2015 US Geospatial Intelligence Forum GEOINT Symposium
Remarks as delivered by Robert Cardillo, Director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC
Team GEOINT: This is Our Moment

Thanks, Joan [Dempsey, USGIF Board Member], for that kind introduction. And a big thanks to Jeff Harris [USGIF Chairman], and Keith Masback [USGIF CEO], and Aimee [McGranahan, USGIF COO] and the amazing USGIF team. You’ve done it again. This amazing event just gets better every year. And thanks also to all the members, and the exhibitors and the sponsors. We know this doesn’t happen without you; you make all of this possible.

And finally, I’m quite pleased that we’re here in Washington this year, since it offers an opportunity for so many of my workforce to attend. Our participation this year is 500 percent greater than it ever has been before, and so we at NGA are among over 1600 federal government attendees who are able to attend. And that will create a better interaction and a greater conversation between government and industry, and all of us will benefit from that.

So this morning, I’d like to talk to you a little bit about our past, I’ll check in on where we are today, but spend most of my time on our future. I’ll introduce our new NGA strategy. And I’ll invite and challenge each of you to join a larger movement.

As Joan mentioned, I’ve been the [NGA] director for almost nine months now. This job has been extremely gratifying and humbling, and the greatest honor of my professional life.

There’s an old saying: “The Greeks have a word for it.” So many science and technology words originated in ancient Greece. Just look at the all words that start with Geo, which means Earth. Geography means describing the Earth. Geodesy means measuring the Earth.

Now Geospatial-Intelligence, well, current DNI [Director of National Intelligence] and former NGA Director [James] Clapper coined that term, around the same time as Socrates. (Laughter.) I understand they were weight-lifting buddies. (Laughter.) I wasn’t sure if that was going to work. That was not too bad.

Speaking of Socrates, one of his key principles is self-awareness – knowing your strengths as well as your weaknesses. And self-awareness applies individually, as well as to an agency or an enterprise. Our enterprise is composed of the government, industry, academia, and our international partners, and I call that “Team GEOINT.”

So where do we currently stand?

Before I answer that question, let me acknowledge that there is an unchanging nature to our profession. The intelligence profession is a blend of art and science, of left-brain logic and right-brain creativity, of certainty and of possibility. It includes developing hypotheses and assumptions, testing them against the facts as we know them, filling in the gaps between those facts, and on top of all of that, the bedrock of location – for example, how to safely navigate or precisely target.

Let me give you one example of this profession. In August 2013, hundreds of Syrians were killed, and more than a thousand injured by a horrific chemical weapon attack. The Assad regime and its opposition blamed each other. The IC [Intelligence Community] was quickly able to attribute responsibility with a mix of human, signals, open-source, and most significantly, in my opinion, geospatial intelligence to assess and attribute responsibility.

GEOINT made the difference. First, it framed all that discordant data. It created coherence out of the chaos. Second, it added exquisite insight and expertise to the many moving pieces on the map.

Nine days after the attack, the White House released a summary of the IC’s analysis that placed the blame squarely on the Assad regime. Two weeks later, the UN released its own conclusions based on first-hand interviews, and their assessment was consistent with ours. So our collective intelligence enabled Secretary [of State John] Kerry to challenge the Syrian government to surrender its chemical stockpile. And one year ago today, the last of those weapons of mass destruction were removed from Syria. That is GEOINT at its finest.

It’s also a story of integration across the Intelligence Community, and a fitting reflection of how far we’ve come in the past ten years. And as someone who started as a photographic interpreter at DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] more than 30 years ago, it’s both fascinating and rewarding to see how far we’ve come.

So where are we today? We still put the power of GEOINT in the hands of our customers. We help them enable consequence at their point of decision. And we’ve expanded our definition of support, from those in uniform beyond combat, to include deployers and heroes in white lab coats.

