Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Joe Mazzafro

I just finished reading Obama’s Wars while traveling to and from GEOINT 2011 (31 Oct-4Nov) in the middle of which the mid-term Congressional elections dramatically shifted power in the House of Representatives from the Democrats to the Republicans and made getting 60 votes in the Senate a near mathematical if not political long shot.  Since returning from New Orleans we have also had the close call “weekend printer cartridge” bomb plot and President Bush’s book Decision Points released.  All have important things to say about the state of and future intelligence, but so did Tish Long in her GEOINT Keynote Address.

Before discussing with you Tish Long’s watershed vision for the way the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) produces products so users can access them more effectively, let’s rumble through the other important events of the past couple of weeks

Ø  The “Weekend printer cartridge” bomb plot was uncovered at the last hour through a Saudi tip.  Relative to recent Al Qaeda bomb plots that failed because of inept execution, this time the Saudi information moved quickly across the Intelligence Community (IC) in time for preventative action.  It would be foolish though to not consider that the IC’s massive collection and analytic apparatus did not have enough information on Al Qaeda in Yemen to warn about or interrupt this plot before the bombs actually got on the cargo planes.

Ø  Presidential Books   I thought Obama’s Wars showed the critical roll strategic intelligence is playing in shaping the Obama Administration’s Afghanistan Policy while subliminally making the point that good intelligence is neither a substitute for strategic thinking nor for formulating policy decisions.   At least for me, Woodward casts DNI Denny Blair in the positive light of a good guy trying to do the right thing with objective intelligence but being thwarted by not being a White House insider.  Regarding Decision Points I am anxious to see if the first reviews are correct that this “memoir” mostly defends rather than explains the 43rd President’s decisions about taking out Saddam, warrantless wiretaps, and enhanced interrogation techniques.

Ø  The Congressional Mid Term Elections returned divided government to Washington where the sizeable Republican majority in the House can pass legislation that can be thwarted by either the absence of 60 votes in a divided Senate or by Presidential veto.  Not trusting their elected representatives to give them smaller less expensive government, it appears the voters opted on Nov 2nd for “gridlock” to achieve what they want.  It will surprise none of you that this means there will be little support in the Congress (and the Executive Branch as well) for large new expensive IC initiatives, but instead an emphasis on consolidation and cost cutting across the IC.  I view this as an opportunity for DNI Jim Clapper to protect IC capabilities with economy of scale proposals such as joint data centers and collapsing the multitude of IC networks which he can leverage into making the DNI the de facto as well as the de juria leader of the IC.

Speaking of Jim Clapper while shifting to GEOINT 2011, the DNI made considerable news on the first day of this conference announcing in public that he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have tentatively agreed that the $53.1 billion National Intelligence Program (NIP) will migrate in 2013 to the office of the DNI.  Besides having the effect of reducing the Pentagon¹s top line budget by $53.1 billion, such a move should also bring clarity to the NIP for Congressional oversight, while enabling the DNI to have more control over how this money is programmed and executed.

At her first ever GEOINT, new NGA Director Tish Long captured and excited a 4,000 plus audience, though not the media, with her vision for “taking GEOINT to the next level” by revolutionizing how GEOINT is produced and made available (see  Pivoting off of the conference theme of “Geospatial Intelligence 3.0,” the NGA director of three months rhetorically asked “so what does this mean?”  For her she said it’s about putting the power of GEOINT into users’ hands by changing two things:


  1. “First provide on-line, on-demand access to our GEOINT knowledge. [To] Give our customers, from novice to expert, access to our content, services, expertise, and support, and the tools that allow them to support themselves.

  2. “Secondly we will create new value by broadening and deepening our analytic expertise – by providing deeper contextual analysis of places informed not only by the earth’s physical features, but also by human geography.

Referring to smart phones and iPads, Director Long said she will be pushing the NGA and the GEOINT community to make geo-spatial information more discoverable, accessible, and usable for consumers by creating an “Amazon.Com” on-line store front where “Apps” can be employed by the user to make GEOINT more relevant to their immediate needs.  Director Long was telling the IC that her agency is going to proactively embrace the model of data stewardship vice data ownership so consumers based on classification and mission needs can access and shape the GEOINT they want, when they want it, and in the way they want it.  How to deal with large data sets and multiple levels of security are obvious challenges NGA will have to deal with to make an apps-rich on-line GEOINT storefront a reality, but these are hardly insurmountable with current technology and informed policy.

In wanting to add more context to GEOINT through broader and deeper analytic skills such as human geography/terrain analysis, Ms Long was gently pointing out the widely accepted reality that the IC has not done well in providing national or tactical decision makers insight on how events or US actions will effect populations in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Haiti.  As others in the IC digest what Tish Long is saying with this second analytic pillar of GEOINT 3.0, I believe they will welcome NGA stepping up to providing geo-spatially depicted demographic, economic, social, medical and political information through on-line store fronts and apps, but there will also be considerable push back that NGA is moving over the line of providing GEOINT to all source analysis, but is instead doing all source analysis based on GEOINT.

Responsibility for providing all source intelligence analysis is, of course, something that only matters to IC agency chiefs and policy wonks.  Users don’t care where germane information comes from and the less hassle to get it the better.  Being rather wonkish though, I thought while listening to Tish Long speak that she was moving perilously close to the IC’s third rail of reaching into another IC agency’s turf (how ironically geo-spatial) and wondering to myself “why go here Tish?”  My question answered itself almost immediately because this is what users are discovering they need and if they can’t get it from the IC they will use their smart phones and iPads to get it. Maps, charts, and photographs will always remain important for knowing what is where on the earth, but they are insufficient of themselves to tell those consuming these geo-spatial products how this “what and where on the earth” are important for them. 

With some post GEOINT reflection it finally occurred to me that the real issue was not why does the Director of NGA want to enhance her agency’s all source analytic capabilities, but rather why haven’t DIA, CIA, and the DNI Centers of Excellence  as the IC’s all source analytic agencies already created an environment where intelligence consumers can discover and access data from multiple sources on their own and with a rich apps environment put this intelligence data immediately into a context meaningful for them and those they serve? 

Finally, it does not take much to extrapolate from what Ms Long is proposing for NGA to seeing how her version of GEOINT 3.0 could push the IC away from its historic organization by “INTs” (photo, signals, human, etc)  to a community organized by functions (collection, processing, exploitation, analysis, and distribution/dissemination).   Probably best though to let the DNI get control of the NIP before recommending he move into a massive restructuring the IC based on function.

That’s what I think; what do you think?

Share Your Thoughts:

re: "Tish Long"? How about some respect for the new Director? Would you have called him Jimmy Clapper?

Tish and I have been friends since we served together at ONI in 1992. Given how well and how long I have known Director Long my respect for her goes way beyond whatever current title she holds.

Regarding "human geography," you should check out what USCENTCOM's Human Terrain Analysis Branch is doing regarding geospatially referencing socio-cultural information on maps, GeoPDFs, shapefiles, KMLs, and other all-source intelligence products that are sourced, empirical, and rooted in the scientific method:

I will check out CentCom Human Geography initiative, but far more important that NGA look at. Obviously those reviewing Director Long's prepared remarks for GEOINT didn't suggest she reference what CentCom is doing; also did not come up in Q/A

Hopefully this exchange will be bring more visibility to what CentCom is doing re Human Geography