Activity-Based Intelligence – Trajectory Magazine We are the official publication of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) – the nonprofit, educational organization supporting the geospatial intelligence tradecraft Fri, 19 Jan 2018 19:39:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Activity-Based Intelligence – Trajectory Magazine 32 32 127732085 Uncloaking Adversaries through GIS Mon, 18 Dec 2017 22:02:45 +0000 Using GIS for Activity Based Intelligence

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In modern conflicts, adversaries hide in plain sight. Their intentions are often disguised in overwhelming volumes of data. Intelligence organizations are implementing Activity Based Intelligence (ABI) to uncloak these adversaries. ABI applies geographic thinking in new ways to help solve today’s complex intelligence problems.

At any given moment, every person, thing, place, or activity is connected to place and time. This spatiotemporal data is essential for intelligence. It is captured by sensors, transactions, and observations, which intelligence analysts can bring together in a Geographic Information System (GIS). GIS manages data that’s critical to discovering the unknown. GIS analytic tools transform data into intelligence, which drives action.

Today’s challenge is scaling out this workflow to the entire intelligence community, moving ABI practices from small, resource-rich teams to put them in the hands of every analyst. This will require organizations to harness the latest advances in technology and bring order to the growing volume of intelligence data.

Space/Time Data Conditioning

Activity data comes from a variety of sources and requires specific conditioning before it is useful. Location is the only common value across the data sources and can be used to integrate disparate data sources. GIS allows analysts to define rules to integrate multiple data sources. Integrating data shows patterns where none previously existed.

Insights combined (Photo credit: Esri)

A large volume of intelligence comes through manual intelligence reporting. These techniques might be Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) specialists watching drones or Human Intelligence (HUMINT) agents in the field. Structured observations become data points, which are integrated along with all the other sensor data, adding to the known intelligence data. After geo-referenceing, the data can be geo-enriched. This process connects observation data with foundation intelligence. Foundation intelligence provides context about the environment where these activities occur: cultural factors like religion, language, and ethnicity; the physical environment—urban or rural; and known locations like safe houses and meeting places. Connecting observations with known information gives critical context and helps find the suspicious activity within all the normal activity occurring around it.

Enabling a Spatiotemporal Data Environment

As the functional manager for geospatial, NGA, hosts the Intelligence Community GIS Portal (IC GIS Portal). While Sue Gordon was deputy director of NGA she stated “The IC GIS Portal, which is our first GEOINT service and provides easy access to NGA data, is now about two years old. Within that time, we’ve grown from zero users to almost 60,000 users worldwide.” This demonstrates the power of this data environment for supporting intelligence analysis, access to foundation GEOINT, and simple collaboration/sharing.

Access to this foundation intelligence and analyst reporting is critical to enabling ABI workflows. In addition, the GIS platform capabilities are expanding with cloud- based applications and services for real-time and big data analytics. GIS can connect to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) systems to assist in automated intelligence production and alerting. Imagery will be connected to these systems to enable on-the-fly analysis and production. As new data types are integrated, analysts will be able to spend less time on data conditioning and more time on analysis.

Enabling the Analyst

Ultimately, for ABI workflows to be successful, analysts need to be able to use their cognitive ability to make connections in the data. They need to leverage a powerful suite of analytic tools and visualization capabilities to make sense of data. They need to be able to create products which expose their analysis along with the underlying data and workflows.

Integrate intelligence information using space and time (Photo credit: Esri)

ABI takes a discovery approach to building intelligence. Rather than merely providing updates on current intelligence, the ABI method calls for integrating all-source intelligence with other data to discover and monitor relevant information. With integrated data, analysts can discover a threat signature or indicator otherwise not discernable. 

GIS provides visualization and analytic tools for working with intelligence data. Maps, the foundational of a GIS, can be used to understand complex patterns and visualize the spatial importance and relevance of data at a specific time. Geospatial analysis tools can be used to find statistically significant patterns in the data and to help predict future outcomes. Analysts use these visualizations to explore data and to develop assessments.

Implementing an Activity Based Intelligence Platform

ABI is emerging as a formal method of discovery intelligence. With ABI’s foundation in spatial thinking, GIS technology is a key enabler. An enterprise GIS creates a spatiotemporal data environment capable of connecting analysts with foundation intelligence data and applications for analysis and production. These tools have been implemented successfully in many organizations and have proved to scale to even the most complex agencies.

  • If you are interested in learning more about how to leverage GIS technology and ABI methodologies in your organization, visit or contact us at

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The Future of GEOINT Tue, 26 Sep 2017 13:21:27 +0000 Why activity-based intelligence and machine learning demonstrate that the future of GEOINT has already arrived

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Editor’s Note: Barry Barlow is chief technology officer at Vencore. Guest posts are intended to foster discussion and do not represent the official position of USGIF or trajectory magazine.

GEOINT, shorthand for geospatial intelligence, is a term created by then director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, to define a fundamentally unique foundational element of intelligence. In his October 2005 memo on GEOINT, Clapper explained the subject as follows:

GEOINT encompasses all aspects of imagery … and geospatial information and services. … It includes, but is not limited to … the analysis of literal imagery; geospatial data; and information technically derived from the processing, exploitation, literal, and non-literal analysis of spectral, spatial, and temporal … fused products (that is, products created out of two or more data sources). … These types of data can be collected on stationary and moving targets by electro-optical …, [synthetic aperture radar (SAR)] …, related sensor programs …, and non-technical means (to include geospatial information acquired by personnel in the field). 

A few future concepts from the abbreviated definition illustrate that the future of GEOINT is now.

