US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) recently held its annual symposium, Geoint Symposium 2011, centered on the theme, Forging Integrated Intelligence. More than 250 exhibitors participated in this annual event. The four days were full of activities and featured discussions on varied topics like geoint support for crisis management, geoint dimension of socio-cultural analysis, cloud computing and the intelligence mission, and geoint in support of homeland security, and so on.
Role of Geoint
This is a fascinating time for the geospatial industry as location information becomes more available and more important to everything that goes on throughout the intelligence, defence, homeland security communities and beyond, observed Keith Masback, USGIF president. Masback said, “The technology is maturing quickly, and the training and tradecraft that are at the heart of USGIF’s mission are catching up with the technology. The uses and applications of these technologies are far-reaching and remarkable.” “GEOINT provides the where, as part of the ‘where and when’ that makes intelligence information valuable. It’s one of the organising principles for integration,” he added.
“Geoint is a critical, critical strength,” said Michael Vickers, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, US. He spoke about the role that geoint played in the elimination or capture of senior and mid-level operatives in Al- Qaeda and organisations that support or collaborate with it. He even anticipated that the complete defeat of Al-Qaeda is now on the horizon. He also said that full motion video has proved to be the basis for counter-terrorism (CT) efforts. “Geoint has been absolutely essential to our CT success,” Vickers said. Vickers added that commanders in Iraq now have access to more surveillance and reconnaissance data than they had at any other time in the war. “In Afghanistan, 3D mapping has been done for a good chunk of the country and wide area surveillance assets now generate 53 terabytes of data every day,” he informed. He also talked about how geoint capabilities were used to access the damage during the recent Japanese earthquake.
Science and Technology Forum
Multi-INT panelists participating in the pre-symposium science and technology forum observed that although advances in processing power and storage have relieved the burden on analysts, the challenge is greater now as the analysts’ job lies in correctly setting the dividing line between automated systems and humans.
Dave Messinger, an associate research professor at the Center for Imaging Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology, noted that unlike humans, computers don’t get tired and are good at sorting through large amounts of data. “However they are unable to do sophisticated analysis.
The brain is good at complex analysis,” said Messinger. He added, “Ideally, this analysis would be done using a 4D physically realistic model of the world, accurate in both space and time on an appropriate scale. Then an analyst could test a hypothesis against the model and compare it to actual data, thereby weeding out those theories that don’t fit reality and measurements.” Messinger believed this capability would soon be available, and would offer a near real-time response.
Meanwhile Charlene Sailer, Naval Postgraduate School remote sensing research professor, cautioned people to exercise care while putting automated systems to use. “We need to convey something about the data quality,” he said. Sometimes it involves data analysis and sometimes data integrity. Everyone agreed that the solution was never to discard any of the raw data.
NGA – Empowering Users
Another important speaker of the event was Letitia A. Long, Director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). Speaking about putting geoint power into the hands of users, she said, “We have irreversible momentum in what we have started here. The demand for geoint is rising, and it will continue to rise.
We are delivering and we will continue to deliver.” She also demonstrated some of the apps the agency is currently working on. Talking about the recent Hurricane Irene that hit the country, she explained how a new app helped the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other first responders deal with the devastation.
Speaking about NGA’s support to military forces, Long said that the agency’s mission includes preparing prefl ight information materials for military aircraft. Currently, that involves printing vast quantities of materials, for example, it printed 10 million books and charts in 2010 at a cost of USD 20 million a year. With an app, she said, “I think I have a better, cheaper and faster way of doing that. You can just pull up a chart and have it at your fingertips and have all the information in one place. It’s going to save us and the military services a lot of time and money.”
Talking about future, she said, “In support to military planning and ops, I’d like to move from a data poor to a data rich environment. I’d like to be able to build and provide apps for our military forces for operations, with secure mobile devices, and experiment and use different types of information.”
“For integrated geoint analysis, it really is the continuation of using all of our traditional and nontraditional sources so that we are creating new value, and focusing on the key intelligence questions,” she said. “We will also do all of this while we are focused on gaining efficiencies, and while we are embedded in our mission partners’ footprints, forward with our fighting forces. We will continue to partner with industry and academic partners, the National System for Geospatial-Intelligence and our international partners.”
During the session, Socio-cultural dynamics: An overview from a diplomacy, development, defence and intelligence perspective, CW5 Michael Harper, military deputy, Army Geospatial Center, US, said, “The Army has been slow at understanding the importance of socio-cultural information. While there were examples of successful uses, such as the occupation of Japan after World II, that was not the case in Vietnam, or in the current conflicts until they were well under way.” Adding, “To be sure, those shortfalls were partly due to the fact that such analysis is not part of the Army’s core mission, which is to conduct kinetic operations. At the same time however, in Afghanistan and Iraq, if we had considered sociocultural in more detail up front, maybe we would have executed those operations differently. If we had a more robust sociocultural staff at a strategic level, we might have avoided mistakes,” he said.
