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Monday, October 22, 2007

At GEOINT today, Col. Bill Harmon, on loan to the NGA from the U.S. Army Forward Support Team of the U.S. Central Command, was most insistent about getting the right information to troops. Most of the geoint products are made to be used within 24 hours. The most useful information was that which can be merged to help tell the story to the men and women on the ground. Fusion centers are places where analysts are sitting side by side to process the data even faster.

He made a special point to mention how commercial imagery makes it possible to share imagery with are foreign coalition partners.

"On any given day we probably have over 100 forward deployed people. Teams as small as 1 or 2," said Harmon. "We need to put our analysts down into the organizations that are in the fight. If you are trying to do that from a remote location, you just won’t be relevant. There is a need for a long-term review for a particular issue, and that does help forward deployed analysts. (But) It is key to get the analysis to the right level…In the current environment, it is still sending hard drives downrange to people. We need to make data discoverable. But if we could truly know where the data exists out there, it would be truly awesome."

by Joe Francica on 10/22 at 05:31 PM | Comments | Bookmark and Share


Today, I sat down for a demo at GEOINT of CartaLens, a just announced collaboration between National Geographic Maps and MetaCarta. Just let your mind wander for a bit…every photo captured by National Geographic photographers becomes geographically referenced. Add to that the functionality of MetaCarta to search, capture and map any references to geographic names and places mentioned within the text of National Geographic Magazine. The companies call it a "geospatial digital asset management solution." I’d call it Flickr on steroids (See photo at right; click for larger image). The companies plan to offer this to anyone but you can image that this would be a great resource for the media, but given that it is being featured at a military and intelligence conference, you might expect that it has applications for researching regions of "interest." As photographers carry GPS-equipped cameras, it obviously becomes easier to capture content. But the intent is to manage any multimedia image including video and audio. I can see this tool in a variety of applications but the real asset is the incredible photography captured by NGS.

by Joe Francica on 10/22 at 05:08 PM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

Many of the speakers at the opening session of the GEOINT conference discussed the need for analysts from the many specialized branches of intelligence branches to sit side-by-side at forward-deployed locations in order to be able to determine the relationship between multiple sources of information whether that be geoint, sigint (signal intelligence0, or humint (human intelligence). These "fusion centers" allow data to be processed faster so that information reaches the battalion and company commanders. But even within geospatial intelligence, there needs to be a better understanding of the available data in hand.

Rich Haver, a career intelligence officer and VP of Intelligence Programs for Northrop Grumman said that, "We have an abundance of apertures…and an abundance of resources to get geospatial information," this in reference to multiple, remotely-sensed data acquisition platforms that must be integrated and interpreted before reaching field commanders.

by Joe Francica on 10/22 at 11:40 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

In his keynote address, General James Cartwright of U.S. Marine Corps, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made it clear that, "We have to be able to differentiate between what we want to keep secret versus the perishablity of that information." Cartwright gave a specific example of sharing information between coalition partners specifically if you are in a combat situation. His message was that he felt that sometimes if you hold back your intelligence from those who are fighting with you side-by-side, even though they are not US forces, may cause lives to be lost.

Cartwright talked primarily about threats and the ability to plan for threats, not just today but in the long range future. "The incentive structures are inherently wrong. There is not a technical architecture that tells you what to do and there is not an incentive structure in place to help correct this." He was referring specifically to the working relationship between the government and private industry and I got the impression he was impatient with the way it works today. He also spoke frankly about our current situation in battling the insurgency both in Iraq and around the world. "There is not going to be a peace dividend in this war. You need to think of this in terms of the 100-year war."

by Joe Francica on 10/22 at 11:27 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

I spoke briefly with Stu Shea, president of the United States Geospatial Industry Foundation (USGIF) and VP at SAIC, before the opening plenary who said that “We have the largest attendance of any conference we’ve had in any previous year with about 3096 attendees and we expect 400-500 onsite registrations. We also have representation from all the major intelligence agencies for the first time." I asked if there as any reticence on the part of the CIA to attend and Mr. Shea said that General Mike Hayden, Director of the CIA, wanted to attend as he has for the past three years but Hayden is out of the country at the moment.

The theme for 2007 is: Integration for collaboration: Enabling a seamless enterprise. The program is broken into blocks, with each block representing a part of that collaboration:

  • Supporting the Warfighter – Delivering actionable intelligence
  • Analysis Transformation
  • GEOINT is the foundation for the seamless enterprise
  • Integration of Foreign and Domestic Intelligence
  • Advancing geospatial intelligence

Clearly, however, the focus is on getting "actionable intelligence" to the warfighter. From the opening presenations it was clear that analysts, many being supported out of NGA, are making a difference as forward-deployed support personnel. But there is a very heavy emphasis as well on training more people as geospatial analysts. As such, the USGIF Educational program awarded 12 scholarships this year totalling $54,000 to students who have chosen GEOINT as a field of study.

by Joe Francica on 10/22 at 11:13 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share
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