Activity-Based Intelligence (ABI): This methodology to discover and resolve unknown entities and objects and depict a pattern of life is almost always included as a “future GEOINT trend” in any report on the subject. Clapper assumed ABI would be a foundational element of GEOINT—“these types of data can be collected on stationary and moving targets”—hence his desire to provide the broadest possible definition of GEOINT—“all aspects of imagery and geospatial information and services.” The incorporation of full motion video into the GEOINT domain was a leading indicator in the shift from reconnaissance to surveillance and from periodic collections to persistence, which is made easier by other future trends such as small satellites and the Internet of Things.

Two ABI precepts, data neutrality and integration before exploitation, highlight the need for another future trend: big data analytics. Big data analytics can provide hypotheses on the intention, strategies, or motivations of an adversary or ally. Ideally, analytics are anticipatory in nature and will be completed long before an issue appears on one’s radar as actionable intelligence. Again, Clapper’s definition of GEOINT was purposefully broad relative to data sources (e.g., literal and non-literal) as one could not know in advance all the questions or issues that would require a GEOINT response. Implicit in the definition is the desire to understand hidden patterns or correlations between related but unique sources. What unique intelligence can we gain from infrared, spectral, or SAR? Or, can we confirm with a greater degree of confidence a finding that we suspected?

Machine Learning: This technological advance is either a necessary post-condition of the explosion in GEOINT content or a pre-condition to ABI and big data analytics, or both. Increases in machine learning are used daily for all of the above reasons and more. For example, machine learning is used to increase confidence in an analytic result through triangulation of analytic results. Virtually any forecast for the explosive growth of GEOINT content in the next year or decade ends with the conclusion that organic assets (i.e., people) cannot keep up with the pace of information. Machine learning is the only practicable solution on the horizon.  

NGA Director Robert Cardillo noted in his keynote address at GEOINT 2017: “For ‘Team GEOINT’—this is our time. We are standing where the SIGINT community stood when the internet became the digital fabric of the planet. And whether our new, persistent view of the world comes from space, air, sea, or ground—in five years, there may be a million times more than the amount of geospatial data that we have today. … We’ll either sink, or we’ll swim, or we’ll ride the rising tide. I say we ride!

I could not agree more. The point is not that we won’t see new capabilities in the future—of course we will.

In keeping with the famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “The future depends on what you do today,” the GEOINT domain abounds with potential for new development. 

There is enough yet unexplored territory in the current GEOINT landscape for us to make our mark, to reach new horizons, and to fulfill the promise of the GEOINT premise as envisioned not quite 12 years ago. 

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RGi: Reinventing GEOINT for the Nation’s Soldiers Wed, 03 May 2017 13:42:32 +0000 Q&A with RGi president and CEO Stephen Gillotte

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Q: What does RGi stand for?

Reinventing Geospatial Inc.’ When we first started in 2009, you didn’t come across the word ‘reinventing’ very often, but at this point it’s a common concept. Every third commercial I see is reinventing this, reinventing that. It has really moved away from the negative cliché of ‘there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.’

I designed RGi to be a bold statement to drive the GEOINT Community to do better. Reinventing how we continue to achieve dominance over our adversary is a common theme for us. We believe our nation’s soldiers deserve the best through innovation and rapid delivery of capability. So many people in our community come to us with problems, not solutions. We need to reinvent solutions to existing problems to move forward.

RGi delivers data directly into the hands of soldiers in austere environments. Photo credit: RGi

Q: Who are RGi’s core customers and how does your technology make a difference?

Our primary customer is the U.S. Army as well as other federal agencies. We specialize in consulting and engineering services, focusing on C3I (Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence) and in operational and tactical environments. We specialize in how to make capabilities from the agencies accessible in the field across very low bandwidth. We’re making a direct impact by developing innovative GEOINT capabilities designed to operate in our Army’s austere, unclean environment.

Over the past few years we’ve improved soldiers’ abilities to share GEOINT data from our enterprise and cloud providers and brought that to them at the tactical level. We’ve also helped improve interoperability and the sharing of content among Army systems so the commander has better situational awareness. We take pride in improving the performance and usability of capabilities we’re deploying to the tactical edge, enabling soldiers to adapt to the dynamic tactics of our adversary.

Q: What are RGi’s current research and development initiatives?

We are pursuing a number of R&D initiatives. One is cyber terrain and how we define situational awareness. Our goal is to enable the commander to affect the battle space by giving him or her the ability to align both cyber and warfare tactics to create insight.

The second is predictive, activity-based intelligence planning. This is one of our two machine learning initiatives in which we’re developing a language processing algorithm that analyzes open-source intelligence and pairs it with tactical operational data to predict where and when an event will occur.

Q: RGi was named a “2017 Best Place to Work in Virginia” by Virginia Business and Best Companies Group. How would you describe your office culture?

We were honored with the award and attribute it to the fact that we hire great people that do great work, and make work fun along the way. We only hire the brightest and best engineers, and one of the key aspects of our culture is allowing employees the freedom to make a difference for the customers.

We also have a strong team culture in which employees are expected to push themselves to consistently deliver the best capabilities to our customers. We believe we’ve found the sweet spot of embracing and encouraging the natural creativity of our engineers, while keeping focused on the very real issues facing our defense and intelligence customers.

Q: What are some GEOINT trends you are witnessing and how are you responding to them?

