Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Former NRO director shares his story of National Imagery and Mapping Agency creation


 March 15, 2016

 Carling Uhler
 NGA Office of Corporate Communications

In 1987, while working as a staffer of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Keith Hall had the notion of how to fix the current, “messy” imagery analysis and collection problem. A seasoned Army intelligence officer, Hall witnessed a number of capability gaps and general work duplication in the imagery community.

“There was a severe overlap and loose coordination [between the agencies],” said Hall. “It was not unusual for multiple agencies to work on the same image, creating an unnecessary duplication in intel work of imagery analysis and interpretation.”

Thus, the idea for a national imagery agency was born, said Hall.

Hall first advocated for a national imagery agency that combined the mapping aspects with intelligence and imagery analysis by suggesting the idea to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff William Crowe.

The idea was not well received at first, said Hall. It did not make it into the Intelligence Reform Report, and intelligence community members did not support the concept of a combined imagery agency. However, the idea resurfaced in 1992 during a breakfast meeting with Director of Central Intelligence Robert Gates and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.

In the meeting, Gates expressed that CIA was too closely tied to imagery, at the sake of signals intelligence, said Hall. Again, Hall brought up the formation of a national imagery agency. Despite some resistance from some Department of Defense and IC senior leaders, the Central Imagery Office was created in 1992.

The CIO, although closer to Hall’s vision, was not a total success, he said. Hall continued to push for improvements in the coordination of imagery intelligence because there was a belief from senior leaders that imagery analysis was broken.

Then, in 1995, John Deutch asked Hall what he could do to fix it and Hall once again shared his concept.

Later that year, at his DCI confirmation hearing, Deutch said in his opening statement that, “if confirmed, it would be my intention to create a national imagery agency.”

After Deutch’s confirmation, Hall was appointed director for intelligence community affairs, CIA, and his first task was to lead the effort to stand up the national imagery agency Deutch had promised.

With the help of Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Bill Owens, co-chair of the implementation task force, and after more than a year of studying, debating, and planning, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency was established Oct. 1, 1996. NIMA combined the missions and functions of the Defense Mapping Agency, the CIO, and the Defense Dissemination Program Office. 

Hall later became director of the National Reconnaissance Office and is currently serving as the NRO client service officer with a defense contractor. NGA Deputy Director Sue Gordon has said she considers Hall an integral part of the NIMA story, instrumental in its creation.