Covering highly classified spy satellite systems always entails a great deal of cryptic language, sometimes incomprehensible hints from well-meaning sources and small bits of real information about these hugely important and expensive systems.
Today we have a perfect example of a spy satellite story. At the end of today's Senate Appropriations defense markup I rushed up to Sen. Kit Bond, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a subcommittee chairman on the appropriations panel. I asked if he had agreed to fund what critics have called the "exquisite" electro-optical satellite system. President Obama approved the system in April.
"We have made some accommodations in this bill that I think will enable us to work out some concerns we have," Sen. Bond said.
This all comes after something my mainstream media colleagues have ignored for almost a year -- the hot and huge debate within the government about whether to build the new "exquisite" system or to go with a mix of lower cost -- and less capable -- commercial systems and good but not superb new spy satellites.
Here's what Sen. Diane Feinstein, chairman of the Senate intel panel, said in early June: “We have extraordinarily serious concerns involving the waste of many, many dollars over a period of years and are rather determined it not happen again." Feinstein said at that hearing that Bond shared her concerns about the EO system.
My bet is that Bond and his colleagues either reduced the administration's requested amount or included language requiring the intelligence community provide proof the system is needed -- some sort of report -- or some combination of the two.