Multi-intelligence Operations: Fusing Information from Many Sources to Support the Next Generation of Geospatial Applications

By John F. Olesak and John J. Moeller

In November 2006 more than 3,100 people attended the GEOINT symposium in Orlando, FL. GEOINT 2006, with the theme of harnessing the power of geospatial intelligence for multi-intelligence, was a fascinating assembly of leaders in the intelligence community. As defense and intelligence agencies and industries develop new systems, explore advanced analysis techniques and expand the base of geospatial knowledge, we see opportunities for greater geospatial capabilities being pushed to all of society. However, we need not only to address the rapidly changing and expanding technologies of the modern world, but also to figure out how to deal with some of the cultural and organizational issues which change much more slowly.

Where are we now?
Over the past few years we have seen tremendous advances in geospatial information collection, processing, dissemination and use. The GEOINT symposium showed many examples of these. Over 125 companies, agencies and other organizations exhibited at the symposium. Ranging from small companies to the large defense contractors, they showed technology offerings from specific tools and techniques to large-scale global systems integration.

The GEOINT tradecraft unifies many specialties, is becoming better defined and is functioning as an integrated discipline with common tools, processes and products. Standards development organizations such as the ISO Technical Committee for Geographic Information/Geomatics (ISO/TC211), the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and the U.S. National Standards Committee for Geographic Information Systems (INCITS L1) have helped develop a framework of standards for geospatial data, technology and services, and have helped to enable a maturing network of spatial architectures and infrastructures.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), through its National Center for Geospatial Intelligence Standards (NCGIS), is a leader in developing and implementing geospatial standards for interoperability. Recently the NCGIS led the identification and adoption of a GEOINT Standards Baseline for use in implementing the National System for Geospatial-Intelligence (NSG).

Many nations are implementing geospatial standards to better enable them to access, integrate and use spatial data from disparate sources. With the common solid framework of ISO and OGC standards for data, technology and services integration, geospatial enterprise architectures are coming into place and maturing around the world. In addition to the NSG, other examples of standards-based architectures are: the US Geospatial Profile for the Federal Enterprise Architecture; the NATO Core Geographic Services Architecture; the spatial data infrastructure (SDI) work of the European Union’s Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe; Australia’s ASDI; Canada’s CDGI and Japan’s NSDI.

An illustration of how a geospatial infrastructure can operate is the Interoperability Technology Demonstration of the 2006 GEOINT Symposium. Using standards-based geospatial Web-services and other interoperable technologies, more than 25 members of the USGIF worked together to show current technologies and capabilities enabling the integration of actionable intelligence.

Despite the progress we have made, we are still not where we need to be. Hurricane Katrina provided a vivid display of our lack of ability to immediately and effectively use the geospatial resources available in many government, private sector and academic organizations. Organizations often still operate in their long-standing silos, policies for information sharing frequently languish, and organizational cultures remain rooted in resistance to change.

Directions for Intelligence Operations
It is clear that the U.S. intelligence community sees the need for improved information sharing from many sources for a current and accurate understanding of the intelligence situation.

Ambassador John Negroponte in his address at the GEOINT 2006 Symposium emphasized the crucial role of geospatial intelligence in the national security enterprise. The ambassador also stressed that the intelligence community needs to work as a team in a multi-intelligence domain environment.
The future direction has been set, and actions are underway to implement a vision of increased capabilities to share and use information across jurisdictional and administrative boundaries. What role does geospatial play in all of this?

A Case for Geospatial as the Underpinning for Intelligence Operations
Geospatial information has long been recognized for its ability to provide visual clarity and representation of natural or man-made objects on the ground. However, more than ever before geospatial information and technology have taken on new meaning and roles in the networked information technology arena.

Geospatial/location-based/place-based information provides a common link for almost all other data and offers a way of organizing information to connect and understand relationships between people, things and activities. The "where" component is vital in business intelligence, property intelligence and most critically in national security intelligence.

The recent geospatial technology revolution has also enabled the use of geospatial information by virtually everyone. Traditionally, the ability to manipulate and understand geospatial information has been limited to individuals in skilled disciplines, such as cartographers, remote sensing specialists, imagery scientists and GIS specialists.

Now consumer-oriented tools such as imagery Web browsers, in-car navigation systems and Internet direction finders are fostering an explosion of applications that are useful to most citizens. This increased access to geospatial information and easy-to-use tools has brought an increased understanding of the value and importance of geospatial information.

This new ability to operate both locally and globally at the same time and understand the interactions between what you see and what others see creates a unique capability for geospatial information. It is the element that enables analysts and decision makers to connect the dots and understand how the past, present and future relate. Everything is somewhere and the old saying, "A place for everything and everything in its place," certainly seems to apply to current and future geospatial capabilities.

Multi source intelligence in a network of mission drivers

As with any complex endeavor, the intelligence community is faced with many different and sometimes competing or conflicting forces. One intelligence component may have collection technologies which overlap with another component. A business domain in one part of the community may collect intelligence for a purpose, which is the same but defined differently in another part of the community. Thus collaboration and sharing in this web of loosely connected components is difficult.

