Okay, so maybe that title is a little hyperbolic… the NRO, or National Reconnaissance Office, coordinates the launching, targeting, and use of the United States’ spy satellites, as well as the analysis of evidence collected form them and other aerial surveillance sources. It’s a big part of the Department of Defense and our intelligence (read: spy) operations in this day and age, and works closely with such governmental groups as the NSA, CIA, and the awesomely named National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. As a part of the intelligence community in the US, it’s part of a community with a very sturdy glass ceiling. Up until last week, the only woman to ever lead a major intelligence agency was Letitia Long, current director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. But now Betty J. Sapp, formerly of the CIA, has been promoted from her position as principal deputy director at the NRO to Director, making her the first woman to head the fifty-two year old organization.
Sapp was an Air Force officer when she joined the CIA in 1997, was assigned to the NRO, and in 2005 was made the Deputy Director of Business Plans and Operations, overseeing budget planning, contracts, and all other financial matters. Important concerns for an agency that regularly launches incredibly finicky technology into space.
Says Keith Masback, president of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation and former senior official at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency:
Betty gets budgeting, programming, and acquisition. She’s been a loyal deputy, most recently for Jim Clapper at OUSD(I) [Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence)] and now at NRO for Bruce Carlson. She’s known as a quiet professional who has always made sure she kept the trains running, freeing up her bosses to take strong leadership positions on issues and drive change in their respective domains. Now, she’ll have the opportunity to lead the NRO at a critically important time. She is disciplined and methodical, and her peers trust her. Beyond that, she’s trusted by seniors in the Pentagon, the IC, and on the Hill. She’ll do a great job at NRO.
Sapp’s letter announcing her promotion to NRO employees spent a good amount of time noting the accomplishments of her predecessor Carlson, but from everything we can see, most of her community believes she can do just as good a job.