The big trend in the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community is an increasing reliance on enterprise and cloud-based infrastructures to store, analyze, and exploit an exponentially growing amount of GEOINT data. This is a huge issue, especially for the DoD and Army because of the austere and disconnected, intermittent, and limited networked environments. Our users, either by necessity, mission, requirement, or choice, need to operate in these environments. In the future, in terms of Army networks, tactical commanders will also require more bandwidth than what’s available. To address this challenge, RGi has prepositioned terabytes of users, systems, and mission-required data at the tactical edge.

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MDA: Detecting the Unexpected Wed, 02 Nov 2016 02:47:14 +0000 /?p=27840 MDA Geospatial Services International provides insight to a variety of customers

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Like many companies providing products and solutions to the GEOINT Community, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) is involved in more than just intelligence and surveillance. While the company is probably best known in the GEOINT world for operating the RADARSAT program, MDA is a multinational communications and information company that does business in sectors ranging from satellite imagery and remote sensing to space robotics and robotic surgery.

David Belton, vice president of MDA Geospatial Services International, said there are two core pillars to his business unit.

“One is the satellite image products and their derived services—that’s clearly the overarching source of data for the majority of services we provide, including standard image products, mosaics, DEMs, and others,” Belton said. “The other pillar is our overall change detection service capability, which we draw on multiple information sources and sensors to perform.”

MDA was founded in Vancouver, Canada, in 1969 as an Earth observation and remote sensing company. As it grew, MDA leveraged its remote sensing capabilities for other opportunities, such as supplying satellite ground stations for government customers.

The company began to invest in geospatial intelligence services in 1993, when it helped launch RADARSAT International, the company responsible for commercializing RADARSAT-1 products and services. MDA eventually acquired RADARSAT International as a wholly owned subsidiary and rebranded it as MDA Geospatial Services International in 2006.

Since its entry into the geospatial services industry, MDA has been the commercial distributor of products and services derived from RADARSAT-1, which ended its mission in March 2013. MDA continues to operate RADARSAT-2, which it launched in 2007. One of MDA’s major collaborations with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is a multi-year supply mechanism for RADARSAT data products, which NGA and other U.S. government customers use for a variety of defense and civil applications.

“One of the primary uses of RADARSAT data is daily charting of ice in the Arctic that is performed by the National Ice Center,” Belton said.

In addition to standard imagery products from RADARSAT-2, MDA also offers change detection services, providing additional surveillance information not offered by standard image products.

“Our change detection services use both optical and radar data sources that provide imagery over very broad areas at moderate resolution, as opposed to very high-resolution data sets,” Belton said. “And the reason we use those types of data sets is the value we deliver looking at very broad regions. We tip and cue where [our users] should be looking.”

Belton added this approach is particularly useful when locating important areas of activity that are essentially hiding in plain sight.

“We have customers who are interested in all the activity that’s happening in large regions like the Middle East, for example,” he said. “There are known hot spots and places where the high-value targets are understood. However, what are often missed are the unknown areas of interest. We have services and products that help to uncover and detect human activity in places where no activity is expected.”

In addition to observing human activity, MDA’s change detection services monitor many different types of changes with applications for a wide range of industries. Some of these include offshore oil monitoring, deforestation and crop monitoring, maritime surveillance, obstruction and airport mapping, and surface asset monitoring for mining.

Looking ahead, Belton said MDA Geospatial Services International has its eye on the current trend of satellite constellations made up of multiple small satellites, rather than a large, single satellite.

“The much reduced cost of building and launching satellites today, compared to five years ago, has enabled the constellation trend,” he said. “It’s a bit of a game changer in terms of the data supply … It still remains to be seen the degree to which these new providers can offer a meaningful, high-value service. We’re closely monitoring the situation to see where things go, and exploring business partnerships with the new providers. We’re also participating in some of the constellation initiatives through other parts of our company.”

Specifically, MDA is building and will launch in 2018 the RADARSAT Constellation Mission as part of a project sponsored by the Canadian government. The constellation will consist of three satellites and extend the capabilities currently provided by RADARSAT-2, enabling faster repeat coverage and targeted revisits.

“That’s the next generation,” Belton said. “It’s a different business model than RADARSAT-2 as it is a Canadian government-owned mission, but we’re in discussions to commercialize the data. We’re positioning for the future evolution of that business, so we can supply data to the international community in 2019 and beyond.”

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Demystifying ABI Fri, 08 Apr 2016 08:31:00 +0000 New textbook explains activity-based intelligence

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For years, the term activity-based intelligence (ABI), while often used in the Intelligence Community, has lacked definition. In an effort to better explain ABI and make it a more mainstream topic, Patrick Biltgen, technical director of analytics at Vencore, and Stephen Ryan, chief architect of Northrop Grumman’s mission systems sector, published a new textbook that dives into ABI’s core values and answers common questions.

Released in January, Activity-based Intelligence: Principles and Applications is the first public textbook that explains key ABI principles and applications of this emerging tradecraft. Biltgen said the book is intended for a broad audience of readers to include students, entry-level analysts, engineers, senior government leaders, and industry technologists.

Act based Intell

“Much of intelligence is reporting on targets we already know and asking focused questions to get answers,” Biltgen said. “With ABI you don’t know the question—you have to discover it. The book is about bringing the community up to speed on the technologies and techniques that are important in a world of big data.”

USGIF has helped foster the Intelligence Community’s growing understanding of ABI. Many public references to ABI listed in the textbook are from either USGIF’s ABI Working Group forums or past GEOINT Symposia. The book also cites trajectory’s 2012 cover story “A Better Toolbox,” which helped bring ABI into the GEOINT Community spotlight. The first public mentioning of ABI, according to the authors, was at the GEOINT 2010 Symposium.

