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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

GEOINT Symposium 2015 Keynotes

June 26th, 2015 by Susan Smith

The message of this week’s GEOINT Symposium 2015 – with the theme, “Opening the Aperture, Charting New Paths,” was really about how to utilize the commercial sector for technologies and the move toward offering services to customers. The topics, “less is more,” “moving toward services” and “innovation” all spoke to the need for change in a federal government limited in recent years by budget cuts . This has not diminished the need for geointelligence excellence, however, in fact, in today’s complicated world, the need is even greater.

geointHonorable Robert O. Work, Deputy Secretary of Defense spoke on the topic of moving toward services and doubling down on GEOINT, expanding its constellations, increasing response times and fidelity.

He said that even though we look to the commercial sector for innovation, we are still innovative inside the government. In a recent visit to the NGA, Work was “blown away” by the dedication and innovative approach that military civilian workforce is dedicated to. He also talked about space as a “virtual sanctuary and now an operational demand,” suggesting that the Executive Branch will need to fund this, as it did in the eighties when Reagan spearheaded the Space Resiliency Initiative.

With more requirements than resources, Work says that there are four key areas of the Department of Defense: nuclear, space, cyber and electronic warfare. He suggested creating a Secretary of Space.

In all the talks there was discussion of bringing more small companies into the government, specifically into the Department of Defense.

Robert Cardillo, Director, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, has been director for nine months. He said that the great attendance at the symposium was most likely due to its location in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital. He presented a number of keynotes, with varying messages along the same themes of involving commercial technologies, Team Geo, and making data more accessible.

Cardillo pointed to an example of the use of geointelligence that had resulted in a big success: in August 2013, the Assad Regime in Syria was credited with launching chemical attacks. In this situation, GEOINT created coherence out of chaos. Nine days after the attack, the White House released an assessment that pointed to the Assad Regime, and Syria was charged with removing its chemical weapons.

Cardillo talked about four goals of the NGA and GEOINT:

Goal #1 involves people. There is a need to become more agile, build on an object oriented data base and become more services oriented.

The small satellite revolution has pushed GEOINT to an inflection point. Hundreds of small satellites will launch and scan the earth. Analysis of world events will be persistent, and while it is threatening to some, Cardillo believes our mindset must change to understand it. The fact that a lot of data can be gathered with small, inexpensive satellites is certainly an option for the government to look at seriously.

Goal #2 Expand Team Geo. “We’re facing the most diverse array of threats ever seen,” Cardillo said. An all encompassing team is needed to address the threats, integrating with international partners. Team Geo is a team of open, online geographers, a place for large and small business, universities, think tanks, using their skills and power.

Goal #3 Advance excellence in professions. The economic and technological need to include the commercial and academic worlds, plus the need to “break down the barriers to innovation,” make this an ambitious goal. The government needs more speed and flexibility in their acquisition process. Cardillo talked about focusing on providing access to content, and to welcome content from their partners. He is suggesting being as effective in the unclassified world as they were in the classified world. “Geospatial is the most transparent of intelligence disciplines.”

The NGA has recently launched a project called GEOINT Pathfinder to answer questions with unclassified data, and also make more content available and accessible.

Goal #4 The Value. Cardillo said that GEOINT needs to embrace its new role as data provider, on demand and with access. Secure and open IT architecture will pave the way for this to happen, and to bring GEOINT to the whole community.

Theresa Whalen, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations /Low Intensity Conflict, spoke about how we have come to expect premier intelligence collection, as GEOINT increases effectiveness. She noted that relationships between the intel community and operators are better than ever.

She said that geointelligence is our first line of defense. “One of the soft truths is that people and partnerships matter. The era is one of highly advanced multi-polar state-based threats,” Whalen said. “The resources now available are in a budget constrained environment. There is a lot available in the open source community to extend resources.”

Whalen talked about her experience in Somalia in the 90s. The U.S. pulled out of Somalia and no one wanted to hear about it anymore. Resources moved to other areas. In 2001, she was there again, and the U.S. had no understanding of what was going on in Somalia at that time. That was because the U.S. is constantly moving resources to cover other areas. Her question to the audience: How do we maintain expertise in an area that isn’t currently hot?

“A strong analytic community that know and understand the issue areas would help this situation, plus having resources in an open source environment,” Whalen concluded.

General Stan McChrystal, US Army (Ret) Former Commander .U.S and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) spoke next with more of a focus on the military and psychological aspect of GEOINT.

When the forces addressed Iraq they could not find traditional hierarchy among terrorists. Rather, they found a loose network of associations, which gave them extraordinary agility and resilience under pressure. You couldn’t find critical nodes and make the organization collapse because they could adapt to new conditions easily.

“This meant that the U.S. forces, who were a traditional hierarchy, had to change, even though they operated well in that way and had good technology,” said McChrystal. “They made a fundamental shift into something closer to what Al Qaeda had become – more of a network.”

McChrystal also talked about a world where things were complicated and complex, but those two things are not the same. He pointed out that the night they killed Osama bin Laden, he gave out one medal to the intelligence person who put it all together. The elite of the organization were the operators, dependent on the intelligence team. He said that you can defeat whatever you can find and locate, but you must understand it.

The overriding message of the Tuesday keynotes was that there was definitely a need for agility in a very complex world, where the threats are more complicated than they have ever been before. GEOINT is looking to find ways of providing this agility through commercial technology and open source offerings, and also embrace its new role as data provider for the myriad government agencies that depend on it.

USGIF Award 2015 Program Recipients

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Categories: 3D Cities, analytics, asset management, Big Data, citizen science, climate change, cloud, cloud network analytics, conversion, crowd source, data, disaster relief, drones, emergency response, Exelis, geocoding, GEOINT, geomatics, geospatial, GIS, Google, GPS, Hexagon, historical topography maps, Intergraph, Intermap, laser radar, LBS, Leica Geosystems

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