For example, we supported the Ebola fight in Liberia, and helped place treatment units and determined travel times and routes from places where Ebola breakouts occurred. But in this case, our GEOINT contributions were posted on the world wide web. No accounts, no passwords – just a browser. It allowed health care workers to quickly isolate those with the virus, and shortened times between diagnosis and treatment. That time-saving led to life-saving. Again, GEOINT at its finest.

So after we reflected upon our Ebola effort, we decided that this type of open collaboration needed to become the norm. And two months ago, we were again put to the test, when a devastating earthquake struck Nepal.

Within 24 hours, our response team had set up an open world wide web site, and posted atlases of the major cities in the country. On that baseline, NGA and our partners were collaborating: Pacific Command, Transportation Command, the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, the State Department, the United Kingdom, Canada – all collaborating, all sharing on the world wide web.

We posted 240 data layers on top of 46 continuously updated maps, and tens of thousands flocked to the website. We united behind a noble purpose and did exactly what was needed, to help save as many lives as possible, and assist millions to recover from utter devastation.

I’d like to give a special mention to DigitalGlobe, a key partner of ours, who allowed us to post all of their imagery for 30 days. DigitalGlobe also did the right thing. Team GEOINT at its finest.

For decades, intelligence was like a regulated currency. We guarded it jealously. We controlled it tightly. In a recent [December 2014] article in the Harvard Business Review, Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms referred to this strength as “old power.” They called it “closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.”

So as a currency, hoarding is a good thing. That’s clearly what we did, and still do to a large degree, to great advantage, because old power was and is still useful. But in today’s world, our enterprise must operate differently: Less like a currency, and more like a current.

Heimans and Timms believe “new power” is made by many: “It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes…. The goal with new power is not to hoard it, but to channel it.” So the best way to increase new power is by channeling and partnering.

Now our proud past has set us up for an amazing future. However, what got us here won’t get us there.

The ancient Greeks also gave us the word for strategy, the art of leadership. And today, I’m proud to announce the new NGA strategy.

And by the way, I’m not asking for a lot of your time. (Holds up NGA Strategy 2015.) It opens up, and you see the totality. Actually I’m counting my letter over here (points to left side), strategy over here (points to right side), ethos on the back – more on that later.  But I am asking for your commitment.

We have a revised mission statement: “We strengthen the nation through our command of geospatial intelligence.”

Our vision remains “Know the Earth ... Show the Way ... Understand the World.”  And we’ll continue to deliver context and coherence and consequence, to advantage our partners and customers in an uncertain world.

We have four goals.

The first goal has to do with our people. We’ll attract and develop and sustain a more diverse, agile, self-aware and expert workforce. We will create a learning organization with a culture of innovation, and do it in an environment that rewards people that take risk, and do their best to collaborate.

Speaking of risk-taking, you all know the story of the Gordian knot. It was so intricate, so complicated, that nobody ever came close to untying it. So Alexander the Great drew his sword and sliced it in two, thus solving the problem. Now you might say that’s cheating. I’d call it out-of-the-box, or perhaps out-of-the frame, thinking.

To help our people, we need to do what we can do to cut our Gordian knot, and automate as much as possible so analysts can analyze, instead of spending all their time trying to sort through chaotic data.

Our people serve in a far more integrated Intelligence Community now. We’re a team of teams, with all due respect and credit to General [Stanley] McChrystal, who will be our keynote at noon. And GEOINT analysts must start with the intelligence problem, and work through how and where to acquire the necessary information, to find answers.

We will tell the story, we will convey the analysis, so it’s coherent, and customers can take their action at their point of decision. It’ll be less about how much content our people can deliver, or how many images we can exploit, and more about how quickly we can make sense and parse reason out of that data, to deliver context and coherence to our customers by finding meaning behind, beneath, and between the data. Our unique value will be our experience and our analytic expertise, to this remarkable explosion of capability. In other words, brains still matter.

