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The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) was established in September 1961 as a classified agency of the Department of Defense (DoD). The NRO consolidated the CIA's and Air Force's covert reconnaissance programs and eventually added a Navy program. Operation of the NRO was so clandestine that its very existence was only inadvertently revealed by the Senate in 1973. The existence of the NRO and its mission finally were declassified in September 1992. The NRO is the "nation's eyes and ears in space."
The NRO is
|“||[a] Department of Defense agency tasked to ensure that the United States has the technology and spaceborne and airborne assets needed to acquire intelligence worldwide, including support to such functions as monitoring of arms control agreements, indications and warning, and the planning and conducting of military operations. This mission is accomplished through research and development, acquisition, and operation of spaceborne and airborne intelligence data collection systems.||”|
NRO builds and operates U.S. reconnaissance satellites. It is the source of most of the data NIMA disseminates. NRO systems provide SIGINT (enemy communications, signals from foreign weapons systems, and other signals of interest) and GEOINT (imagery) intelligence data. NRO satellites are frequently the only collectors able to access critical areas of interest in support of covert and high priority operations.
Key customers and mission partners of the NRO include: policymakers, the Armed Services, the Intelligence Community, Departments of State, Justice, and the Treasury, and civil agencies. All of them depend on NRO systems to help attack hard problems such as:
- Countering the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threat
- Capturing terrorists
- Warning of enemy attacks
- Combating WMD proliferation
- Combating drug trafficking
- Supporting natural disaster response.
NRO has worked to improve the identification of espionage threats to its operations, programs, and personnel, as well as increase the awareness of targeting efforts by nontraditional threat countries and groups. In support of its contractor community, the NRO provides tailored briefings of current threats to technology and the targeting methods they employ. In addition, the NRO has streamlined the reporting of foreign contact and foreign travel and disseminates threat information and briefings to security officers and authorized users. The NRO works closely with the FBI’s Domain Section and other mission partners to protect NRO resources and enhance the RTP program. It has also placed a counterintelligence representative at the Community Acquisition Risk Section (CARS) to support NRO requirements and the overall CARS mission.
- ↑ U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Pub. 1–02: DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Nov. 8, 2010, as amended through May 15, 2011) (full-text).