Not only does the 434-page book define ABI and its history, it also discusses how ABI is essential to anticipatory intelligence, policing, multi-INT, visual analytics, and other disciplines. The book defines ABI using real-life examples such as the 2002 D.C. beltway sniper attacks and the 2014 Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappearance. The authors believe these open-source examples enhance the transparency of this emerging tradecraft and showcase the power of GEOINT to tackle a diverse array of problems.

Biltgen said he could foresee a second edition of the textbook given the incredible amount of ABI breakthroughs continuing to develop.

“I can see Stephen and I partnering with universities to teach short courses in ABI,” Biltgen said. “Everyone in the community is interested in how ABI techniques can be applied to new mission areas. We see this book as the beginning of a long conversation on how to leverage new technology and tradecraft for strategic advantage.”

The textbook is available for purchase on Amazon.

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Exploring the GEOINT Lexicon Tue, 23 Jun 2015 09:48:23 +0000 /exploring-the-geoint-lexicon/ A multi-tiered vetting process would help define tradecraft language

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A panel of industry, government, and academic experts discussed the GEOINT lexicon—essentially exploring the very essence of geospatial intelligence—Monday during a GEOINT Foreword concurrent session.

“[When] I think of ‘intelligence,’” said Shawn Kalis, director of strategy and proposal management for Applied Research Solutions. “You’ll see over 100 definitions. Words mean different things even within the Department of Defense.”

The lack of a common language within the GEOINT Community affects how people communicate, proposals are funded, and contracts are fulfilled.

Among the many questions posed at the outset of the conversation: How do you define terms that are dynamic? Where to begin? How do you consider the perspectives of a warfighter, Wall Street analyst, and all users in between?

Daniela Moody, a scientist in the Intelligence and Space Research Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, cited the community’s long and challenging process for defining activity-based intelligence (ABI) as an example—and said even the ABI definition includes the vague term ‘multi-INT.’

Diana Sinton, executive director of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, referenced the popularity of crowdsourcing and suggested a Wiki format to capture input and definitions from various audiences. This idea was embraced and revisited throughout the session.

Kalis noted the challenge of determining who will have authority over the definitions on a page such as a Wiki.

“We don’t want it so structured that [people are] like, ‘Well, that’s NGA’s definition; we’re the Air Force,’” Kalis said.

Of course, a new lexicon resource should be digital and accessible, Sinton added.

Kalis said he’d like a one-stop shop to look up terms—such as AcronymFinder, which he uses today.

Monday’s discussion was the first in a series of planned conversations concerning the GEOINT lexicon. The conversation will continue in August at the ENVI Analytics Symposium in Boulder, Colo., hosted by Exelis.

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Opening the Door to ABI Mon, 23 Jun 2014 04:00:00 +0000 USGIF’s ABI Working Group develops unclassified data set

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USGIF’s Activity-Based Intelligence Working Group (ABIWG) is using GEOINT 2013* Symposium activity to develop an unclassified ABI data set that will be available to USGIF members for tool development and demonstrations.

Since launching in late 2012, the ABIWG has grown considerably to include representatives from 64 companies and organizations. The group also hosts at-capacity flash talks and forums. The next classified ABI forum is scheduled for July 24-25 at Heritage Conference Center in Chantilly, Va.

The main objective of the data set is to make the ABI market more attainable for small companies without access to the type of data necessary to develop ABI solutions, most of which is classified.

“The whole point of the working group is to be a connections tool between industry and government, and unfortunately the government—out of habit and a lot of other related restrictions—tends to talk to the people that they’re currently talking to,” said Jeff DeTroye, co-chair of the ABIWG and vice president of special programs for Analytical Graphics Inc. “They don’t hear as much from the smaller companies or the companies that don’t have much in the way of security clearances. Those companies have great ideas, but they don’t have anything to bounce their ideas off of. The larger companies with access to classified data already have data sets to work with.”

In addition to USGIF members, the data set may also prove useful for academic institutions.

“USGIF is a great vehicle to collect and provide research data,” said Erf Porter, ABIWG co-chair and special programs manager with MITRE Corp.

The ABIWG invited attendees to opt in for anonymous RFID tag tracking while in the GEOINT 2013* exhibit hall, and also gathered data via three cameras positioned throughout the hall. More than 600 people elected to wear an RFID tag, while both the professional event photographers and the ABIWG cameras gathered more than 30,000 photographs of exhibit hall activity. The ABIWG also collected social media data associated with GEOINT 2013*, and the Naval Post-graduate School shared with the working group LiDAR data it collected in the exhibit hall.

Some examples of information that could be derived from the data include : Who is an exhibitor vs. an attendee? How many populations were present at the event and who is a member of which? What sort of traffic anomalies occurred in the hall? Such scenarios are analogous to red force vs. blue force tracking and other ABI problem sets.

Although originally intended for smaller companies, larger companies have already expressed interest in the unclassified data set, according to DeTroye.

“It’s going to be a very interesting data set to explore,” DeTroye said. “It will be able to address a lot of issues that are in the ABI hard problems list in a way that’s much less constraining than any classified data set you may have acquired.”

The ABIWG anticipates the data set will be available in June to any USGIF member organization along with guidelines to ensure individual identities and personal information is protected.

