agency and of Cyber Command, told Geoint that NSA operations will move to the cloud by the end of this year.

Moving to the cloud, will provide huge savings of 30 percent to 40 percent savings in the NSA’s IT budget. He predicted the same can be achieved “across the intelligence community and the same across the Defense Department.” Moving to the cloud enables better security in some respects, Alexander said. All systems receive all security patches at the same time, for example. It also removes updating systems from the hands of a large number of humans, making it more certain they will happen.

Alexander also said moving to the cloud allows them to operate at faster speeds, which is critical to NSA and to other intelligence agencies.