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October 7, 2005The National Reconnaissance Office is once again part of the Air Force family, according to an Oct. 6 DOD statement announcing the creation of a new Air Force position to be held by Donald Kerr.

It was July 22, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced that Donald Kerr, a CIA veteran, would be the new director of the NRO. The announcement was puzzling because the NRO had been led by the undersecretary of the Air Force since the office’s formation in 1961. And, airmen comprise at least 50 percent of the NRO.

In a letter to Rumsfeld on July 27, 2005, Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.) and Rep. Silvestre (D-Tex.)—chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces—voiced their concerns that the split would hamper the Air Force in its capacity of overseer of national security space activities and would “only serve to compound the acquisition woes that the NRO currently experiences.” They forecast that a “weakened role and the ensuing lack of senior Air Force advocacy within and for the NRO will force a decline in the number and quality of the Air Force personnel assigned to the NRO.”

Everett and Silvestre, who also sit on the House intelligence committee, urged Rumsfeld to “develop a final comprehensive solution that will address these concerns.”

Queried by this reporter, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Conway said that the decision to sever the NRO and Air Force positions had been made after it was “deliberated heavily” by Rumsfeld and the new Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte. They believe, said Conway, it is better to have two “dedicated senior leaders.”

The action contradicted recommendations made in 2001 by the Rumsfeld Space Commission in its review of national security space management and organization. (Rumsfeld recused himself in December 2000 from the commission, after he was nominated by President Bush to be Secretary of Defense.) In 2001, it was the view of Rumsfeld and the Space Commission that the Air Force should lead DOD space efforts and the Air Force undersecretary should continue to head the NRO as well as assume the role of DOD executive agent for space. The commission urged the permanent linkage of these functions to better align defense and intelligence initiatives.

On July 28, responding in writing to advance policy questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee on his nomination to become Air Force undersecretary, Ronald Sega pledged that he would “work to foster a close working relationship with the director of the National Reconnaissance Office.” He noted that the creation of an “intelligence czar” had altered the workings of agencies within the Intelligence Community. “In light of the stand-up of the DNI, the DOD and the Intelligence Community are in the process of redefining their relationship for national security space matters,” Sega wrote.

There were no questions from the floor on the NRO split. (The Senate confirmed Sega as undersecretary on July 29.) 

On Sept. 1, new NRO chief Kerr confirmed publicly that the Pentagon was reviewing the NRO role within the Intelligence Community. He also told reporters that Pentagon officials were considering whether the NRO director needs an Air Force title. Kerr, who had been the CIA’s deputy director for science and technology, said that he considered his new job a “full-time responsibility,” but he was “not against” having an Air Force title.

On Sept. 20, in response to a reporter’s question, Rumsfeld elaborated slightly on the NRO split, saying it offered “a good formula.” (DR, 09/22/05) He asserted that he had discussed the matter with the Air Force, Negroponte, and Kerr—all of whom agreed the change “made sense.”

The task at hand, said Rumsfeld, was to make certain USAF and NRO are “still very closely connected.”  

On Oct. 6, the Pentagon announced that Rumsfeld had appointed Kerr to a new Air Force post as the assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force for intelligence space technology. (10/07/05) The announcement stated that the appointment had taken effect on Oct. 3.