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SOF Prepares for Global Future Thu, 08 Aug 2013 14:53:38 +0000 In the post-9/11 era, U.S. Special Operations Command shifts its focus toward international partnerships

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Special Operations is more than Hollywood makes it out to be, according to Adm. William McRaven, who commanded the team that carried out the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. It’s not all kicking down doors and dealing with villains in the dark of night, McRaven expressed to an audience gathered at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in May. Special forces don’t play pingpong and toss around a football at a forward operating base, just waiting idly for a call to check weapons, jump on a helicopter, and get rid of a bad guy. Many played football in school, yes, but now they play chess and have mortgages and families they wish they could be at home with more often.

“The reality of the matter is the counterterrorism piece, the direct-action piece of what we do is a very small part of our portfolio,” said McRaven, who heads U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. “The more important part of what we do is building partner capability [and] our day-to-day interaction with our allies and partners around the globe.”

McRaven went on to discuss his vision for the future of Special Operations. Shaping the future of the command has been his goal since assuming leadership two years ago, often drawing from assessments by two former high-ranking government officials.

Fundamentally, picturing human geography for users has an underlying geospatial aspect to it because you have to visualize where this tribe’s boundaries end and where the tribal chief lives. It’s how the operators interact with the information in the geospatial layer.”

—Rear Adm. Thomas Brown

In May 2012, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of terrorism threats becoming “so complex, fast-moving, and cross-cutting that no one nation could ever hope to solve them alone.”

Three months earlier, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed a strategic guidance calling for light and agile units with smaller footprints that can partner with other nations and disperse throughout the world.

“These sorts of things are core competencies of our U.S. Special Operations Command,” McRaven said. “We have had Special Operations operators out around the globe for decades, but now we have the ability through communications technology to be able to kind of knit this capability together.”

Marsoc marines learn to maneuver a Zodiac, a rigid hull inflatable boat, during an amphibious assault course in Key West, Fla., March 2012. Photo credit: Master Sgt. Larry Carpenter

To perform the knitting, McRaven meets with elected officials, academics, and industry leaders. He educates decision makers and their influencers that Special Operations Forces (SOF) should have a future different from the decade past. Or, at least, a future different from the Iraq and Afghanistan portrayed in movies, books, and video games.

“You have to understand, we now have field grade officers who came into the military after 9/11,” said Col. Stuart Bradin, who is leading the creation of a vision for a global SOF network by the next decade, known as “SOCOM 2020.” “We’ve got people in government who only know what we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, so absolutely it’s an education piece—internally and externally.”

Seeking Balance

After a dozen years of highly publicized success, SOCOM aims to work to the left of war, helping other countries stop conflict before it starts or at least keep it contained. To do so, the command needs help.

“We’re building a network of stakeholders,” said Bradin. “It’s not just us … It’s not just [Department of Defense]. We’re looking for a lot of stakeholders who collaborate and communicate inside what we call the Phase 1 and Phase Zero activities, which are pre-hostility.”

The State Department is among these stakeholders, because, “We do not do anything—nothing— that doesn’t have the approval of the chief of mission, of the ambassador who’s there,” McRaven said.

However, the Department of State is among those agencies wary of SOCOM ramping up its influence.

“First, we have the question of authorities,” said Gregory Kausner, deputy assistant secretary and head of the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, in remarks on a panel at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis in June.

“Some have urged for the creation of separate and unique authorities for SOCOM to conduct long-term, train-and-equip activities. I think it’s important to note, however, that there is a wide range of existing State and DoD security cooperation mechanisms out there, which can be used to build partner capacity without duplicating or substantially overlapping existing authorities.”

Kausner said the State Department applauds SOCOM’s goal to become an increasingly flexible, agile, and ready command. However, he added, “We also see the need for continued improvement in balancing and synchronizing SOF programs with broader U.S. foreign policy goals.”

Military First

From front to back, Special Operations is military. While its personnel in a global network would work with host nation counterparts and the local U.S. embassy team, they would answer to Theater Special Operations Commanders (TSOCs) and, through them, to the theater geographic commanders.

This is done now, to some extent, in a less formal arrangement. At any given time, Special Operations Forces has as few as one person stationed in 75-100 countries, conducting exercises, testing, and teaching.

But, how many SOF nodes would it take to cover the entire globe, and where would they all be located?

“To be honest with you, we don’t know,” Bradin said. “Now, each of the TSOCs are framing or mentoring this process. It all depends on what form it takes. It’s a little premature.”

Building Intelligence

What is known is that a global SOF network will require specialized intelligence.

Working with local defense forces requires more cultural understanding. More formal intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance will also be necessary to find and target enemies for the local warriors. The question is, how formal should the ISR be?

“In Afghanistan, because it’s a declared war zone, there’s a lot of latitude about types of ISR,” said Rear Adm. Thomas Brown, a former Special Operations chief with U.S. Southern Command, and now the director of military support with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). “But when you get outside a declared war zone, you have to work with a partner nation to figure out what they’re comfortable with.”

To do so, there will be an emphasis on versatility and agility, said Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel, chief of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which studies Special Operations requirements and tactics, at a recent conference in Tampa.

“Plug-and-play ISR is very important to [JSOC],” he said. “We need to be able to select the right tool for the right environment.”

Disparate environments will tax ISR resources to the point where inter-service partnerships will become essential.

“For SOF to go global, it can’t own the entire architecture,” said Val Shuey, intelligence program manager for SOCOM. “We have to partner out [with all of the services]. With everything we do within SOF, we’re looking to share the data, use other people’s data, use other people’s tools and applications.”

Intelligence Foundation

In spanning the globe, Special Operations will build on lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, but intelligence won’t end with full-motion video and signals. It may not begin with them, either. After more than a decade of operations on known terrain, Special Operations will now infiltrate areas where there is little baseline knowledge.

