The History of NPIC

New book tells the story of the little-known CIA office

By Lindsay Tilton Mitchell

Feb. 17, 2016

Before the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), a small organization by the name of the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) started it all. President Eisenhower created NPIC in 1961 under CIA leadership. The office focused on solving national intelligence problems via photo interpretation and imagery analysis and was a key player in making decisions during the Cuban Missile Crisis and other Cold War events. NPIC became NIMA in 1996.

Little is known about NPIC, which is why author and former NGA Chief Learning Officer Jack O’Connor wrote a book about the organization. Released in September, “NPIC: Seeing the Secrets and Growing the Leaders” explores the center’s history, culture, leadership, and success.

O’Connor worked in the Intelligence Community for many years and was always intrigued by its history. He spent nearly five years researching the book, conducting many interviews and hundreds of emails with former NPIC employees, as well as digging through CIA and NGA archives.

npic ss

O’Connor was glad to have published the book in the same year transparency became an Intelligence Community buzzword.

“[NPIC] was an extraordinary little organization,” he said. “Internally, NPIC was transparent and everything was shared top to bottom.”

A key theme throughout the book is the many intelligence leaders produced by NPIC. O’Connor notes from the mid-1980s onward NPIC had become a seedbed for future senior executives for the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Two leaders in particular he highlights are former NPIC directors Arthur C. Lundahl and Robert “Rae” Huffstutler—both of whom made significant decisions for the U.S. during the Cold War.

“It was a very rewarding experience writing this book because I learned things about people I knew that they never talked about,” O’Connor said. “They all made a huge difference and I wanted to capture their stories in this book.”

“NPIC: Seeing the Secrets and Growing the Leaders” is available for purchase on Amazon.

To learn more about the history of NGA and the geospatial intelligence discipline,” check out trajectory’s Q1 2014 feature “The Defining Decade of GEOINT.”


Photo Credit: Jack O’Connor