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GEOINT 2017 Symposium

6 June 2017

Remarks as prepared for Robert Cardillo, Director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

On this day, 73 years ago – June 5th, 1944 – General Eisenhower drafted two letters. Each was written in anticipation of the operation he would initiate the very next day – D-Day. Operation Overlord relied upon some of the most important maps, charts and imagery intelligence in history. Annotated defensive positions for targeting, terrain models for cliff-side assaults, and landing zones for gliders and paratroopers. With such intelligence insight, Eisenhower maximized his understanding of the adversary and minimized the adversary’s understanding of his capabilities and intentions. Max your awareness, counter theirs, that’s always been the equation.


Now, back to those letters. This is from the one he didn’t use:


"My decision to attack, at this time and place, was based upon the best information available. “The troops did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone."

This reflection on D-Day, and the day before, D-Minus One, is a poignant reminder of who we are as intelligence professionals and as a combat support agency. We exist but for one reason, to advantage our decision-makers and the warfighters they deploy. And when the deployment transitions from defend to defeat, we must ensure that that fight is not fair, and that we have the advantage.

So this morning, I’d like to talk about the GEOINT revolution that we’ve sparked in our time and how I believe it will drive – and how it must drive – the next generation of intelligence. Our team is ready and our profession is poised to elevate our effect and our relevance. For Team GEOINT – this is our time.

We are standing where the SIGINT community stood when the internet became the digital fabric of the planet. And whether our new persistent view of the world comes from space, air, sea, or ground – in five years, there may be a million times more than the amount of geospatial data that we have today. Yes, a million times more.

So we’re at our own version of D-Minus One in a world that has moved from data scarcity to data abundance, from hunting for that one perfect image to creating coherence from a flood of images and the services that follow.


We’ll either sink, or we’ll swim, or we’ll ride the rising tide. I say we ride!


So just how big is this rising tide? If we were to attempt to manually exploit the commercial satellite imagery we expect to have over the next 20 years, we would need eight million imagery analysts. Even now, every day in just one combat theater with a single sensor, we collect the data equivalent of three NFL seasons – every game. In high definition!


Imagine a coach trying to understand the strategy of his opponents by watching every play made by every team in every game for three seasons – all in one single day. Because three more seasons will be coming tomorrow. That’s what we ask our analysts to do – when we don’t augment them with automation. But with all this data – and dramatic improvements in computing power – we have a phenomenal opportunity to do and achieve even more.


We know more about our planet – and any given emerging threat – than at any time in history. And we’ll be able to anticipate opportunities and threats as we provide true decision advantage over our adversaries. And it’s important that we thrive in this new reality, because our adversaries are racing us there. So this is a competition we must win.


As we do so, we will steal space and time from those who seek to harm our security and provide it to those charged with protecting our freedoms. This data deluge is not something to be afraid of – the data itself isn’t the threat. Managed smartly and efficiently, it’s the solution – but it’s going to require us to change.


First and foremost, we know we cannot deal with the wave of data on our own.  We need partners. I am the Director of NGA and I am also the Functional Manager of the U.S. GEOINT community.

By the way, if you’d like to hear more about the particulars of our U.S. National System for GEOINT, the NSG, I’ll be back up here tomorrow at 9:15 a.m., on a panel moderated by Keith Masback. And, you’re always welcome to check out the NSG booth, where NGA is a proud member.

But our U.S. community also partners with the Allied System for GEOINT – as well as with other international partners – with academia and, of course, with industry. All of these partnerships truly go the distance – many of them literally circumnavigate the globe. And, each one of them matters. Because together, we can build a far more effective, unified, professional and interoperable GEOINT Enterprise, by implementing a set of shared principles:

• Create an environment that fosters trust and accountability,
• Use common definitions and a common framework to develop needs,
• And, partner strategically to advance the enterprise.

So if we think “community first,” we’re far more likely to achieve success for ourselves and our mission partners. To better reflect a “Team GEOINT first” ideal, I made an important change last year by elevating the Director of the GEOINT Enterprise Office at NGA to also serve as my Associate Director for Functional Management. Dustin Gard-Weiss – appropriately on a Joint Duty Assignment from the Navy – wears those hats. I’ve given him the mission and the clout to act on GEOINT matters from a community-first perspective.


Why is operating as a community so important? Consider NGA’s longstanding partnership with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. I’m proud to say that NGA invested in R&D at Oak Ridge about ten years ago.  And it’s paid off.

With help from the Gates Foundation, Oak Ridge created a map of Nigeria based on satellite imagery and more than 2,000 on-the-ground neighborhood surveys. Through this partnership, they identified settlements that didn’t exist just a few years ago. So, when Nigeria distributes the measles vaccine next year, they’ll save a billion dollars and countless lives because they won’t use flawed, 10-year-old census data. And it’s all thanks to the unique combination of imagery, automation, human geography and mapping technologies – and most importantly – strong partnerships.

One great example of a multi-national partnership, borne out of Germany’s leadership, is the T-REx Alliance of nearly 30 nations – and growing. It’s created the most comprehensive pole-to-pole global Digital Elevation Model – or DEM – in history. Quite literally, this will redefine the ground.

Just three days ago, we released our Arctic DEM, in conjunction with the University of Minnesota’s Polar Geospatial Center, under the leadership of our colleague, Paul Moran. We all now have a much greater understanding of terrain in this last frontier.