“Two things of importance are ABI (activity-based intelligence)…and the human geography effort,” Brown said of SOF needs for the future. NGA, which anticipates placing representatives in the global Special Operations nodes, is among the trailblazers in activity-based intelligence methodology.

“That’s a kind of intelligence where, rather than focusing on a particular plane or ship or space, you’re focusing on activity and transactions,” said Brown. “And that’s what SOCOM needs [in order] to understand what an adversarial network might be doing.”

Members of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan provide medical aid for local villagers in Nagahan, Afghanistan, April 5, 2010. Photo credit: U.S. Army Sgt. Patricia Ballou

Human geography will be especially important in far-flung Special Operations nodes, according to Brown.

“Fundamentally, picturing human geography for users has an underlying geospatial aspect to it because you have to visualize where this tribe’s boundaries end and where the tribal chief lives,” Brown said. “It’s how the operators interact with the information in the geospatial layer.”

Human geography is critical “for the guy on the ground, because he’s operating at a disadvantage in a place he doesn’t know, with people, perhaps, that he doesn’t know that well,” Brown added. “Human geography can give him a leg up in understanding their environment.”

SOCOM 2020 will focus on different environments than SOF has been concentrated in for the past decade, and command leadership’s hope is to keep it that way. But the Hollywood Special Forces image will likely linger long after Zero Dark Thirty is shown on cable television.

Featured image: U.S. Air Force members conduct a high altitude, low opening mission during Emerald Warrior 2012, Hurburt Field, Fla., March 4, 2012. The purpose of Emerald Warrior is to exercise special operations components in urban and irregular warfare settings. Photo credit: Master Sgt. Larry Carpenter

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A Better Toolbox Thu, 22 Nov 2012 02:18:28 +0000 Analytic methodology has evolved significantly since the Cold War

The post A Better Toolbox appeared first on Trajectory Magazine.

Analytic methodology has evolved significantly since the bipolar standoff between the East and West that was the Cold War, during which intelligence collection targeted specific objects that were easy to find but difficult to stop—tanks and other armored vehicles, naval ships and submarines, and planes.

As intelligence has shifted its focus from these specific objects to the actions and movement of individuals, the emerging concept of activity-based intelligence (ABI) has generated significant buzz throughout the Intelligence Community. Robert Zitz, a former senior executive with NGA, NSA, and the NRO, described ABI as a “natural evolution” that has taken place since the Cold War.

“In the past you knew what to look for and where to find it,” Zitz said.

With ABI, data on activities and transactions is collected over a larger area, and often stored in a database to be discovered at a later date.

During the Cold War, Zitz said, intelligence methodology was a serial, collection-driven process with analysts at the end of the chain. Today, the methodology has shifted to a non-linear strategy for seeking unknown unknowns, throughout which analysts are significantly more involved in the collection process.

Scott White, vice president for intelligence with Northrop Grumman and the former associate deputy director of the CIA until 2010, explains ABI as a methodology where analysis drives collection focused on activity and transactions.

“ABI is not a new concept,” White said. “It’s been used in the past in the Intelligence Community in pockets.”

Although most Cold War intelligence initiatives were a stark contrast to the modern ABI methodology, the foundation of ABI actually goes back as far as the Cold War, according to White. He referred to the Navy’s pioneering Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS), a persistent underwater sonar system used to track the activity of submarines during the ’70s and ’80s, as an example.

The forward-thinking, persistent technology deployed with SOSUS was a preview of today’s full-motion video (FMV) technology that has brought ABI to the forefront, White said. He added that operational strategy has shifted from an emphasis on reconnaissance to surveillance with the advent of irregular warfare.

As FMV capabilities have become more readily available with the increasing popularity of UAVs, other open source information outlets such as social media have exploded as well, driving an exponential increase in the amount of useful data. Meanwhile, data storage architectures such as cloud computing, and data analysis tools such as high-speed processing and complex algorithms are beginning to catch up with the data deluge.

“The evolution of the needs met the evolution of the technology,” Zitz said.

As this perfect storm brews, ABI was a common theme on the main stage in October at the GEOINT 2012 Symposium, with many in the Community seeking to understand what exactly ABI is, why it is such a hot topic, and how to gear up for this impending sea change.

Analysis Driven

Zitz, who is now senior vice president and chief systems architect with SAIC’s ISR group, points to special operations forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan following 9/11 as one of the driving factors to what has evolved into ABI.

“Special operations were not only melding SIGINT and GEOINT, but then bringing in HUMINT and OSINT,” Zitz said. “How they evolved in terms of their needs and uses of
integrated intelligence, this has really evolved into this methodology called ABI.”

Meanwhile, a group of GEOINT analysts deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan began pulling intelligence disciplines together around the 2004-2006 timeframe, according to Dave Gauthier, chief of strategic capabilities in the office of special programs at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and also the agency’s lead for ABI.

These analysts hit upon a concept called “geospatial multi-INT fusion,” Gauthier said, through which they pulled together data from various intelligence disciplines into one large database, recognizing that the one field all data had in common was location.

This database could then be queried when new information came to bear, and used to connect locations and roll up terrorist networks, a process that was recently coined “geo-chaining,” Gauthier added.

“It’s the way to understand the network when you look at location,” he said.

Over time, analysts built up a training process around geospatial multi-INT fusion and geo-chaining, and continued to develop and prove the methodology, Gauthier said. This evolved into the building blocks for ABI.

However, analysts using ABI are often faced with the challenges of “the four Vs:” volume, velocity, variety, and veracity of the data.

