NGA Magnifies the Value of Open Source GEOINT

By Chris Lee

Ed. note: This article originally appeared in the Jan./Feb. issue of the NGA's Pathfinder Magazine.

In the Intelligence Community (IC), open source refers to information that is unclassified, but of high interest within the national security arena. Where does it come from? From the Internet, books, journals, trade publications, economic and technical reports, subscription databases, newspapers, television and other sources. Given the prevailing IC view that the intelligence sources that matter most are classified sources, how valuable is open source? What does it contribute to the work of the IC in general and the geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) work of the NGA in particular?

In August 2008, NGA's Source Operations and Management Directorate stood up a Crisis Action Team (CAT) in anticipation of Hurricane Gustav. Analysts from the directorate's GEOINT Research Centers provided direct inputs to the CAT, including updated information about road, bridge and levee conditions derived solely from open sources. They also utilized open source data to assess post-hurricane damage on the intercoastal waterways and to provide detailed information on the precise locations of power outages. This support enabled decision makers and first responders to assess the overall damage from the hurricane, to gauge the magnitude of power outages and to reallocate resources based on need.

Open source GEOINT is vital to solving critical intelligence problems and supporting humanitarian and disaster assistance programs within the United States and abroad. NGA's knowledgeable research analysts use sophisticated search strategies, deep Web access techniques and numerous subscription databases to locate precise building locations in support of counterintelligence information requests, to track arms shipments in concert with counterproliferation experts, to aid in crisis support operations during natural disasters or military operations and to provide timely information for NGA's Time Dominant Operations Center.

In response to an Open Source Working Group survey finding that 90 percent of NGA's GEOINT production required open source data, NGA's Director, Vice Adm. Robert B. Murrett, established the Geospatial Open Source Management Authority (GOSMA). GOSMA is NGA's centralized functional management authority for open source geospatial activities.

Over the past year, the leadership of the Source directorate's Assessment and Global Foundations Group has worked with the GEOINT Research Centers and a five-member team from the NGA Open Source Center to craft Geospatial Open Source (GOS) policies and concepts of operations. The products facilitated the development of training programs and the mission, goals and objectives for NGA's geospatial open source activity. The team also laid the foundation for establishing and staffing a GOS center of excellence to serve as the steward for GOS within NGA and within the National System for Geospatial Intelligence, the GEOINT community comprising intelligence agencies, the U.S military, international partners and U.S. civilian agencies.

Although the IC exploits classified intelligence sources, the increasingly significant contributions and successes of open source GEOINT demonstrate how vital this intelligence collection method is in developing timely and accurate intelligence products. For that reason, NGA has become a leader in integrating open source GEOINT into its operations, thus making GEOINT an essential element in today's multi-intelligence environment.

Published Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Written by Chris Lee

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