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GeoInt Symposium 2012 : Innovating future

The four-day GeoInt Symposium 2012 was held at the US recently and was attended by prominent defence experts and technocrats from around the world

The ninth edition of the annual geoint conference, GeoInt Symposium 2012, was held from October 8 to 11, in Orlando, Florida, USA. Organised by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), the theme of this year’s conference was “Creating the Innovation Advantage.” A total of 4,300 attendees registered for the event including 264 representatives from 23 countries.

Welcoming the record number of attendees to the conference, K. Stuart Shea, Chairman and CEO, USGIF, said that this represents the growing need for ‘actionable intelligence’ around the world. Talking about how the theme for this year’s event was selected, Shea said that usually the tendency is to focus on ‘things we don’t have’ in the current economic climate. Instead, the purpose of the event was to focus on things we do have, namely innovation. “Innovation is at the forefront of everyone’s mind,” he added. “A relentless collaboration forged by USGIF and GeoInt on behalf of the nation’s intelligence community will leverage the community’s energy, dedication and innovation to improve our ability to react to the numerous and serious threats worldwide.”


Intelligence integration is the key
James R. Clapper, Jr., Director of National Intelligence, USA, who delivered the keynote address at the opening session, noted that geointelligence has rapidly matured from modest beginnings, and is focussed on bringing together industry, academia and the broadening national intelligence community. Clapper described intelligencer as a combination of ‘science and art’ and said that, as Director, his primary focus was to emphasise intelligence integration. While intelligence would never achieve perfection, Clapper believed that better integration would ultimately lead to ‘truth’ in intelligence operations.

He also stated the value of collaboration in solving seemingly intractable problems. Another major focus of his talk was on ‘Multi-Int,’ or the better integration of various intelligence domains to achieve heightened agility in responding to issues facing the intelligence community as a whole.

Recent egregious security leaks would also remain high on the national security agenda, according to the Director. He mentioned increased security auditing, better polygraph screening for those positions requiring such measures, and pursuing leaks more aggressively as ways to mitigate security breaches. He noted that security is ultimately based on levels of trust and that violations are likely not be completely eliminated.

During his address, he also stated that while significant accomplishments in the intelligence community have been made, perfect security is a quest and not a reality.

NGA shows the way
Letitia A. Long, Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), articulated the agency’s mission and role in bringing terrorists to justice and in supporting troops in the field, among various other activities. She also listed three primary goals of current efforts to improve the way NGA is seeking to streamline data access and improving content: easier overall access to content, providing access in an open environment, and creating new value for users.

Stressing upon the importance of making NGA products, data and knowledge ‘easily usable,’ she said that the agency is 40 per cent of the way towards making its data ‘smart’ or service enabled. The goal is to achieve 100 per cent by July 2013. Benchmarks would include elimination of redundancy (ideally only one copy of everything), all data smart/ service enabled, completely catalogued and supported by OGC standards. Overall, the burden on geospatial data analysts would be greatly reduced, with more availability for use rather than analysis, she added. A major development resides in the effort to establish an open IT environment under the title of Intelligence Community IT Enterprise, or ICITE. ICITE (‘eyesight’), a common desktop environment, would have 2,000 users by March 2013 and over 60,000 users by March 2014, according to Long.

The ‘smart enabled’ system would allow users to find relevant data and get to applications across entities in a common cloud-based infrastructure. Furthermore, users would be able to serve themselves, doing “what they need to do,” she said. She also urged users to share any improvements or additions to NGA data. By sharing and incorporating these improvements and additions into NGA’s hosted data, the agency would be better able to provide enhanced benefits to the intelligence community, she added. As an example of what the benefits of a ‘self service’ environment might look like, Long referred to recent experience involving Hurricane Isaac. She described how no hard copies were issued and how FEMA was able to reduce response time from a typical four to five weeks to 24 to 48 hours. A significant part of this trend is a new array of applications created by NGA. Long urged outside developers to create additional applications with NGA data so that eventually fully 75 per cent of all applications are created outside the agency. The reason for this goal is simple, she said: innovation. More and better uses for data would arise from the innovative efforts of developers outside the agency, which would enable more focus on internal activities, such as enhanced training of analysts. She said that a competition model based on use rates and user ratings would determine which applications would be effective.

