Vice Adm. Robert Murrett, who runs the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said that the use of satellites and other intelligence community imagery domestically can be very useful but that it is carefully regulated.
"Anytime we do anything domestically, it is in support of a lead domestic agency," he told reporters yesterday. Requests typically come from the Department of Homeland Security but have also originated at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and elsewhere.
Some critics of the administration, including Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, have expressed concern about proposals to expand the domestic use of satellites.
Murrett stressed that any request is scrutinized by lawyers for all the agencies involved. The most common kind of assistance comes with disaster relief, such as in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
In addition, he said that NGA regularly provides domestic law enforcement agencies with detailed line-of-sight analysis of specific structures in particular urban areas. These analyses can help the Secret Service and others devise tactics and strategies to protect officials during public appearances in the nation's cities. But he said that any request for domestic use of NGA's resources must be carefully balanced against the constant need for up-to-the-minute data for soldiers and intelligence officials operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Our biggest challenge is balancing the need for time-sensitive combat operations support versus non-time-sensitive missions," he said, noting that NGA has in recent months boosted the number of intelligence officers deployed in Iraq to support the surge and in Afghanistan to scrutinize the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions.