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SPIE Defense, Security and Sensing Symposium

Remarks as Prepared
Letitia A. Long
Director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
SPIE 2013 Defense, Security + Sensing Symposium
Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Thank you, Ken, for that kind introduction. I am deeply honored to receive this prestigious award.

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the distinguished innovators and explorers here with us tonight. You have propelled the revolutionary advances that have created the phenomenologies and technologies that enable NGA’s national security mission. Thank you.

I would especially like to recognize my friend and member of the Conference Steering Committee, Kevin Meiners. Unfortunately, Kevin is not able to be with us here this evening.

However, I would like to acknowledge his new appointment as the next Assistant Director of National Intelligence for Acquisition, Technology and Facilities, beginning July 9.

And I would like to recognize Paul Lewis, NGA’s only S-P-I-E Fellow. He has been involved with this event for 12 years and has served as Co-Chair of two DSS research conferences. Thank you, Paul, for your many years of dedicated service to the Society, NGA, and the nation.

A lifetime achievement award is a remarkable honor for any individual, which I am truly humbled to receive from such a distinguished group.

As many of you know, success as an executive in the federal government (or anywhere for that matter) is not achieved alone. It is the result of community, collaboration, and collective perseverance towards excellence.

Allow me to acknowledge the factors that I believe are most important to achieving one’s goals:

    • First and foremost, family. Despite our long hours and career commitments, the health and welfare of family must come first. I want to recognize and thank my husband, John Skibinski, for his love and support.
    • Next, the hard work and dedication of the thousands of men and women in all of the organizations I have been privileged to serve. Every day, I re-dedicate my efforts to the men and women of NGA to enable them to pursue national security objectives with ever-evolving geospatial intelligence.
    • Finally, the opportunities and guidance offered by strong role models and mentors who challenged me to be the leader they thought I could be.
    • I have been fortunate to serve with and be mentored by exceptional role models like Ken Israel, Jim Clapper, and Joan Dempsey, to name just a few.

It is so important that we invest in the future generation, to seek out, encourage, and cultivate those individuals who are dedicated and desire to make a significant contribution to national security. I am deeply grateful that my mentors saw that potential in me.

Unlike so many here tonight, I am not a renowned scientist, academic, or industry leader.

However, as an engineer, an intelligence professional, and an agency director, I very much appreciate your accomplishments in remote sensing phenomenologies, optics, and photonics;

I value your contributions to national security; and I know that our mission-focused partnerships will become even more important in the years to come because the Society values and pursues close partnerships with industry, academia, the military, and the Intelligence Community.

We recognize that S-P-I-E and your academic and industry members have long been an essential force multiplier for NGA’s research and development programs, most notably our NGA Academic Research Program.

Working through your many venues, like this Conference, our R&D Directorate – InnoVision – has successfully identified and supported many of your research initiatives that in turn have benefitted NGA.

Our workforce has had the privilege of collaborating with world-class scientists and engineers to understand and solve critical issues. Your academic institutions not only educate our new generation of scientists and engineers, but also provide continuing education that keeps our workforce up to date.

You provide the environment that allows us to connect with the cutting-edge research, development, and applications that enable our national security mission.

This partnership is now, and will continue to be, vital to NGA’s success.

For example, visualization of GEOINT data to discover valuable intelligence is one of the hard problems we need to solve. We are working with our partners in the national laboratories at Oak Ridge, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia as well as industry partners. Through these activities, we are combining the expertise of the national research sector with the innovation of entrepreneurs.

We are confident that the visualization approaches developed ultimately will help maximize the impact of Activity Based Intelligence or ABI.

ABI is an emerging – and critical – methodology that applies advanced analytic techniques to “Big Data” so we can provide “Big Value” to decision makers.

That is, we identify patterns, trends, networks, and relationships hidden within large, data collections from multiple sources: full motion video, multispectral imagery, infrared, radar, foundation data, as well as SIGINT, HUMINT and MASINT information.

An operational example of this could be using wide-area motion imagery to process, capture, and store object identification data.

NGA seeks to partner with industry to develop a standard model that allows us to “geo-reference” all of the data we collect persistently – over a long period of time.

A model that will allow analysts to identify and evaluate data down to the smallest available object or entity.

NGA is working jointly with NSA, DIA, Johns Hopkins University, and other academic partners to create the GEOINT elements of this Unified Object Model.

These examples -- visualization and ABI – are only two of the dozens of efforts that NGA is engaged in today with the innovators and explorers represented by S-P-I-E.


For those who may not know us well, NGA is both a Combat Support Agency AND a national intelligence agency. We have statutory responsibilities to support policymakers, warfighters, first responders, homeland security, and the greater Intelligence Community (IC).

The very nature of what we do – geospatial intelligence – GEOINT – makes us a critical partner for everyone we serve.

GEOINT not only tells you what is happening anywhere on earth, but we strive to reveal why it matters and what is likely to happen next.

NGA has a unique—perhaps the broadest—mission set of any intelligence agency.

We provide timely warning and strategic intelligence about global crises to national and military decision makers -- sometimes we have the first -- and only --insight into denied areas.