We’ll translate our analytic assumptions and adversary hypotheses into models that will unleash the power of our interconnected sensors and databases. They’ll help us understand not only where to look, but when to look, and evolve from spatial resolution to temporal resolution to activity resolution.

When our major concern was the Soviet Union – my analytic era – the GEOINT problem was easier and more straightforward, although it certainly didn’t seem that way at the time. Old power worked back then, and is still needed in many situations today.

But with so many asymmetric, agile, non-state actors around the globe, we need to support our talent, and become equally agile in our thinking and our technology. We must anticipate and adapt to persist and cover more ground, and track activity over time, and threats across the spectrum.

Activity resolution and activity based intelligence is our approach to the life cycle of a threat, so our customers can hold it at risk. We’ll become much more effective storytellers, seamlessly weaving traditional and nontraditional sources to present visually compelling GEOINT narratives. Our people will be less about the analysis of the image, and more about identifying the patterns and acquiring insight across images, across the spectrum, and around the clock. We’ll build on our object-oriented database and become more service-oriented.

Objects, of course, will always be important and necessary, but our value proposition must become more than that. Our expertise will ride on top of the objects, infer insight, and create understanding about the significance of those objects.

One of the most challenging things affecting our people in the near future is the small satellite revolution. Some are uncomfortable with this seemingly uncontrolled movement of more and more sensors into space. And while I recognize that there are two sides to the world’s growing transparency, I’m energized and enthused about this development.

Frankly, it’s pushed GEOINT to an inflection point. So in the next five years, as the Secretary [Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work] observed, more than a dozen constellations, hundreds of SmallSats, will launch, and continuously scan the earth. And that revolution will do just that: Revolutionize the way we sense the planet. And I stress “sense,” as it’s more than just images. It means our analysis of world events is going to be holistic and persistent.  And in fact, the democratization of GEOINT and the “darkening of the skies” is the opportunity of our time for our people.

So we in government have to pivot. We have to change our mindset, to investigate multiple possibilities, and to better understand this complex situation. We won’t need to balance a finite collection capability against a seemingly infinite set of GEOINT requirements. And I’m betting on our people – those brains – because their expertise is our ultimate value proposition.

The second goal in our new NGA strategy is to expand Team NGA to Team GEOINT. We will be the partner of choice to advance our craft, and to protect the nation and our allies.

Everyone is familiar with atlas as the term for a collection of maps.  The name also comes from the Greeks, as Atlas held the weight of the Earth on his back.

Ever since he’s been the DNI, our boss has prefaced his annual worldwide threat assessment to Congress with “We’re facing the most diverse array of threats I’ve seen in 50 years in the intelligence business.”

That continues to be true. It is a chaotic, messy and dangerous world. And the key to facing those threats and holding up this burden is not simply to ask DNI Clapper to get stronger, as some kind of modern-day Atlas. Rather, we must build a larger, more all-encompassing team, to distribute the weight of the mission across all our shoulders.

We’re reaching out more and more to industry and our academic partners. We’re also integrating with our capable international partners.  It’s less a formal structure, and more of a movement. It is new power, not an old one. So our time is now to fully embrace Team GEOINT.

So who exactly would be on this team? It will include open, online communities of geographers and technologists. International partners. There’s a place for big business. There’s a place for small business. There’s a place for start-ups, universities, think-tanks. If you’re interested, and you have value to contribute, you are on the team.

How does Team GEOINT work? It uses skills and the collective power to advance our craft, extend capabilities, and connect the community of practitioners through continual, informed and ongoing contributions, [and] flexible, open data-sharing arrangements. It finds innovations, inventions, and methodologies to benefit the rest of the team.

How do we add new members to the team? They really add themselves when they reach out, stand up, and extend their arms to help hold up the Earth with us, just like Atlas did.

