NGA Establishes Unified GEOINT Operations

By Frank Calabrese

Ed. note: This article originally appeared in the September/October 2007 issue of Pathfinder, published by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

For the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), collaboration is the deliberate linking of people, the processes they employ and the systems they use across the National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG) and the national security community. NGA recognizes the importance that collaboration plays in analyzing and reporting on crucial geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) issues and strives to be a lead partner in using this important tool. In fact, the director of NGA has challenged the NSG community and NGA to set the collaboration standard for the broader community in a multi-intelligence (multi-INT) environment.

Unified GEOINT Operations
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, moving from a "need to know" model to a "need to share" model in the intelligence business has become a rallying cry. Unity of effort is now the predominant theme, and that's what Unified GEOINT Operations (UGO) delivers.

A new way of thinking about the GEOINT business process, UGO is a collaborative and coordinated effort to assess, align and execute GEOINT analysis and production across the NSG and its partner organizations. UGO is based on shared responsibility and trust to optimize GEOINT capabilities in a rationally prioritized, needs-based approach to analysis and production.

UGO initiatives include the formation of collaborative communities, adoption of collaboration tools and procedures, development of an NSG analysis and production strategy, documentation of a UGO model and concept of operations, and issuance of an NSG community directory.

Collaboration Initiatives
NGA promotes collaboration through town halls hosted by senior leaders, through small group sessions and by rewarding collaborative efforts.

With guidance and training, NGA has championed the use of emerging collaborative tools, such as wiki sites, blogs and chat rooms. It has established Communities of Practice and Communities of Interest, where teams share similar interests, tradecraft or goals. And it has appointed issue managers to ensure the integration of their functional or regional issues with other efforts both within and external to NGA. A recently created analysis cell in one physical location provides a multidisciplinary collaborative environment in which analysts can study specific issues. NGA also hosts numerous Intelligence Community forums, working groups and facility visits.

Joint duty - working in other organizations on a temporary basis - is a priority at NGA. Such collaboration allows participants to widen their perspective and cultivate cross-organizational networks, facility knowledge and information sharing. To foster collaboration, NGA has undertaken activities to acquire appropriate accesses for production analysts, expanded the number of accessible workstations and worked closely with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on its collaborative initiatives. Collaborative activities have also included the use of seals from both collaborating agencies on products.

Challenges to the accomplishment of these activities include the efforts required in securing the appropriate hardware and software that streamlines collaboration as well as time constraints imposed on the workforce required to achieve acceptance and familiarization of new tools and procedures. The benefits will be seen in the quality of NGA's products and services.

One future goal is the development of a GEOINT Knowledge Base (GKB), a virtual repository for all GEOINT holdings and analytic support material. GKB will provide Web-based services for the discovery and dissemination of GEOINT, allowing access for analysts to engage in collaborative multi-INT analysis and product generation.

Collaboration is certainly not limited to the analytic ranks. Plans call for operators of source collection assets, with specialized knowledge of the assets they control, to work together to allocate tasking in a manner that best optimizes and synchronizes collection utility.

The Future Is Now
Collaboration challenges the cultural mindset of retaining knowledge in a close-hold environment. It requires a paradigm shift among community analysts and leadership commitment. In summary, the keys to successful collaboration consist of a network of community expert partners, interoperable access to sources, enabling tools and information, and a culture that values, encourages and rewards outreach.

Published Saturday, October 20th, 2007

Written by Frank Calabrese



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