He then talked about how over time he has learnt to realise the importance of sociocultural factors in a battlefield. “In 2004, the codes used to track information in Iraq simply didn’t refl ect many vital cultural issues, such as differences within the religion of Islam,” he said, adding, “So we had to build a data model to support what commanders were interested in tracking, and what they wanted to see in their common operating picture.” Since then, the Army and the Army Geospatial Center have made substantial progress. “If you look at our portfolio of programmes today, we’re all over socio-cultural, from developing handheld apps to enable psyops and civil affairs soldiers to rapidly collect information, and quickly get that information back into a mission command environment so it can be shared,” Harper said.
Dan Plafcan, policy analyst and portfolio manager for sociocultural analysis, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, US, identified areas of challenges and opportunities that geoint is bringing to socio-cultural analysis. “Rather than human geography being mistakenly viewed as an added value, it needs to be brought into the centre by showing its clear value for military operations across a broad spectrum,” he said. “It’s not a topic or an empirical domain, but a form of analysis, which includes concepts as well as technologies. The focus is on population or groups of people. If we can get sophisticated about technical specifications and other factors, we should be able to have that same sophistication about the social world. We don’t have that yet as a community,” he added.
Elizabeth Lyon, geographer, Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center, raised some interesting points when she spoke about the way the worlds of defence, intelligence, diplomacy and development view socio-cultural geography. “We’re not at a point where we can point to one place and say a word, such as school, means the same thing, or we recognise the different components of that term. The Corps of Engineers thinks of a school as a structure, while the defence community might be interested in the alternative uses of a school as a building. The diplomatic community would be interested in how that school educates the population. We have similar language, but we’re not yet in the same room in recognising how we interact with each other. “Mapping is really about the future. Where are we going, and how can we display that information?” asked Lyon, who has recently been named as an adviser to the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s board of directors.
Cloud to Improve Security
Talking about the cloud, General Keith Alexander, commander of US Cyber Command, director of the National Security Agency, and chief of the Central Security Service, said that moving into the cloud will improve security, lower costs and boost performance. “One reason for the push to cloud-based computing lies in the increasing number of attacks on both government and commercial systems. There are millions of devices in the Department of Defense, a number that guarantees that some will not be patched with the latest security fixes. As a result, a persistent adversary will be able to get in. Data from the commercial sector shows that intruders are often in place for months before being detected,” he said, adding “Once inside a network, some adversaries will no longer be content to merely siphon off data. As shown by accidental power outages in both the US and Russia, it’s possible for software to cause severe damage to physical infrastructure. We now have a high probability of destructive attacks.”
Implementing a cloud-based system would benefit security in a number of ways, Alexander said, “For one thing, updates to devices would be more automatic. In addition, it would remove many of the vulnerabilities presented by mobile devices, which represent a tremendous opportunity and danger. In addition there are a number of non-security benefits. Analysts will have an easier time doing their jobs. Today, every database has its own security manager. As a result, getting access to a legacy database for a single query requires being authenticated for that database. A good chunk of an analyst’s time is currently consumed with this seemingly simple access task. Going to a cloud will make an analyst’s job easier.” The National Security Agency is said to be in the process of transitioning all its databases to the cloud, with NSA Georgia, Texas and Hawaii running pilots. The goal is to complete the initial phase by 2012.
Addressing the symposium’s theme of intelligence integration, Bruce A. Carlson, Director, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), said, “We have several integrated intelligence programmes that are either in development or operation today,” adding, “We have three Joint Collaboration Cells, which have been certified by the Director of National Intelligence, and we are very excited about them.”
He talked about his vision for a lean and a cost-reducing organisation. He, however, said that NRO would continue to maintain an aggressive schedule of satellite launches. The agency has already completed six launches in just seven months, and intends to undertake four more launches in as many months next year. Carson also said that despite NRO’s rel atively small size, it has been one of the largest contributors to proposed budget cuts, achieving savings on all its platforms and offering incentives to contractors to save costs. “We cut a great deal of money, but without sacrificing our core capabilities,” he said.
Organised by USGIF, the occasion witnessed enthusiastic participation from all sectors – industry, government and academia. USGIF also presented the 2011 Arthur C. Lundahl Lifetime Achievement Award to LTG Paul E. Menoher who is recognised as the father of imagery analysis.
With inputs from KMI Media Group