“ABI is a way to overcome that and turn big data into an advantage,” Gauthier said.

Although many in the Intelligence Community are still hesitant to declare a formal definition for ABI, there is no disputing that the development of the methodology is being fueled by the need to process big data.

“Volume must become our friend,” said Michael Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence (USD(I)), during a keynote address at GEOINT 2012. “Our goal is not to miss anything, and large volumes of data support that goal. We just need to make sure that our enterprise infrastructure supports the provisioning of volume and variety of data we need, at the velocity we need it, to the right people or machines.”

In 2010, USD(I) released two strategic guidance papers on irregular warfare and human terrain, with much written about ABI, defining it as a discipline of intelligence where the analysis and subsequent collection is focused on the activity and transactions associated with an entity, population, or area of interest.

However, this definition is considered slightly outdated by most experts in the burgeoning field, if only because it refers to ABI as an intelligence discipline rather than an analytic methodology. But what’s the difference?

Jeff DeTroye, who retired in September as the commander of the ground station at the National Reconnaissance Office’s ADF-East facility, views ABI as a new toolbox to tackle any intelligence problem.

From DeTroye’s perspective, ABI is a methodology that can be deployed across disciplines, rather than a discipline in itself.

“If you turn it into a discipline then not everybody’s using it,” DeTroye said.

In the Army, ABI is yet to be recognized as a doctrinal term, said Maj. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, during a breakout session on ABI at the GEOINT 2012 Symposium.

“Currently, if you look through an army manual or joint pub you won’t see ABI in there,” Fogarty said.

Instead, the principal related issues the Army is focused on are real-time intelligence collection and fusion, Fogarty added.

“Whatever we call ABI, it has to sense the activity that is important to us, it has to be delivered in a format and in a timeframe that allows decision makers to decide and be able to act,” Fogarty said. “Otherwise all we’re going to do is shoot behind the rabbit or we’re going to be late with whatever our humanitarian mission is.”

Let the Data Find You

Despite lack of an official and uniform definition, there is a strong consensus emerging throughout the Community as to the components, or pillars, that comprise the ABI methodology.

Dr. Patrick Biltgen, a senior mission engineer for BAE Systems in its GEOINT-ISR sector, said that while the concept of ABI may be difficult to articulate, the approach is much easier to grasp when seen in action.

“I think people are trying to redefine ABI,” Biltgen said. “But the practitioners of ABI say, ‘I know unequivocally what it is because I’ve been doing it.’ If you’re saying we need to define it, I don’t think you understand it. It’s a very simple concept.”

The first main component of ABI is “geo-reference to discover,” which means persistently collecting data on activity and transactions over a broad area or with a variety of sources, then storing it in a database to be discovered later when it intersects with other data.

“Everything happens somewhere and if you can visualize that and understand it, then trends and patterns in the network start to jump out,” Biltgen said.

NGA’s Gauthier describes this component as allowing the data to find you.

“By recording this activity in bulk, we can look for unknown unknowns,” Gauthier said. “That basically means unknown targets with unknown behaviors.”

He compared the process to the massive fingerprint database used by law enforcement.

“That is the concept of building your database for when you need it in the future,” Gauthier said. “They’re not relevant now, but someday they might be relevant to solving a case that we haven’t thought of yet.”

An operational example of this could be using wide-area motion imagery to process vehicle tracks and capture and store data such as the license plate of every vehicle in Baghdad.

“Most of them may always be irrelevant, but there’s the idea that some of them will be relevant in the future when an event happens,” Gauthier said.

The second concept in the ABI methodology is “sequence neutrality,” which also draws upon forensics by looking for clues in the data, both backward and forward in time.

“We usually expect things to go A to B to C,” Biltgen said. “In ABI it doesn’t go like that. We get the data but don’t know what it means. We might tag it and set it aside. Sometimes the answers come in before the questions.”

White said the sequence neutrality component represents a shift away from the traditional paradigm of the tasking, collection, processing, exploitation, and dissemination intelligence cycle. Instead, he said, ABI takes a more analytic-centric approach focused on defining the activity being sought, orchestrating a collection suite, and executing.

In other words, seeking “temporally and spatially what activity is going on in that particular space on earth rather than at just one point,” White said.

Dr. Eileen Preisser, director of the Air Force GEOINT Office at NGA, said ABI methodology is still emerging in the Air Force as her office works with its development at NGA, and the benefits of these key components are beginning to be recognized throughout the service.

“Big data is how we empower non-linear analytics,” Preisser said. “That crazy stuff I collected today in some remote corner of nowhere may be the golden ticket for an analyst in several years or several hours.”

The third component to ABI is “data neutrality,” or the idea that all data is good and not to be biased toward any one data source. Usable data encompasses a full range, from open source intelligence, such as information derived from social media, all the way to the most closely held human intelligence-derived information.

“This is one of the hardest things for the Community to deal with—the notion that all data is equal,” Biltgen said.

With the ABI approach, disparate data is pulled together to understand what’s going on, meaning a particular data point may not reveal itself as “good” or “bad” until later on.

A fourth component that isn’t discussed as often, but is also critical according to Gauthier, is knowledge management. For example, when the ABI methodology is used to uncover associations in data or discover a network, it is important to capture the network in a knowledge system using smart metadata tagging.

“One of the things I’m frustrated with in the intelligence business is we usually capture that knowledge in a written product,” Gauthier said. “You require someone to go read that product to bring it back out…We have technology and software now that lets us do that, so we should be using it.”

