Senators shocked at cost of spy satellite building

August 09, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said yesterday that they were shocked to find that a huge new spy satellite headquarters under construction outside Washington would cost $350 million. They said that the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency had concealed the full expense of the project from them.

"You've got to see it to believe it," said Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the committee. "I was absolutely astonished at the magnitude and the proportions of this structure."

The project in question is a million-square-foot complex near Chantilly, Va., close to Dulles International Airport, that is being dTC built to house about 3,000 contractors and government workers employed by the National Reconnaissance Office, the nation's most secret intelligence agency. Its cost exceeds that of the "rebuilding" of New York City's Pennsylvania Station; its size is about one-fifth of the Pentagon's.

"Has this process created a Taj Mahal?" Mr. Warner asked rhetorically. "We don't know."

The existence of the National Reconnaissance Office was a state secret until late 1992, and almost nothing is known about the office, other than its mission of building the nation's spy satellites.

It appears that the new complex was buried so deeply and concealed so successfully inside the NRO's secret appropriations that the ranking members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were, in their words, "shocked and dismayed to learn" its real cost. They now say that the true sum was "never effectively disclosed to our committee."

Mr. Warner said that "someone, or some group of persons, conceived of a means by which to take a project and build it" by taking "a very stealthy course."

Martin C. Faga, director of the National Reconnaissance Office from September 1989 to March 1993, said, "It was a stealthy course, of course -- purposefully so. But that was a reason why it was discussed in detail with the Intelligence Committee." Most of the briefings given to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees take place in secret.

"I don't think there's any doubt the committee knew the facility was being built," Mr. Faga said in an interview. "We briefed them in '90, '91, '92. But that doesn't mean the committee understood what it was going to cost."

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