On Nov. 27, 1995, U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich received a letter recommending the consolidation of imagery resources and management into a single agency within the Department of Defense to improve the overall effectiveness and efficiency of imagery intelligence and mapping support to national and military customers.
The need for maps, charts and intelligence derived from imagery was in more demand than ever before in 1995. The historical letter stated that “imagery intelligence and mapping products are of growing importance to an increasingly diverse customer base across the government.”
Gingrich and Congress eventually agreed with the letter’s sponsors, Secretary of Defense William Perry, Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, and their recommendation for a single, streamlined agency focused on exploitation and distribution of imagery-derived products. Nearly a year later, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency was created.
Current National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Chief Historian Gary Weir stressed the profoundness of the authors’ initiative to author the letter, and its catalytic contribution to the creation of NIMA.
“The idea that an imagery and mapping organization might prove wise was not new,” said Weir. “But with their consent to jointly sign this letter, the SecDef, the DCI and the chairman provided a critical mass that propelled the NIMA concept forward.”
NIMA absorbed four separate military and intelligence governmental organizations, each with its own personnel, requirements and missions, and took various geospatial services and tasks from four others.
Although there were early challenges, NIMA went on to achieve numerous accomplishments. Weir specifically noted the creation of the geospatial intelligence discipline, an emphasis on international cooperative efforts that ended several border disputes, the agency’s participation in joint military exercises, and improved support to the warfighter in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, as high water marks for the nascent agency.
As described in The Advent of NGA (1999), Deputy Secretary of Defense John J. Hamre praised the NIMA workforce for its achievements made in its first years as an agency, specifically the NIMA’s support to military forces conducting operations in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kosovo and Serbia.
“It couldn’t have happened without [NIMA]” said Hamre. “NIMA is at the very core of our ability to fight the kind of wars we have to fight today, with precision and care and great compassion for the people who are innocents involved in the conflict.”