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Huge Spy Office Sneaks Up on Senators

August 09, 1994| From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The top-secret agency that manages the nation's spy satellites has nearly completed building a $310-million headquarters, unknown to its congressional overseers.

The existence of the four-tower, million-square-foot National Reconnaissance Office complex in the Virginia suburbs was disclosed Monday after President Clinton declassified the project.

"This is an unprecedented disclosure," said Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "The Administration is saying mistakes were made."

Central Intelligence Director R. James Woolsey and Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch said in a joint statement that they will form a team to review the project and its cost effectiveness, and find out why its existence wasn't disclosed to Congress.

They are to be among witnesses at a closed-door hearing of the Senate intelligence panel Wednesday.

The structure, five miles south of Dulles International Airport, has been under construction for nearly four years under the guise of a new office building for defense contractor Rockwell International.

Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), who chairs the Senate committee, said the National Reconnaissance Office took great pride in finding a way to "hide an elephant on a football field."

Congressional officials in charge of monitoring the Central Intelligence Agency and its projects knew a building was being constructed to consolidate offices of the reconnaissance agency but were blind to its location, size and cost, DeConcini said.

The structure--roughly the size of the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Va.--appears far too large for the number of people who work at the reconnaissance agency, committee aides said.

Plans call for about 1,900 employees and 1,000 outside contractors who work for the agency to be housed there, but the building is designed for 3,500 people.

The project was uncovered by a committee audit, and DeConcini told Clinton about it last week during a meeting on health care, he said. The President apparently had been unaware of the project, he said.

DeConcini said there apparently was "an effort not to disclose the cost and even the location . . . based on a culture and philosophy in much of the intelligence community that we don't have to account" for activities as do other government agencies.

Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) said the disclosure was "a good example of what happens when the government does business in the dark . . . 68 acres, a million square feet, and nobody knows about it."

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