So why am I so bullish on Team GEOINT? Because the success of this global GEOINT enterprise, of Team GEOINT, is central to the success of NGA. NGA cannot do it alone. NGA will not do it alone. So we must leverage the collective strength of the team, to not only determine the patterns of normalcy, but also to develop the technical solutions and smartly employ all the data that’s already at our fingertips.

The community of minds right here in this convention center is staggering – a force to be reckoned with – a new power to be channeled.

And we’ll enable this team through innovative technology upgrades, flexible sharing policies, analytic compatibility, cross-training, content in the open, and international standards.

The threats in 2015 and the threats in our future demand that we accelerate the rate of change, and the depth of our cooperation, and our commitment to integration.

The third goal in our strategy has to do with our profession. We must advance excellence in our craft.

For those in industry, you’ll be interested to know that one way we want to do that is to build speed and flexibility into our acquisition process. Yes, I said speed and flexibility (Laughter) in our acquisition process. And my deputy can’t wait to tell you more about that. (Laughter.) Shameless plug for tomorrow’s panel.

We’re breaking down the barriers to inclusion and innovation in the commercial and academic worlds. We do not have all the answers. In fact, I know I’ll get a few good answers this week – I already have – as well as questions I hadn’t even thought of before.

A major area of focus for us is to provide access to our content across all security domains using web technology, and equally important, welcoming the content and services of our partners. In other words, it’s vitally important that we’re able to succeed with you in the open. And we’ll need to be able to do so whenever and wherever the moment demands, to be as effective in the unclassified world as we were – and are – in the classified world.

We’ll always need our exquisite and specialized classified sources, but we’re going to also welcome and embrace these new information sources. It is a calculated risk, but it is where we need to go. The world demands it, and our customers deserve it.

DNI Clapper has said, “Geospatial intelligence has a great advantage in our current environment, because it’s the most transparent of the intelligence disciplines.” We know we’re a public trust; we value civil liberties and privacy. So let me be clear: NGA will continue to position itself as the IC leader in transparency.

And we have momentum in this area. We’ve recently launched a project called the GEOINT Pathfinder. The project team will consist of a group of data scientists, application developers, open source researchers, methodologists, and analysts. They’ll do 90-day sprints to answer intelligence questions with only unclassified data and commercial information technology. The goal is to see if we can deliver high-quality unclassified GEOINT to our customers.

How close are we to succeeding in the open? Well, we did well in West Africa and Nepal, but we need to accelerate our progress, and make more content available and as accessible as possible, and find better ways to leverage the contribution of others.

This brings me to the fourth and final goal of our new strategy. It’s the sum total of the first three, and it has to do with our value, and who we are. To do that, we need to transition from being customer-focused to being customer-centric. We have to understand them so well that we not only anticipate their needs, but we exceed their expectations.

We already have one example that really exemplifies this customer-centricity. Under the open software site GitHub, one of the many apps we’ve developed and posted is called the Disconnected Interactive Content Explorer, or DICE. After an initial download, it allows users to display maps and interactive data on mobile devices, even when they’re not connected anymore to the internet. So it’s incredibly useful for first responders and residents where storms or earthquakes have wiped out network connections.

But while putting GEOINT in the hands of the customers, even unplugged ones, is necessary, it’s not sufficient. We also need to embrace our new role as a service provider and a data broker, as the foundation for providing content, in context. It’s going to encourage and enable contributions from everyone on Team GEOINT. We’ll be able to provide our customers with a platform for on-demand, all-domain access. We’ll be able to exchange geospatial, geo-referencing, enrichment, sensor, and processing services.

We’ll have secure and open IT architecture. It’ll leverage cloud-based infrastructure at three levels: First, the open internet and the IC unclassified cloud. Second, the SIPRNet [Secret Internet Protocol Router Network] and our collateral network. And third, the JWICS [Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System] cloud, the IC Information Technology Enterprise, or IC ITE, which will connect us to each other like never before as an intelligence profession and an intelligence community. A quick word about the import of IC ITE. It is absolutely fundamental to the future value proposition of the Intelligence Community. We must successfully deliver on the DNI’s vision.

