Earth Imaging Journal: Remote Sensing, Satellite Images, Satellite Imagery
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Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts of the speech Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), delivered at the 2016 GEOINT Symposium on May 16, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. A video of the full keynote address can be watched at https://vimeo.com/album/3950208/video/166913193.


Last year, I told you where I intended to take Team GEOINT, our global enterprise of government, industry, academia and international partners.

We’ve not changed our focus areas—People, Partners, Profession and Value—or our goals, and we’re driven to deliver. The agency I’m privileged to lead celebrates a major anniversary this fall. It’s been a remarkable 20 years—from NIMA stand-up to NGA transition to the GEOINT Revolution. And I can proudly—and confidently—say that GEOINT is on the rise, more relevant than ever to our customers today and poised for a tomorrow that’s filled with possibility.

Enabling Success

Enabling customers’ success is what compels us and what impels us every day. We are driven forward by our fear of failing them. They—you—are our priority; our reason for being.

Our GEOINT Services initiative is our focal point for this mindset. It spans all security domains and, most importantly, it’s open-ended. We’re smashing the false boundary conditions that have always separated tasking, processing, exploitation and dissemination. In other words, GEOINT Services replaces the transactional and outdated TPED mindset.

We’ll be “all in” the Cloud by the end of 2017—presenting value on all domains, including the World Wide Web. I further challenged Team NGA to “succeed in the open.”

To do so we must reject outdated ideas about the value of open-source data. We must overcome our historic reluctance to allow analysts to engage externally. We must embrace the imperative to release appropriate information on our unclassified network. We must do all of this—and we must do it smartly. And we will.

Let me clear up any confusion there may be around this drive to the open—we will go wherever the data exists and apply it wherever the mission demands. That means, of course, that we continue to value classified sources. With our mission partner, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), we will deliver game-changing, unique capabilities around the clock and across the spectrum.

How can you help improve our value? We need you to “game-ify” the technologies, the platforms and the solutions that you deliver, in ways that help us quantify our tradecraft. Make our work a constructive competition to bring out the best collaboration, and thus the best intelligence.

Making Progress

In looking at our profession, we’ve made good progress on five fronts. First, we’ve overhauled how we think about and shape the future.

Three months ago, we launched NGA Research, [which] builds on tech talent, ingenuity and expertise—from national labs, universities and businesses. It moves us away from internal research, and allows us to deliver more minds on tasks bringing fresh ideas, innovative research techniques and path-breaking science.

Second, we plan to leave our desks and engage partners where they are. This summer, we’ll go to the geographic heart of American innovation—Silicon Valley—and create a presence there, what we’ll call NGA Outpost Valley. This will leverage the organic capabilities and energy of the valley’s open, vibrant, geospatial community. It’s a beachhead that will have the authority to reach out to all innovation centers.

The third way to advance our profession is to rededicate ourselves to excellence in our craft—to include the standards that will create a community. Our GEOINT Professional Certification Program is now mandated at NGA and for the services. Even the Director has to be certified. I did pass …

Since the program began in 2013, we’ve awarded more than 6,000 certifications. Twenty percent of those have gone to teammates outside of NGA to GEOINT practitioners in the military services.

Fourth, it’s critical that we transition to an Object-Based Production (OBP) environment. OBP extracts the important information from the frame of an image, to produce intelligence that’s more clear, more relevant and more useful.

We began transitioning to OBP four months ago. And it includes the conditioning, standardization and migration of data into a Structured Observation Management (SOM) framework. SOM and OBP are the fundamental building blocks of Activity-Based Intelligence (ABI). And thanks to ABI, we’ll automate manually intensive workflows—so we can detect patterns and behaviors hidden in the noise today. That’s necessary, given the exciting increases in commercial data and open sources as we move from imaging a small percentage of the Earth each day to sensing all of it every day.

I can envision a work unit that puts analysts, human geographers, geospatial information specialists, web-developers, and data scientists in the same virtual and virtuous circle, creating that elusive, yet necessary, coherence from chaos.

Room for Improvement

Improving our profession means further committing to the use of innovative capabilities being developed and deployed by commercial data providers and analytic companies for mission accomplishment. Our commercial space partners will provide meaningful, higher revisit capabilities this year, and we look forward to turning their exciting potential into our mission reality.

How can you help to improve our profession? Like many, we need help with Big Data analysis.

In this fiscal year, NGA has contributed nearly 4 million elements of analytic content to the vast sea of human knowledge. We have holdings of more than 20 million intelligence observations with hundreds of thousands more coming every month. Add to that the billions of data points and elements of Foundation GEOINT, and you quickly realize how big our data challenge is. So we must have tools and techniques to allow us to quickly make sense of Big Data, then visualize and disseminate that clarity to our customers. We don’t just need pixels. Offer us subscriptions that will provide us alerts, observations and insights that we’ll meld with our own to drive deeper analysis of all that incoming data and lead to more-meaningful conclusions.

We need flexible, secure technology solutions that let us exchange information between countries on classified and unclassified domains while safeguarding our sources and methods. Include robust identity and access management features to allow participants to set rules on what they share and with whom.

Adding, Training the ‘Best and Brightest’

Like all of you, we’re in competition for the best and brightest minds, with the skills to propel the GEOINT mission. To our advantage, it’s very competitive to join Team NGA. Last year, we received nearly 17,000 applications and hired 256. That’s about a 1.5 percent acceptance rate. I love how selective we can be to get the best talent, but we must increase our hiring.

Even doubling that number next year would not be enough for what our mission needs and deserves. Our people processes need to adapt and align to meet the expectations of our teammates. This is not just about bringing in new talent. It is about growing and unleashing their potential.

We’ve also modernized how our people professionally develop with what we call “On-Domain, On-Demand.” By changing the focus from instructor-centric to learner-centric training, we increased our web-based learning results by almost 300 percent over the past year.

The NGA Geospatial Exchange (eNGAge) will offer our people immersive experiences with industry and academia—and will also allow us to welcome outside talent into NGA.

How can you help, when it comes to our people? Exchange talent with us. Reach out to the opportunities through our new eNGAge initiative. You can easily find it on our unclassified website: nga.mil.

Help us to identify the best universities for what we all do, and support their efforts to become NGA-designated schools for the geospatial sciences.

Accepting the Challenge

We’ve all progressed on different journeys in this geospatial intelligence field. Some of us started on light tables and experienced the amazing transition to digital. Some of us came on board at the end of the Cold War and marveled at the advent of GPS. And some of us began at the same time as the explosion of open source. But now, all of us recognize that government no longer drives the GEOINT revolution alone. So we’re here today—together—for a reason.

We can see the future. We can feel it. Together, we must deliver it.

Now—20 years after the creation of NIMA—we’re experiencing a new age of GEOINT. We must go wherever the data, technology and people exist—and apply the knowledge wherever our customers demand. We must let go of any remnants of ownership, and embrace our stewardship of the profession. We must enable outcomes that are bigger than ourselves. If we do these things, and if we do them together, we can actually turn our planet into a better place to live.

Geospatial Intelligence: It is our purpose. It is our pride. It is our profession. And it is, most definitely, on the rise.


Robert Cardillo is director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA); nga.mil.Cardillo_HiRes

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