Long concluded by emphasising the importance of the open IT approach. She referred to NGA’s Integrated Working Groups currently involved in a variety of research activities aimed at increasing interaction, promoting the multi-int perspective, experimenting with new ways to solve problems, pushing integration and maximising the talents of analysts and developers. NGA’s vision is an Integrated Analytic Environment (IAE), web browser based, with content in place and a myriad of applications available from a ‘store.’

There are challenges, she noted, most related to entrenched culture and an unwillingness to consider different perspectives. Synchronisation of content is also a hurdle, but Long expressed confidence in the capabilities and enthusiasm of members in the geospatial intelligence community to successfully overcome these obstacles.

A glimpse into the UK Joint Forces Command
Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Sir Stuart Peach provided an interesting glimpse into the organisation he commands, the Joint Forces Command (JFC) of the United Kingdom.

Describing the JFC as ‘an idea of its time,’ ACM Peach termed it a one-stop intelligence command and characterised his leadership role as one of ‘smashing things together’ to achieve efficiencies. He said that geography underpins decision making in the field, and that puts a premium on thinking about how to fight in future. Peach advised attendees not to expect that future battlefields would look like Afghanistan. Anticipating the future – and future battlegrounds – is certainly a challenge, but one that intelligence agencies, including the JFC, must address carefully and thoroughly. “We are at a culmination point of geography,” he said, “and we have to maintain an edge in foundation data.” Accuracy is vital to our ability to best carry out our missions.

Peach cautioned that technology products must be put in the context of a person, organisation or nation that is using them to make decisions in order to be maximally effective. Offering an example of his organisation’s role in supporting operations around Libya, Peach said that they had to create products relevant to the unique needs of users in that theater when it was not a priority. Requested by the UN to provide support in Libya when primary organisational focus was elsewhere, the JFC was able to respond quickly. That capability, he said, was based on preparatory exercises in a variety of areas.

Penman R. Gilliam receives Lundahl Lifetime Achievement Award
Penman R. Gilliam was awarded the 2012 Arthur C. Lundahl Lifetime Achievement Award during the GEOINT 2012 Symposium. According to USGIF, Gilliam was recognised for laying the foundation of the digital innovations that drive the GEOINT tradecraft today.

He cited several lessons learned in that example, in addition to other experiences, including Afghanistan. Peach referred to an ‘embarrassment of riches’ in technology deployed in Afghanistan that suddenly was required to be focused on Libya. Responding to such situations requires an ability to “pay attention, everywhere – somehow.”

Another recent event challenged the capabilities of the JFC – the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Peach noted that over two years of preparation was required to pull together a “rainbow coalition” of intelligence and other agencies, including the Ordnance Survey of the UK. An important takeaway from the Olympic experience was a deeper understanding of the role of social media, especially in advance of the event. In Afghanistan, Peach explained, the role of historical geography really came to the fore. An analysis of where opponents had fought from, lived and travelled 150 years ago, revealed basically the same patterns today. For example, places where ambushes occurred in 1842 are still suitable in 2012, so a good grasp of human geography is vital for understanding the complete picture. As Peach put it, we need to “turn mapping into predictions.” Understanding where and how people live can reduce civilian casualties, which is a strategic issue.

Calling for more geoint thinking beyond intelligence, Peach stressed the need for aligning policy and capability development in a coordinated way that reduces duplication. “We need to root out those who rely on outdated policies,” he said. In an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world, flexibility is paramount, and the need for sharing data to protect national assets has never been greater., he added. The next edition of Geoint Symposium will be held from October 13 to 16, 2013.