We have an open-first, web-first strategy, so content can be discovered, and accessed, and integrated to its highest potential. As a first tangible step of embracing our role as an enterprise service provider, last week, two legacy portals closed. The DIA Portal and the NGA GeoWhereHouse Portal were shut down. And GEOINT users have been directed to our ArcGIS [Esri’s Geographic Information System] Portal. My deputy, Sue Gordon, will have more to say about this when she speaks tomorrow on this stage.

So, that’s how I see the future through the lens of our new strategy. Of all the goals in our strategy, I hope the one that resonates the most with you today is partnering with us in Team GEOINT.

As you look to the future and your role on Team GEOINT, please think big. And know that to really achieve our potential, we need to take some risks as partners. But we need you to take some risks as well, to strive for something big on this joint odyssey.

And for those keeping count, that was another Greek reference. On his ten-year odyssey back from the Trojan War, Ulysses faced a number of new threats. His old power, a large military force that was victorious in the Trojan War, was of little use. He needed a new approach to these threats, a new power.

As you take on these new risks with us, consider the agility of the adversary, and what would deliver the most consequence for our customers, because that’s where we intend to spend our dollars – on our future, not our past. We’ll accelerate our role as a provider, to bring GEOINT to the entire community, when and where you need it.

And one other request: Share our confidence and our commitment that we’re going to succeed in the open. Only by working together do we all have the best shot to anticipate and exceed those customers’ expectations. We’re going to go where the innovation is. We’re going to go where the mission lives. We’re going to get out of our building – nice as our building is – to work side-by-side with you.

We were the first member to set up a GitHub portal in the Intelligence Community. But it’s not just tools. We’re also sharing our acquisition policies, opening ourselves up for comments and best practices from everyone.

Last request: We need your help to develop the solutions for the future. The greatest accomplishments in this country have always been together. And there’s a good reason it works that way, because it sets up a “sweet spot,” and that includes industry’s engine of agility, academia’s rigorous methodology, the international partners’ different perspectives and unique geographic advantages, and the government’s sense of purpose.

And now that you’ve heard the strategy, I want you to think big about where we can go. The ancient Greeks are long gone, but they left us with wisdom – knowledge, combined with brilliant insight that comes from many years’ of experience. I believe you’ll find the smartest people today not only think hard about the future, but they also maintain a healthy respect for the past. As just one example, ten years before he died, Steve Jobs said, “I would trade all my technology for an afternoon with Socrates.”

Intelligence has evolved over the years, and the notion of teamwork, as a willingness to come together to solve a common problem, has evolved, too. If we’re honest with ourselves about what we can achieve, alone or together, we know we’re better off together. Because that way, we’ll be strong enough to help our customers handle the heaviest burdens they ever have to bear. And we’ll be flexible enough to help them succeed, even when they’re trying something new, out in the open. So thanks to all of you who want to help carry this weight with us, to be part of the movement, as a member of Team GEOINT.

And again, I’m proud to lead NGA. They’re a phenomenal workforce, and I know you’ll find them to be the best partners you could ever ask for. At NGA, we’re proud to stand with you all, shoulder to shoulder, as your teammates.

I’d like to close this morning by letting a few members of Team GEOINT tell you, much better than I ever could, what it means to be part of this exceptional team. It’s the last, but not the least, part of our strategy. It’s our ethos.

[Video: “We are Team GEOINT. We serve the nation and its security above ourselves. We work tirelessly to enable our customers’ success. We value transparency, consistency, accountability, and integrity. We look back with deep pride, and we look forward with eager anticipation. In the face of adversity and opportunity, we never blink. We are Team GEOINT.”]

They are Team GEOINT. You are Team GEOINT. And this is our movement. And this is our moment. Please join us as we move onward.

Thank you very much.




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