"As you know," the CIA director went on, his tone sharpening, "all U.S. government entities who deal with sensitive intelligence information are governed by strict rules of secrecy-military, CIA, NSA, NRO-all of them must abide by stringent laws regarding the concealment of the data they glean and the technologies they develop. I ask you all, yet again, why NASA-the agency currently producing the largest portion of cutting-edge aerospace, imaging, flight, software, reconnaissance, and telecom technologies used by the military and intelligence community-exists outside this umbrella of secrecy."
The President heaved a weighty sigh. The proposal was clear. Restructure NASA to become part of the U.S. military intelligence community. Although similar restructurings had happened with other agencies in the past, Herney refused to entertain the idea of placing NASA under the auspices of the Pentagon, the CIA, the NRO, or any other military directive. The National Security Council was starting to splinter on the issue, many siding with the intelligence community.
Lawrence Ekstrom never looked pleased at these meetings, and this was no exception. He shot an acrimonious glare toward the CIA director. "At the risk of repeating myself, sir, the technologies NASA develops are for nonmilitary, academic applications. If your intelligence community wants to turn one of our space telescopes around and look at China, that's your choice."
The CIA director looked like he was about to boil over.
Pickering caught his eye and stepped in. "Larry," he said, careful to keep an even tone, "every year NASA kneels before Congress and begs for money. You're running operations with too little funding, and you're paying the price in failed missions. If we incorporate NASA into the intelligence community, NASA will no longer need to ask Congress for help. You would be funded by the black budget at significantly higher levels. It's a win-win. NASA will have the money it needs to run itself properly, and the intelligence community will have peace of mind that NASA technologies are protected."
Ekstrom shook his head. "On principle, I cannot endorse painting NASA with that brush. NASA is about space science; we have nothing to do with national security."
The CIA director stood up, something never done when the President was seated. Nobody stopped him. He glared down at the administrator of NASA. "Are you telling me you think science has nothing to do with national security? Larry, they are synonymous, for God's sake! It is only this country's scientific and technological edge that keeps us secure, and whether we like it or not, NASA is playing a bigger and bigger part in developing those technologies. Unfortunately, your agency leaks like a sieve and has proven time and again that its security is a liability!"
The room fell silent.
Now the administrator of NASA stood up and locked eyes with his attacker. "So you suggest locking twenty thousand NASA scientists in airtight military labs and making them work for you? Do you really think NASA's newest space telescopes would have been conceived had it not been for our scientists' personal desire to see deeper into space? NASA makes astonishing breakthroughs for one reason only-our employees want to understand the cosmos more deeply. They are a community of dreamers who grew up staring at starry skies and asking themselves what was up there. Passion and curiosity are what drive NASA's innovation, not the promise of military superiority."
Pickering cleared his throat, speaking softly, trying to lower the temperatures around the table. "Larry, I'm certain the director is not talking about recruiting NASA scientists to build military satellites. Your NASA mission statement would not change. NASA would carry on business as usual, except you would have increased funding and increased security." Pickering turned now to the President. "Security is expensive. Everyone in this room certainly realizes that NASA's security leaks are a result of underfunding. NASA has to toot its own horn, cut corners on security measures, run joint projects with other countries so they can share the price tag. I am proposing that NASA remain the superb, scientific, nonmilitary entity it currently is, but with a bigger budget, and some discretion."
Several members of the security council nodded in quiet agreement.
President Herney stood slowly, staring directly at William Pickering, clearly not at all amused with the way Pickering had just taken over. "Bill, let me ask you this: NASA is hoping to go to Mars in the next decade. How will the intelligence community feel about spending a hefty portion of the black budget running a mission to Mars-a mission that has no immediate national security benefits?"
"NASA will be able to do as they please."
"Bullshit," Herney replied flatly.
Everyone's eyes shot up. President Herney seldom used profanity.
"If there is one thing I've learned as president," Herney declared, "it's that those who control the dollars control the direction. I refuse to put NASA's purse strings in the hands of those who do not share the objectives for which the agency was founded. I can only imagine how much pure science would get done with the military deciding which NASA missions are viable."
Herney's eyes scanned the room. Slowly, purposefully, he returned his rigid gaze to William Pickering.
"Bill," Herney sighed, "your displeasure that NASA is engaged in joint projects with foreign space agencies is painfully shortsighted. At least someone is working constructively with the Chinese and Russians. Peace on this planet will not be forged by military strength. It will be forged by those who come together despite their governments' differences. If you ask me, NASA's joint missions do more to promote national security than any billion-dollar spy satellite, and with a hell of a lot better hope for the future."
Pickering felt an anger welling deep within him. How dare a politician talk down to me this way! Herney's idealism played fine in a boardroom, but in the real world, it got people killed.
"Bill," Marjorie Tench interrupted, as if sensing Pickering was about to explode, "we know you lost a child. We know this is a personal issue for you."
Pickering heard nothing but condescension in her tone.
"But please remember," Tench said, "that the White House is currently holding back a floodgate of investors who want us to open space to the private sector. If you ask me, for all its mistakes, NASA has been one hell of a friend to the intel community. You all might just want to count your blessings."
A rumble strip on the shoulder of the highway jolted Pickering's mind back to the present. His exit was coming up. As he approached the exit for D.C., he passed a bloody deer lying dead by the side of the road. He felt an odd hesitation... but he kept driving.
He had a rendezvous to keep.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is one of the largest memorials in the nation. With a park, waterfalls, statuary, alcoves, and basin, the memorial is divided into four outdoor galleries, one for each of FDR's terms in office.
A mile from the memorial, a lone Kiowa Warrior coasted in, high over the city, its running lights dimmed. In a town boasting as many VIPs and media crews as D.C., helicopters in the skies were as common as birds flying south. Delta-One knew that as long as he stayed well outside what was known as "the dome"-a bubble of protected airspace around the White House-he should draw little attention. They would not be here long.
The Kiowa was at twenty-one hundred feet when it slowed adjacent to, but not directly over, the darkened FDR Memorial. Delta-One hovered, checking his position. He looked to his left, where Delta-Two was manning the night vision telescopic viewing system. The video feed showed a greenish image of the entry drive of the memorial. The area was deserted.