Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, formalized his agency’s changing approach to geospatial intelligence by issuing a new corporate strategy and challenging a diverse audience of government, industry, academic and international partners at the 2015 GEOINT Symposium to join NGA in what he views as a necessary shift from “old power” to new.
Cardillo likened “old power” intelligence to a currency that was tightly held and jealously guarded by a few. Citing a recent Harvard Business Review article by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms, he described it as “closed, inaccessible and leader driven,” in his June 23 keynote remarks at the USGIF-sponsored event in Washington, D.C. The GEOINT Symposium is considered the preeminent gathering of GEOINT professionals each year.
“But in today’s world, our enterprise must operate differently – less like currency, and more like a current,” he said.
Quoting Heimans and Timms, he said that “new power” is made by many: “It is open, participatory and peer driven.”
According to Cardillo, that future will be driven by “Team GEOINT,” a partnership of government, industry, academia and international partners led by NGA.
Cardillo has been steering NGA into the world of unclassified, community-produced GEOINT practically since taking the agency’s helm some nine months ago, but issuance of a new agency strategy creates a formal framework for more deliberate action toward that vision. The 2015 NGA Strategy outlines specific goals for the agency’s people, partners, profession and value in enabling customer consequence.
NGA’s value in the new world of open collaboration will be its ability to help analysts sort through and make sense of the increasingly vast amounts of data available, according to Cardillo.
“It will be less about how much content our people can deliver and more about how quickly we can parse and make sense of it – to deliver context and coherence to our customers by finding meaning behind, beneath and between the data,” he said.
Cardillo stressed that the catalyst for the agency’s change in focus is the proliferation of small satellites, which he said will “revolutionize the way we sense the planet.”
Sensing the planet, Cardillo explained, extends beyond traditional imagery and includes extensive integration with other branches of the intelligence community.
“It means our analysis of world events is going to be holistic and persistent,” he said.
NGA will accomplish this goal by developing and enhancing its workforce to be more flexible and creative in the ways it approaches GEIONT problems.
“With so many asymmetric, agile, non-state actors around the globe, we need to support our talent, and to become equally agile in our thinking and our technology,” he said. “Our people must anticipate and adapt to persist and cover more ground, and track activity over time and threats across the spectrum.”
To do this, the agency will employ automated analytic processes and models, and will deliver content to customers in new ways that “tell the story and convey the analysis, so it’s coherent and customers can take their action – at the point of decision.”
Most importantly, Cardillo said, analysts within an integrated intelligence community will be able to “separate information of interest from the noise” to find meaning in the data. By translating analytic assumptions and hypotheses into models that can be shared among the community members, Team GEOINT will “unleash the power of our interconnected sensors and databases.”
That power, he said, derives from seamlessly weaving traditional and nontraditional sources to present “visually compelling GEOINT narratives.”
These narratives will comprise the agency’s new approach to the lifecycle of a threat: activity resolution.
“Our people will be less about analysis of the image, and more about identifying patterns and acquiring insight, across images, and the spectrum, around the clock,” he said.
Cardillo explained that NGA’s success depends on the success of Team GEOINT, or the global GEOINT enterprise. He vowed to break down barriers to inclusion in the commercial and academic worlds, and to build more speed and flexibility into the agency’s acquisition process.
“NGA cannot do it alone. NGA will not do it alone,” he said. “So we must leverage the collective strength of the team, to not only determine the patterns of ‘normalcy,” but also to develop technical solutions and to smartly employ all the data that’s already at our fingertips.”
Just as the agency has led successful international intelligence integration during events such as the Ebola crisis in East Africa and the devastating earthquake in Nepal, NGA will continue to find ways to better leverage the contributions of others, including international partners, Cardillo said. Among efforts already started, he cited flexible sharing policies, cross-training and development of international standards for the timely and effective sharing of GEOINT.
“It is a calculated risk, but it’s where we need to go,” he said. “But we need you to take risks with us as well, to strive for something big on this joint odyssey.”