By law, we are the lead agency that ensures safety of navigation in the air and on the seas with the most current maps and charts.

We defend against cyber threats with in-depth analysis of the logical and physical networks. We bring together the “bits and the bytes” with the “bricks and the mortar” to provide the physical locations and manifestations of where the networks and cyber units are operating around the globe.

We lead Human Geography efforts across the IC – we enhance the Community’s understanding through deeper geospatial-temporal analysis of human activity to better understand patterns of life within their environmental context.

Finally, we assist first responders with global humanitarian and disaster relief efforts.

One example is the successful domestic use of Airborne Remote Sensing -- the NGA-EPA ASPECT partnership. ASPECT is the Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology program.

It has deployed more than 130 times since 2003 and it is the nation’s only civilian, 24/7 airborne, near-real-time remote sensing chemical, radiological, and imagery mapping capability.

Two weeks ago, ASPECT—with Paul Lewis supporting—deployed in less than one hour to West, Texas to assist in the response to the fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 people.

The ASPECT aircraft and its sensor suite played a vital support role in assessing the damage and the danger. It flew three sorties, and using airborne sensors, made dozens of data collection passes over and downwind of the disaster.

The data showed that while there was a small amount of ammonia in the air up to 1,000 feet from the site—levels were safe, and no additional hazardous compounds were detected.

It also identified the number and extent of fires and hot spots remaining the day after the explosion and helped assess the need to focus firefighting efforts.

The data helped disaster response managers limit the area, scope, and duration of their evacuation orders and the deployment of fire, law enforcement, and rescue personnel.

This example shows just a small, relatively simple, yet critical way GEOINT—and our successful partnership—helps protect the nation.


To provide this timely insight into our nation’s most critical problems, we apply the complete range of advanced electro-optical and remote sensing phenomenologies—polarimetric, hyperspectral, overhead persistent infrared, high-resolution full motion video, and more—that many of the innovators here tonight have helped to develop and continue to improve.

One of the major challenges we face today is gaining meaningful intelligence from the enormous amount of data these phenomenologies produce. This is our “turning ‘Big Data’ into ‘Big Value’” problem.

Today we download more spectral bands than ever before. (LIDAR, gigapixel sensors, video synthetic aperture radar, wide area multispectral imagery, video).

And we download it from more data sources than ever before. (Satellites, airborne platforms, open source, commercial imagery, multiple layers of foundation data).

And in this era of declining budgets, the IC simply cannot scale to compete with the digital production of the entire world. We cannot manually examine all the data we can collect.

We must gain “Big Value” from “Big Data” by actively pursuing the Director of National Intelligence’s top priority of intelligence integration at every level.

We must integrate our Community networks and systems, leverage each other’s sensors and phenomenologies, and further collaborate on community-wide analysis. This must be done with enhanced technology.

You – our S-P-I-E partners – are key contributors to making this integration a reality. You can:

    • Support the integration of intelligence sensors on future delivery platforms.
    • Support the IC Information Technology Enterprise – IC ITE – and the fusion of all intelligence sources through its cloud infrastructure.
    • Help develop the automated tools we need – preferably located as close as possible to, or on, the sensors themselves.

These tools must automatically capture, curate, store, search, analyze, and visualize as much raw data as they can.

They must also largely assume the analyst’s traditional functions of monitoring “known” targets.

By automating those functions, we can integrate the technological advances with activity based intelligence (ABI).

Through ABI, we redefine the analytic environment for Big Data, complex intelligence issues and how we implement the analysis functions: watching, searching, understanding, and discovering:

We excel in traditional analysis of “known-knowns.”

We have search programs to help find unknown locations when we know what to look for.

We have research programs that effectively identify enigmatic facilities or high-value targets so we can better understand their behavior.

However, we need to spend more time discovering what does not want to be found. Today, we can apply ABI techniques with fused data from multiple intelligence sources to reveal these “unknown-unknowns.”

ABI is a methodology that drives collection toward, and shifts analysis to, a non-linear focus on activity, transactions, networks, and patterns of life.

It focuses the analysts’ time and brainpower so first, they can discover those meaningful patterns and then, as they learn more, they can anticipate and even predict future action.

Ultimately, the goal is to give decision makers what they value most - decision space. That is what we mean by “Big Value” – a deeper understanding and sufficient warning to make the best possible choice in a crisis or conflict.

Once analysts discover these “unknown-unknowns” and they become routine, they can be transitioned to normal—and automated—workflows.


To provide this decisive advantage, NGA and the entire Community continue to need your creativity, your insight, and your expertise.

To provide or help us develop the solutions to our critical priorities:

    • Innovative phenomenologies for locational, spectral, and spatiotemporal capabilities;
    • Leading edge automation tools that manage “Big Data” effectively;
    • Easy-to-use application toolsets and interfaces; and
    • IC ITE as the infrastructure for successful intelligence integration.

We must continue to develop and strengthen our partnerships. They are more vital to our national security than ever before.

Once again, I am sincerely honored to receive this prestigious award. On behalf of the men and women of NGA, I thank you.