NGA Head General James R.Clapper Answers Wide-ranging Questions about NGA

By Hal Reid

Ed.Note: General James R.Clapper is the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).The NGA's primary mission it to provide timely, relevant and accurate Geospatial Intelligence in support of national security, and as such, is "setting up the nature of the technology for the rest of us," said his interviewer Hal Reid.Reid, himself a former member of the U.S.Army's intelligence community, asked Gen.Clapper some wide-ranging questions about the NGA, imagery acquisition, employee motivation, prioritization, managing organizational chaos, working with other federal agencies, and finally, what aspect of the job gets him out of bed in the morning.

Hal Reid (HR): Many local governments are working with local companies in their jurisdictions to create a digital library of floor plans, simplified drawings of buildings and facilities.Are these moving up to the national level and becoming part of your file base?

James Clapper (JC): Some of that is going on, but in a limited and restricted way.As a national intelligence agency, we are precluded from providing support directly to states, cities, or first responders.If we are asked by a state, city or first responder to provide support, we would call the appropriate Lead Federal Agency (LFA).For example, during natural disasters the Federal Emergency Management Agency is the LFA.They take requests for information from multiple sources, consolidate them, and then pass requests to us.We fulfill their requirements as one of our customers and then they pass information back to their customers. We only respond to taskings from the LFA.

Similarly, with regard to our databases, there is no coordinated effort to gather detailed civilian information at the national level.We gather this kind of information only with an LFA.For example, we are helping the USGS build a comprehensive database of information over 133 key urban areas.We buy data on such things as road networks, pipelines, electrical grids and subways with broad-use licenses so they can be posted to the USGS National Map.This initiative supports the Nunn-Lugar Act, which pre-dates 9/11.

Also, in some limited instances - usually for federally sponsored exercises - we are given detailed floor plans for specific companies.In every case the company involved has agreed to provide the data, most of which we do not retain.

HR: Your organization has undergone lots of changes both in technology and in structure. Sometimes the infusion of change creates chaos, and while exciting for some, can be quite unsettling for others.How have you accelerated change, brought people along and avoided the chaos?

JC: I arrived at NGA, then called the National Imagery and Mapping Agency or NIMA, two days after 9/11.Naturally, I had known about my assignment for several weeks and had done a lot of work - including visiting the Agency - to prepare myself.I intended to use the NIMA Commission Report - in my view the most comprehensive and useful of the more than a dozen studies of NIMA - as a blueprint for change.I also intended to fully involve the workforce in focus groups and similar methods of input/discussion.

The events of 9/11 changed all that.It became clear to me and to the other senior leaders of NIMA that we did not have the luxury of implementing change over a prolonged period of time.We were at war and we needed to act immediately.So, we held a long weekend offsite at which we dramatically altered the organization and outlook of the Agency.In hindsight, this was exactly the right thing to do.Our nation, and our Agency, was fully engaged in a war and we had no choice but to focus on doing the best we could.

Our success was largely due to our workforce - their willingness to do whatever we deemed to be necessary.It was not easy.A large part of the challenge was to communicate effectively what we were asking from our workforce and why it was important - actually, urgent.A lot of this communication came from me directly - using all of the avenues we had available - town halls, e-mail messages, videos, etc.I strongly believe our continued success is due to the completely open process we have been willing to tweak and change where necessary. We are still in the process of transformation.Change is a part of our daily lives.But people see that happening in every facet of their existence and they also see it happening to their friends and neighbors, so what we are doing is not unique.

HR: The rotation program for key employees among other agencies and the related educational opportunities seems to mirror in part those programs that are available to staff intelligence officers in the military.Are you building a track of evolution along those same lines to include educational opportunities like the War College, Naval Post Grad School and the National Defense University?

JC: Yes, we have a very strong education program.I would like to emphasize that these efforts are designed to help all our employees.We have in place specific programs along the lines that you mentioned.We competitively select NGA employees for attendance at the senior service schools.We place our people in special leadership programs at the leading universities in the country. Our NGA Geospatial Intelligence College, which trains more than 13,000 students a year in a variety of technical and non-technical topics, has leadership programs available to employees ranging down to the junior grades.These courses vary from a few hours in a classroom in the Headquarters to several days and weeks at off-site locations.We recently conducted a comprehensive survey of the NGA workforce.I am very pleased that the results indicate that the workforce gives NGA high marks for the value we place - and the opportunities we provide - in the areas of education and training.

HR: A recent news event was the announcing of the NextView contract with ORBIMAGE and the expanded reliance on commercial satellite imagery. This program seems to extend into 2008 along with continuing your relationship with DigitalGlobe.While a boon for commercial imagery, does this indicate a shift away from military satellites and greater reliance on other collection means, e.g.drones, or is it an expansion of your resource base?

JC: First, let me clarify that we actually have three separate items in place with regard to commercial satellite imagery - all of which terminate in 2008.One, ClearView, involves contracts with Space Imaging, DigitalGlobe, and ORBIMAGE for imagery and imagery derived products.ClearView has a total value of about $500 million with varying amounts to each company depending on underlying guarantees and a variety of competitive factors.Two, NextView DigitalGlobe is an agreement with a value of about $500 million.It helps to ensure that imagery will be available from the next generation of commercial satellites in the first quarter FY 2006 time-frame.Three, NextView ORBIMAGE is a similar agreement for about the same amount of money with imagery expected in the second quarter of FY07.
Why do we have a robust $1.5 billion interaction with the US commercial remote sensing industry? Well, for one, we have received guidance from the President to do all we can to support the industry.We have received similar guidance from the Director of Central Intelligence to use commercial imagery as our primary source for map-related products.We are not shifting away from military satellites.Instead, as your question suggests, we are expanding our resource base.

