Commercial Satellites as “National Technical Means”

U.S. intelligence agencies could do more to incorporate commercial satellite capabilities into the U.S. intelligence satellite architecture, an advisory panel told the Directors of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in a study last year.

The report (pdf) laid out several scenarios for integrating commercial capabilities into the government’s “National Technical Means.”

The panel’s preferred scenario “that mitigates the most risk is for the US government to competitively acquire satellites and supporting infrastructure to ensure maximum control and access to imagery data on demand.”

Purchase of satellites is warranted, the panel said, because “The US government cannot rely on or be dependent on any external entity to responsively get needed data.”

The report “contains general findings about the technical competency and business viability of commercial remote sensing vendors, suppliers, and CDPs [commercial data providers] in the United States.”

The report also specifies the standards that commercial vendors need to meet in order to satisfy a spectrum of intelligence requirements.

“The requested review was in response to concerns/criticisms by Congress of how NGA and NRO have under-utilized commercial remote sensing capabilities.”

The unclassified report has not been publicly released, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Independent Study of the Roles of Commercial Remote Sensing in the Future National System for Geospatial-Intelligence (NSG),” Report to the Directors of the NGA and the NRO, July 16, 2007.

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