As always, we’re close partners with NRO, and nine months ago Betty Sapp and I stood up the CGA to evaluate commercial GEOINT capabilities and services for the community. Please visit the Government Pavilion tomorrow at 3:15 p.m. to hear from CGA’s leadership, Mike Foster from NGA and Pete Muend from NRO, and see the unveiling of their “Leaderboard.”

As commercial capabilities and services become available, we intend to make it easier for our government partners to acquire GEOINT data and services through the CIBORG initiative. It’s about the rapid and easy acquisition of commercial imagery, data, analytic capabilities and services – and CIBORG is off to a great start. It enables organizations to access and purchase commoditized commercial data, products and services directly through GSA to satisfy their unique mission demands. GSA has added 10 vendor contracts to CIBORG with another 20 in the process of being added. And, so far in this fiscal year, NGA has committed $40 million via CIBORG. This initiative supports our role to become the GEOINT broker of choice.

Along with other activities like JANUS, which will take our data partners into the realm of content services, CIBORG will provide a gateway for our GEOINT suppliers. The broker will match user needs to suppliers and convey the content and services to our customers. For more, I hope you can join Justin Poole, when he leads a panel in the Government Pavilion this afternoon at 1:30 p.m.

To make it even easier to partner, we’ve developed NOME, which allows all our partners to crowd-source and create foundation data in areas with no existing coverage. Right now, there are more than 600 web users from 15 contributing member nations on our World Wide Web presence and more than a thousand users on our top secret domain. Later this summer, we’ll expand NOME to our secret domain, so many more military users can access it.

Here’s a recent example from the city of Yei, in South Sudan. In seven weeks, Team NOME added more than 700 kilometers of new roads and more than 70,000 new features. While you might be nervous that you’re looking at one of the 600 editors, please be assured that all of my work is QC’d by real experts!


We’re pressing ahead with outposts not only in Silicon Valley, but also in New York, St. Louis, Boston, right here in San Antonio, and Ybor City, near Tampa. Those teams are creating innovative solutions with non-traditional partners and networks.

I say again: We’ll go wherever the talent exists and apply it wherever the mission demands. The bottom line is that partnerships benefit us all. Together, Lewis and Clark blazed trails for American trade routes and security. Wilbur and Orville created manned flight. Sergey and Larry’s collaboration now allows us to find routine knowledge in seconds.  And Ben and Jerry – well, they make summer just a little sweeter.

Partnerships are obviously a prime necessity for Team GEOINT to deal with the rising wave of data. But, we also need to develop innovative new tools and training. When we talk about the future and analytic modernization we often focus on discrete data and tools – Activity Based Intelligence, Structured Observation Management and Object-Based Production.

But, it’s also about putting the right pieces in place to automate the workflow. It’s about driving effective collection and analysis. Remember those analysts watching every frame of every game? Our goal is to automate 75% of their tasks, so they have more time to analyze that last play and more accurately anticipate the next one. So they can look much harder at our toughest problems – the 25% that require the most attention. So they know what to do on fourth down.

Fortunately, we’re already seeing that potential. We’ve had several resounding successes over the last year – here’s one of just many. Since I opened with Normandy, let’s look at a new GEOINT Service we call Beachfront. Beachfront automates the creation of new coastline using commercial satellite imagery sources. This is the immense river delta system on the border of India and Bangladesh. It would have taken one analyst five hours to produce these vectors manually – it took Beachfront less than six minutes. 300 minutes to 6. That’s a lot of time freed up by computers to perform analytic work that today only humans can do.

NGA’s Safety of Navigation mission is one of our oldest and one of our most critical missions. Keeping navigation safe in the maritime, aeronautical and topographic areas – including the precision work being done by our geomatics experts – is at the core of NGA’s support to our nation and its allies.


We’ve seen a shift from manual to digital and now we’re moving into the augmented and automated arena with our ongoing foundation modernization efforts. While geodesy remains the lifeblood of NGA, the heart of our profession is Analysis and it’s always been both an art and a family of sciences.


So now, it’s time to add that extra spark – from the electricity of a circuit board or the flash of a great idea – the thing that takes us beyond where we thought we could go.


The movement from pictures to pixels to data and the shift away from some of the highly manual work I’ve described is a significant change not only to our processes, but also to our workforce. So we’ve started the process of retooling and reskilling our most valuable asset – our people. And as we shift from pixels to data, it’s important that every teammate has the necessary data literacy and computational skills. That includes not only the analysts who derive insight from data to create coherence from chaos, but the supervisors who manage them and the leaders who make strategic decisions about that data.


Of course, we’ll still need creativity, intuition, critical thinking and intellectual diversity. So our vibrant recruiting pipeline is open. Because we’ll need people who can solve problems we haven’t even thought of yet. The smart money is on creating user-driven and user-developed solutions.


At last year’s symposium, I discussed GEOINT Services as our flagship effort to deliver content and services to our customers, utilizing the Cloud. Well, I'm happy to report that GEOINT Services is now well underway and we’ve transitioned implementation to our development side of the house.


One highlight of GEOINT Services is a multi-disciplined team of analysts, technologists and data scientists called the Rapid Feedback Team. They deconstruct customer workflows to better understand their pain points, which helps us and our customers evaluate how GEOINT Services would tie into the workflows, but in a low-risk way.


Now, adding more programming skills to our workforce will allow us to open the floodgates of information opportunities. To use open content first and then augment it with classified sources – to reject, confirm or increase confidence in analytic judgments – that makes the most sense to me.


Now, I tried to do this myself when I took a Python class. I’ll never be a real coder, but my goal is to be able to communicate a little better with the workforce and ask them better questions, and to think differently about data.

It’s a lot to learn.  And when I see initiatives like