Remarks as prepared for Justin Poole, Deputy Director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
Thank you, Dr. Hamre [Dr. John Hamre, CSIS President, former DepSecDef].
And thanks to INSA and AFCEA for the invite.
It’s an honor to be here with Secretary Rood [USD-P John Rood], George [Barnes, DD/NSA] and Jimmy [Boss, DIA CFO] at this terrific summit.
I’ll just touch on five key challenges for NGA, and I’d be happy to follow up on any of them when we get to Q&A.
Let me start by saying that I don’t see challenges as problems we have to overcome, but as opportunities we have to seize.
The first of these is our people – recruiting and retaining new people with new skills, as well as engaging and training our current team members with refreshed skills, so that we have a data-literate, tech-savvy workforce for the future.
All of us on this stage compete for the same people – with each other and commercial companies.
So, NGA needs to position ourselves as the place to work for cool data challenges, if we’re to bring in the talent we need to solve our increasingly complex data and intelligence problems.
And we have to solve these problems, because we have to maintain decision advantage for our customers – the warfighters, national policymakers and first responders who rely on GEOINT to win the fight.
So – after people – securing GEOINT’s decision advantage for American interests is our second key challenge.
Our adversaries’ decision cycles are getting faster – empowered in part by their own improved GEOINT capabilities.
We cannot lose our advantage there.
Helping us do this are our international partners. We now share more missions with international partners than ever before.
In doing so, our third challenge is interoperability with our allies across the globe.
And we’re also moving from bilateral relationships to multilateral ones – that’s very different for us all.
But it’s not only our international partners that make up what we call the Global GEOINT Enterprise – the GGE – it’s also academia, think tanks, and, of course, industry.
Which leads to my fourth point – that we must broker geospatial solutions across the GGE, and leverage suppliers around the globe, to deliver the best possible GEOINT – to any mission, at any time, for any location.
We will always rely on the exquisite national capabilities that we get from our great partner, the NRO.
But the reality is that commercial satellite imagery has become a hugely important part of both our present and our future.
As such, we have to evolve our business model to partner with an ever expanding marketplace of diverse geospatial data and service providers.
And we have to have the capability to access, integrate and use the equally diverse plethora of data these suppliers are creating.
Being able to leverage this tsunami of data leads to my fifth and final point.
We absolutely need to embrace what we refer to as AAA – Automation, AI, and Augmentation.
With all the data we have access to now, we need new ways to harness the power of machine learning and computer vision.
We must integrate these technologies into our workflows, so that we can let machines do what they do best, and give our people more time to focus on the hard problems that require the creativity of human brains.
I’ll stop there, and I look forward to the discussion and your questions.
Question & Answer
Q1: The National Security Strategy put a focus again on conventional military threats posed by peer competitors-notably Russia and China. How is that shifting the allocation of resources in your organizations?
I’m not going to go into details, but I will say that we respond accordingly to the any changes in the NIPF – the National Intel Priorities Framework (NIPF).
We’re seeing our near-peer competitors invest in machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies.
They’re trying to get to decision cycles faster, and digest information in greater volumes and have a better situational understanding what's happening in the battle space and the strategic environment.
Their goal is to develop and field capabilities to disrupt and destroy our space assets and associated infrastructure, to deter and limit U.S. use of space before or during a conflict.
We need to maintain GEOINT dominance by investing in AAA, modernization, and our people.
We’re the best in the world at what we do, and we’re maximizing our resources to continue that dominance.
Q2: Secretary Mattis has said that developing and strengthening partnerships with allies is a cornerstone of his strategy. Traditionally we have had very strong collaboration with the so-called "five eyes" countries. How do you see collaboration growing in the years to come?
Our “Five Eyes” partnerships is stronger than ever – we even have a formal group called the Allied System for GEOINT – or ASG for short.
And although I can’t mention specific countries, in other parts of the world, we’re shifting from primarily bilateral to multilateral relationships.
In the last two years, we’ve hosted or co-hosted senior forums between our Director and his counterparts for Multinational GEOINT Europe – which we abbreviate as M-G-E-U and pronounce “magoo,” and Multinational GEOINT Asia-Pacific – which we abbreviate as M-G-A-P, and pronounce “em-gap.”
