Intelligence based upon the Earth’s physical and man-made attributes—and the art and science of interpreting that information—began to change well before the tragedy of September 11, 2001. By combining America’s most advanced imagery and geospatial assets within the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) in 1996, our nation created a much-needed critical mass of skills and technologies under a single mission umbrella. As a result, the intelligence community was able to take its geospatial products to a new level. With the creation of NGA in 2003, this area of intelligence took another leap forward, allowing us to integrate multiple sources of information, intelligence and tradecrafts to produce an innovative and sophisticated new discipline that then NGA director James Clapper formally christened as geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT.
The change of name from NIMA to NGA had little to do with semantics and much to do with achieving greater insight into GEOINT. Using this new paradigm, intelligence professionals were better able to exploit and analyze imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess and visually depict physical features and human activity on the Earth. Today, NGA continues to deliver these vital intelligence products in responding to, and anticipating, our nation’s most critical national security challenges. GEOINT enables our nation’s leaders to make the best policy decisions possible. It also supports our military partners’ tactical and operational missions abroad. More than ever, this agency works hard to put GEOINT in the hands of our customers— when, where and how they need it.
From the discovery of atrocities in Kosovo, to support for the cities hosting the Olympics, through the response to Hurricane Katrina, and our work in Haiti and Japan, NGA has provided critical GEOINT support when our nation needed it most. In the White House report reviewing the response to Hurricane Katrina, NGA was specifically commended for our timely response during the crisis. GEOINT offered an early version of the same total picture for responders that the administration later recommended for the entire nation as its plan to address major disasters in the years ahead.
With this modest analysis of its past, NGA uses history to better understand its present and its future. While firmly rooted in a legacy that extends back to surveyors like the young George Washington and explorers like Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, GEOINT combines extraordinary modern technologies and diverse personal skills to solve today’s most difficult and complicated intelligence problems. In fact, NGA helped track down al Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin and shared insights with the special operations team that successfully stormed his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 1, 2011.
Challenges continue to face our nation. In September 2011, we complete the consolidation of most of our East Coast activity to a new state-of-the-art campus, which, combined with our facilities in St. Louis, will help further unify and focus our efforts on behalf of America’s warfighters and policy makers. NGA will continue to learn from our past GEOINT successes, and we will continue to find innovative ways to better prepare for the challenges that our nation will face in the future.