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NSC Gets NRO Spy Charter

The technical name for it is a memorandum of agreement, but everyone who has ever paid attention to the issue calls the document in question the NRO charter.

That document has taken a crucial step, having been finalized for approval by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and, hopefully, the soon-to-be confirmed Jim Clapper, who will serve as Director of National Intelligence. The National Security Council received its copy last week.

For members of the intel community, the most important part of all this may not be that the document is moving to approval -- though that matters much more than the coverage it is getting would seem to indicate -- but that language in the draft was changed to "clarify" the extent of the NRO's reach. Air Force and some Pentagon officials had opposed the early draft fearing that language about the NRO's control of overhead reconnaissance could infringe on military control of spy assets.

The NSC does not need to approve the new document but we understand it is scrubbing the new charter to ensure it complies with both the classified and the public versions of the national space policy.

July 16 is the target date for all stakeholders to sign off on the memorandum. Since Clapper should move through the nomination process in the next month, that may clear the way for final approval by the end of August.

This would mark the first major changes to the NRO's guiding document since 1965, changes lawmakers and senior space policy experts almost all agree are long overdue.

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