We also have a worldwide partnership with our Navigation missions.
And there’s not only growing collaboration for intelligence, there’s also strengthening integration and interoperability of mission planning, analysis, and systems.
Q3: One of the traditional problems of collaborating with foreign countries is the lack of systematic security structures to protect sensitive information. Are you seeing other countries realize this and step up to adopt security procedures we would need to make them trustworthy partners in collaboration?
Yes, we’re seeing a willingness from our international partners to work with us to protect sensitive information, data, and intelligence.
We’re collaborating with them to leverage secure technology and tools in development of:
An International Collaborative Environment (ICE),
And secure "gateways," such as the Global Service Proxy (GSP).
Q4: In the next five years, how likely is it that we will experience a serious or very serious cyber attack? How are we preparing now for dealing with that problem?
I agree with George on the likelihood.
DNI Coats also said in his last Worldwide Threat Assessment to Congress: “The potential for surprise in the cyber realm will increase in the next year and beyond as billions more digital devices are connected – with relatively little built-in security.”
And “the risk is growing that some adversaries will conduct cyber attacks – such as data deletion or localized and temporary disruptions of critical infrastructure – against the United States in a crisis short of war.”
As significant as regional and cyber threats are to US national security, protecting US GEOINT dominance is just as crucial.
Assuring we know with certainty the location of our people, resources, allies and foes is critical to our ability to defend our warfighters, and to respond to threats with the utmost confidence.
GEOINT Assurance is central to our mission -- so we’re focused on methods to protect our profession and our service as a critical, 21st century, national strategic capability.
Preparing for this problem will take a community solution.
We’re working with our counterparts across the IC and DOD to address this issue.
[More from DNI Coats’ WWTA:]
“We expect that Russia will conduct bolder and more disruptive cyber operations during the next year, most likely using new capabilities against Ukraine.”
“China will continue to use cyber espionage and bolster cyber attack capabilities to support national security priorities.”
“Iran will continue working to penetrate US and Allied networks for espionage and to position itself for potential future cyber attacks, although its intelligence services primarily focus on Middle Eastern adversaries—especially Saudi Arabia and Israel.”
“We expect the heavily sanctioned North Korea to use cyber operations to raise funds and to gather intelligence or launch attacks on South Korea and the US.”
“Terrorist groups will continue to use the Internet to organize, recruit, spread propaganda, raise funds, collect intelligence, inspire action by followers, and coordinate operations.
Q5. We are fortunate to have a two year budget agreement, but this all reverts to the old sequester world if we don't find a permanent fix. It doesn't feel like we are on a path to get a permanent fix. How does this uncertainty affect your respective organizations?
It’s always in the back of our minds, so we have to work with that possibility.
A continuing resolution inhibits our ability to spend money early in the fiscal year.
When full funding authority isn’t available, we have to shift authority among programs to fund our highest priority requirements.
Since funding is restricted to previous year budget allocations, new starts aren’t allowed during a continuing resolution period.
Our ability to implement long term planning decisions to combat our adversaries is impacted.
We execute the resources that Congress allocates to us.
We’re focused on delivering GEOINT that secures decision advantage for our customers.
Q6: The President has called for creating a new military department, a Space Department. There are only 15,000 people in DoD that go to work everyday doing space jobs. That is too small to make it a military department. So there will have to be some consolidation across the federal government. What are the issues that concern you about the idea of creating a "space" department?
We work closely with organizations across the IC and DOD that are engaged in space activities.
Regardless of where others end up in the U.S. Government, NGA will continue to do that.
There are some steps along the way that have begun – a sub-unified Space Command (which was already directed to happen), an independent U.S. Space Command as a unified command (which used to exist before it merged with Strategic Command), a Space Operations Force of experts, and a Space Development Agency for R&D and fielding new technology.
Having those in place should ensure smooth sailing through issues and challenges, before we get to a separate Space Force and Space Department.
But the bottom line is that we agree the US needs to address space as a developing war fighting domain, and a combatant command is one thing that can be established.
We certainly need to protect our assets in space – they’re important to the security of our economy, and other countries show a capability to attack those assets.
Whatever the actual organization will end up looking like, it will be designed to optimize all that – but nobody has all the final answers yet – the SecDef and his team are still putting it together.