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Spy Agency Budget Reveals IT Projects

Puppet Master, a space network architecture project, and a next-generation network dubbed Ardent Gunslinger, are among the projects detailed the National Reconnaissance Office's redacted budget documents.

>Slideshow: Next Generation Defense Technologies
Slideshow: Next Generation Defense Technologies
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The National Reconnaissance Office is building a next-generation network called Ardent Gunslinger and carrying out a space network architecture project called Puppet Master, according to a redacted version of the secretive spy satellite agency's fiscal 2011 budget request that was recently published by the Federation of American Scientists, a government transparency group.

The budget document details numerous projects, though many of them have a majority of their project descriptions redacted. For example, almost all of the six pages on space communications are blacked out, save for a few innocuous sections that say things like "conduct analysis of vulnerabilities and capabilities of future communications tor both space and terrestrial applications." The NRO similarly reveals few numbers in its redacted budget, and almost none dealing with IT.

Networking plays a central role in the NRO's non-redacted IT projects. Ardent Gunslinger is described as a "three-tiered replacement next-generation CORE backbone" that will replace the agency's existing ATM network with standards based-IP tech. Puppet Master is described as a replacement for another effort, Future Architecture for Command and Telemetry Services or FACTS, which had aimed to re-architect the systems that transmit command and telemetry data for spacecraft and their launch vehicles.

Another effort, Common Services Layer-Global, will "upgrade network infrastructure utilizing emerging telecommunications standards and next-generation network processors" and "provide the capability to rapidly establish secure connectivity between new systems and services at varying classification levels across a centrally managed shared infrastructure."

One unnamed IT project NRO is working on is a "single, enterprise-wide information sharing and routing service" that operates in an apparently newly "standardized IT environment." The agency is also expanding network peering across NRO sites and with other intelligence agencies. According to the document, by the end of fiscal 2011, the agency plans to make single sign-on capability broadly available to its employees.

The NRO also breaks out a project called Connectivity, which appears to be a catchall networking and enterprise IT effort. Among the goals for this year for Connectivity are network consolidation and a continued migration from an ATM backbone to an IP backbone. It's not clear whether Ardent Gunslinger is part of this effort.

A section on research and development details work on "carbon nanotube memory/logic," next-generation long-duration lithium ion batteries, radiation hardened microelectronics, and "relocation of the Centralized Super Computing Facility."

Spy agency budgets are secret affairs--until recently, even the top-line budget numbers for the intelligence community were classified. While numerous intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency, detail portions of their unclassified budgets in documents made available on government websites, the NRO is not among them. In 2006, the Federation of American Scientists mounted a successful lawsuit against NRO claims that its budget was exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests, and the NRO has been releasing redacted versions of its budget to FAS since then.

The NRO has also been relatively open about some parts of its technology strategy under new CIO Jill Singer, who was hired last year after a stint at the CIA. Singer spoke this week at a cloud computing event in New York. In April, NRO released a report providing a high-level overview of the NRO's IT management, architecture and cybersecurity efforts and joint work with other intelligence agencies, as well as providing details on a few pilot IT projects like the SnTpedia science and technology wiki, automated vulnerability assessment of software executables, and adoption of Firefox.

In the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: More than half of federal agencies will use cloud computing within 12 months, our new survey finds. Security, ROI, and management challenges await them. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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