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Classified Satellite Cleared By GAO

Rare and important good news on the acquisition front for the intelligence community. A whistleblower came forward recently and claimed that key parts for the system meant to replace the cancelled Future Imagery Architecture electro-optical system had not been properly stored, raising serious questions about whether the classified Lockheed Martin system known as ECS 3 could be cobbled together and still work.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) stepped in and ordered a Government Accountability Office audit of the 350,000 parts involved. These parts were stored in highly complex climate controlled facilities. Given the great sensitivity to rust and moisture of the parts involved in a complex electro-optical satellite any problems with that storage could well have meant that the system could not have been built.

A source familiar with the issue said the GAO auditors found the parts had not been compromised and, in fact, actually praised Lockheed and the NRO for doing a good job of managing the parts and urging them to move forward on the system that will serve as a bridge between the failed and cancelled Future Imagery Architecture satellites that Boeing was to build.

The back story on this is that Boeing tried to build a system several experts have said was so complex as to be humanly impossible to build and operate. Senior officials at the Director of National Intelligence and National Reconnaissance Office virtually cringe when FIA is mentioned and they must be relieved that this solution can go ahead. This Lockheed system is literally to be built from a leftover satellite the nation decided it didn't need at the time so the company put in storage. Our source says the work did not fall behind or incur new costs as a result of the audit.

I called Rick Oborn, spokesman for the NRO, on this and he couldn't really offer any comment given the classified nature of the systems involved.

[For those who really know their satellites, the one pictured is NPOESS, a planned weather satellite. I went with this instead of an old Corona satellite photo or something even more generic.]

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