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Agency's spy satellite technology loses relevance

Michael Fabey of the DefenseNews looks into the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office's fading imaging- and signals-intelligence program that reportedly has an annual budget of about $7 billion. "A satellite communications technology called spot beaming might help the NRO regain some of its fading signals-intelligence relevance, but imagery's place as an intel centerpiece may have gone with the Cold War. " The investigation found that images, which were useful when counting Soviet tanks or measuring the size of an East German air base, aren't much help against small terrorist cells. And people have learned to hide from orbital cameras by going indoors or underground when the satellites pass overhead. These drawbacks will not be overcome by the NRO's Future Imagery Architecture, a dozen-satellite constellation intended to provide photos of unprecedented resolution in visible and infrared spectra. The $25 billion-plus program, now set to launch around 2013, has been beset by delays and cost overruns.

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