HR: At the ORBIMAGE press conference, it was reported that there were 33 initial companies interested in the contract.Obviously, most of them did not make the cut.A concern could be that there is a small company out there with a better mousetrap.Is there a process of continual technological evaluation so that these firms can be players as well in supplying imagery or other technologies?

JC: Keep in mind that the "cut" you refer to was not imposed by NGA.Industry members themselves decided whether they wanted to participate.We sent information about the project to about 33 companies and most of them participated in a process in which we provided more information about the NextView second vendor award.At the end of the process when we opened the envelopes from companies who were serious enough to bid there were two "primes" - each of whom had a list of subcontracting companies.So, everyone involved had equal knowledge and equal opportunity and made their own business decisions.

The only exception to this process was our precluding DigitalGlobe from being a prime bidder, while allowing them to participate as a sub.We wanted to ensure competition by having at least two companies in the mix.That said, your point about making sure small companies with good ideas have access to NGA is valid.That is why we have put right on our homepage a prominent link where companies can submit unsolicited proposals.When I was in private industry, I would get frustrated when government agencies would never respond to my great ideas.Now that I am back on the other side, I made sure NGA would be diligent in tracking these proposals and provide a company with a timely status of their idea, even if our response is "no thank you." People can live with a yes or no; it's the silence that is tough.Also, our InnoVision Directorate has contacts with federal labs, colleges and other outreach that opens the door to fresh ideas, so I think our record here is pretty good.

HR: I see in your newsletter an interesting use of fixed wing aircraft in obtaining imagery in Colombia.With all the parts of the world that we need spatial intelligence on, Colombia, the Middle East, Asia, etc., is there a danger that you could be spread a little thin, both in the means of collection and the people to do the collecting?

JC: I don't think it will be a surprise to you when I say that the requirements from our customers exceed our abilities to collect and process everything they want.It is certainly a challenge, but I would not characterize it as a danger. Our approach is risk management and we do this by working with our customers to establish our priorities.Since we can't do it all, we must concentrate on what we jointly agree are the most important tasks.Our intent is to have a basic foundation of geospatial intelligence across the world and then hone in on the areas and topics that our customers deem most important.This is a constant juggling process that changes from day to day depending on world events.The good news is that change and change management are a part of our everyday life so our workforce has become very adept and innovative.

HR: With the advent of resources like drones, automated data collections, advance visualization tools and other technologies, how do you find and retain people with current skill sets to apply those technologies and keep them current, when technical evolution is so fast? Even more important, how do you keep those skill sets current in people who are stationed remotely?

JC: GeoScout will be NGA's single point of entry to all National System for Geospatial-Intelligence (NSG) information.GeoScout is taking the lead as the integrator of all baseline components of the NSG.It is already engaged with geospatial installations and upgrades, workshops, training, and business process data collection designed to put the user in the driver's seat as new methods and technologies are developed.

GeoScout is transforming the NSG's people, processes, and technology.It involves improving corporate operations and staff knowledge, skills, and abilities and streamlining the way we do our jobs, tradecraft, and business practices.GeoScout also involves rapid technology insertion and upgrading enterprise-level information systems.

HR: A fun part of your job is working with some fascinating technologies in the areas of data mining, situational representation, scenario modeling and even communication technologies that are leading edge and only resident within the NGA.Is there an internal process that looks at the commercialization and de-classification of some of those technologies for commercial use?

JC: You may be surprised to learn that the reverse of what you describe is the norm. In other words, NGA works closely with industry to take its unclassified technology and use it as a platform upon which we add classified data.The crucial difference is that the data industry puts on top of the technologies is often protected because it is proprietary in nature and we protect our data because it is classified.But, the underlying technologies are the same.A good example is the gaming industry where we are very interested in their visualization techniques as a means to display classified information.

HR: In mapping software there are always the questions of standards.In the GIS industry there are organizations such as the OGC and they are not always successful to create and enforce standards.How has this been a factor for the NGA or do you just set your standards and expect the vendors to line up with them?

JC: You have correctly identified geospatial intelligence standards as an important issue for NGA.In fact, the issue is much bigger than just NGA.Standards are also important for the much larger and more inclusive National Geospatial-Intelligence System (NSG).As the Functional Manager for the NSG, I have established the National Center for Geospatial Intelligence Standards (NCGIS). The mission of NCGIS is setting, implementing, and advocating GEOINT standards and standards management processes and policies that promote interoperability and operational efficiency across the NSG community.The NSG community includes the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, and when and where appropriate, federal civil agencies as well as NGA's international mission co-producers and partners.Geospatial intelligence standards support elements of a geospatial intelligence infrastructure, such as data, data constructs, data services and information interoperability that can be measured.

HR: We have all watched the role of Intelligence Chief go from one of relative obscurity to one that may have more scrutiny than it deserves.Sometimes it is easy to forget that people in those roles are indeed people.As a career military man, you are used to adversity.At this job, what drives you the hardest - the mission, the people you work with, the nature of the job, the successes you are able to achieve?

JC: I'm not so sure that I would agree with you that DCIs have worked in relative obscurity.I think if you asked any of them they would say they had plenty of direction from many quarters - not the least of which was in public via the media and in private via the Congress.They might also agree that while occasionally uncomfortable, this oversight is a necessary part of the job.What drives me the most is the mission.If we don't accomplish the mission, then nothing else matters.It's axiomatic, however, that you can't accomplish the mission if you don't pay attention to the people you work with.Leaders who ignore this fact do so at their peril.It also helps that I am enthusiastic about NGA's contributions to the nation and very proud of its accomplishments.So, for me the mission is number one.

Published Thursday, November 11th, 2004

Written by Hal Reid

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