While policy clarification, budget consolidation and organizational restructuring are necessary, they may not be the complete solution. As with any complex organization, the transformation to an organization built around transparency, teamwork and integration requires many moving pieces to work in relative harmony. The common element in all of the critical intelligence sources is the geospatial element.

By using the paradigm of place as a common link to connect and understand the relationship of multiple sources we have the greatest opportunity ever for fusing data and information for current and future applications.

Why we can make significant advances in the GEOINT SDI
Over the past 20 years the geospatial community has been maturing its ability to organize, discover, share and use information with a geospatial component. Efforts to do this exist in many locations around the world. A majority of these efforts are implementing the concepts of a Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI).

SDI is generally seen as the technologies, policies, resources, practices and institutional arrangements that facilitate the availability of, access to and use of geospatial information and technology.

One of the most advanced SDIs is the National NSG. Operating across the intelligence and military communities, the NSG holds great promise as a means of fusing multi-source information, and for leading the way in effective SDI implementation. Just as the NSG will promote technologies that will benefit other sectors in the future, it can also promote collaboration, communication, awareness, best practices and prototypes, which can help make others successful also.

Technology and phases of SDI development converge. For a number of years many in the geospatial community have believed that technology was not the primary barrier. However, the community had not reached the point where standards-based commercial off-the-shelf geospatial technology was readily available. Now, a baseline of standards for interoperability exists, along with a rapidly growing array of commercial products using these standards. The development of SDIs has reached the phase of recognizing the current state of technology and its potential for immediate value to mission requirements. The NGA recognized this several years ago and is moving aggressively to bring business, technology and mission together through an enterprise-wide engineering approach to transform existing capabilities into a powerful new geospatial intelligence tradecraft.

Leveraging the strengths and limitations of standards.
Standards are a critical ingredient for successful integration and fusion of information from many sources. The geospatial intelligence community’s baseline of geospatial standards, when coupled with other standards and best practices, will enable the implementation of agreed-upon rules for working together and sharing geospatial information. This is the strength of the standards implementation process. However, a limiting factor in the standards process is the potential for standards to lag behind changes in technology and the user base. NGA has established the Geospatial-Intelligence Standards Working Group (GWG) to help overcome this problem. The GWG includes a large number of members of the Department of Defense and intelligence agencies along with many other groups, which play a role in geospatial standards. Through the GWG, the GEOINT community is finding a voice for discussing and endorsing geospatial standards and application profiles to meet current and future needs.

Overcoming the old "Functional Manager" paradigm through collaboration, shared benefits and capitalizing on unanticipated opportunities. NGA, as the functional manager for the NSG, oversees a wide variety of roles throughout the intelligence community. In the past, functional management responsibilities were often carried out in a more authoritarian manner than is now called for in a multi-int, multi-domain team environment. Because of its ubiquitous nature, geospatial information cuts across all intelligence disciplines and domains. Thus NGA has recognized that a top down production-oriented approach to the design and operation of the NSG will not work. Rather, it is emphasizing data-centric network-based operations built on collaboration and sharing of information and benefits. The ability to incrementally build systems with the pieces aligned through interoperability standards provides the chance to take advantage of unanticipated opportunities which add value to the system. By recognizing that the future cannot be fully anticipated and that the implementation of the NSG is a process of adaptation and evolution, the intelligence community and NGS partners will be better able to serve the next generation of geospatial requirements.

An Intelligent Intelligence Network powered by GEOINT - Is it in our future?
If we look out several years, we can see additional phases in SDI development. Currently we are implementing Web-based, standards-based capabilities and moving towards service-oriented architectures. Next, we can realistically envision enterprise connections enabled through semantic capabilities, embedded business processes, increased integration of data input devices such as sensors, and increased ability to understand and choose data sources using data quality services enabled through metadata and data conformance tools. Coupled with the incorporation of multi-level security protocols, the capabilities will be in place to implement an Intelligent Spatial Data Network. Built on a framework of interoperability, this Intelligent SDI can be the underpinning for an Intelligent Intelligence Network which will enable multidisciplinary intelligence collaboration and operations.

Multi-intelligence operations using information from many different sources are required to meet present and future challenges. Geospatial databases which follow the standards and practices of a SDI facilitate this fusion. Whether information is from a mobile tracking device, SIGINT hit, person on the ground or an existing database thousands of miles away, the geospatial element allows us to look at things in time and space and gain an understanding of patterns and relationships not available by any other means. Common standards and protocols help achieve this fusion rapidly and interoperably across the intelligence enterprise. The various intelligence domains can contribute to the multi-intelligence enterprise and meet needs that are broader than their own. The implementation of common standards and best practices for geospatial data, services and technology will help our intelligence and national security forces devote more resources to their critical operational missions and be ready for the next generation of geospatial applications.

Published Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Written by John F. Olesak and John J. Moeller

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