Enabling the Methodology

The strategy of cross-referencing data from various sources and treating data from all sources as equal is not only inherently multi-INT, but it is also
creating a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum with regard to intelligence integration. Is ABI driving intelligence integration or vice versa? Does the answer even matter?

White predicts the correlation of data from various sources will continue to grow over the next few years, eventually to the point where collection systems will be able to tip one another automatically and sensors will be much more finely tuned.

“ABI is a catalyst for intelligence integration,” White said.

Conversely, DeTroye described intelligence integration as a “major enabler” of ABI, adding that as recently as 10 years ago the Community wasn’t ready to exercise the level of collaboration necessary to execute the methodology.

“If you’re not willing to collaborate across stovepipes, the concepts of ABI simply won’t work,” DeTroye said.

Zitz sees the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE), a recapitalization of the intelligence IT infrastructure set to occur between 2013 and 2018, as “absolutely critical” to taking ABI to the next level. ICITE aims to consolidate the architectures of the CIA, NSA, NGA, DIA, and NRO to reduce cost, better protect the data and the network, and deliver a multi-INT-enabled environment.

“ICITE will power multi-INT, and multi-INT powers ABI,” Zitz said.

During his keynote address at GEOINT 2012, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper referred to ICITE and ABI as two big ideas for the future of the Community.

“As we execute [ICITE] we’ll save a lot of money,” Clapper said. “Maybe more importantly, the Intelligence Community will be able to take intelligence integration to the next level as we transition from an individual, agency-centric IT model to an enterprise model that shares resources and data.”

He later added that future generation architecture would enable ABI.

“Instead of predicting where we should look tomorrow, if we can respond on a quick cuing and tipping basis, that is what activity-based intelligence is all about,” Clapper said. “In other words, be cued and then have the agility and capability to respond to those cues.”

Advancing Tradecraft

Perhaps just as important as sharing information across intelligence disciplines is enabling individual analysts to share intrinsic knowledge with one another, according to Gauthier. NGA is embarking on a quest to store that intrinsic knowledge in a database so that others may discover it and collaborate.

“ABI is a new emphasis on a methodology that people have been using for a long time,” Gauthier said. “We’ve just put the entire burden of doing this on the analysts in the past. Good analysts naturally will study data and make inferences about activity and then use those inferences to understand the behaviors and patterns of what’s going on.”

Over many years, analysts develop inherent knowledge of their targets, as well as a deep understanding of what’s related to what, Gauthier said. Typically, when analysts make a database remark about a significant activity, it is because they’ve witnessed something that crosses their mental threshold for a target they’ve monitored for so long.

“If analysts can consistently record the activity they observe in data or imagery and what they’re focused on mentally, there may be another target and 20 different things they look at every day,” Gauthier said. “If it’s something significant, they write about it, otherwise they don’t. We want to know what those other 20 things are.”

In other words, what was it about those other 20 things that the analysts knew made those targets insignificant? If this is recorded more regularly, a history of such knowledge can be built and handed down over time. This knowledge can also be turned into useful data for the high-powered computing and analytics that industry can now provide, allowing computers to search for the anomalies that humans might overlook.

Mark Lowenthal, president of the Intelligence and Security Academy, which provides education, training, and consulting in analytics, said it is important to dedicate resources to training analysts in how to use ABI methodology and FMV to their advantage, without becoming too dependent on the data.

“One of the major problems in the Intelligence Community is that analysts usually do not get much training in how to use collection sources, especially new collection sources,” Lowenthal said. “As useful as ABI is for a certain set of issues, it would be more useful if time was devoted to teaching analysts how to use this intelligence in their product. It’s equally important for analysts to figure out what ABI’s limitations are so they don’t become over-reliant on it or expect it to do things that it can’t do.”

Preparing for Change

Many experts say the government is still in the early stages of communicating to industry its needs and expectations for ABI, but that lately that communication is becoming more clear. In particular, the many discussions of ABI at GEOINT 2012 emphasized that the methodology is about the data.

“We need the standards applied to the data, regardless of what the source or sensor is,” Gauthier said. “We need smart data and I think there are standards for that for industry to look at…Now industry can begin to write applications tailored to those concepts.”

Not only can such algorithms used to parse data in ABI help make analysts more efficient and direct their attention toward true analysis rather than research, they can also address the issue of scaling.

“We can no longer hire more analysts just because we have more data,” Gauthier said.

White described ABI as a way to “transfer the workforce to something that’s more 21st century-based given the data sources we have, and the way that IT is able to process the information.”

This can be done through the development of machine-to-machine interfaces that re-task and correlate data automatically without humans in the middle, as well as the metadata tagging necessary for such correlation, he added.

“That’s where industry comes in,” White said. “The challenge for industry is how do you develop the technology to be able to take all those collection systems, correlate this data, and make it easily available for the analysts.”

While industry begins to grasp this analytic methodology and innovate to meet its requirements, it’s up to the ABI leaders in government to drive the cultural conversation about this non-traditional, integrated strategy.

“The government has got to be willing to make changes required for security policies and culture changes to ensure that these needs and this architectural and technological change is not only asked for by decision makers, but is embraced by the managers and the workforce,” Zitz said.

Biltgen described ABI as on par with the spy technology often portrayed by Hollywood, generating greater appeal among younger analysts who seem to pick up the concept quickly.

“People are really getting into it,” Biltgen said. “It doesn’t look like a bunch of dudes in skinny ties bending over a table. It looks like something cool and futuristic that’s helping us solve hard problems.”

NGA Director Letitia Long also referenced ABI as a major change to the agency’s analytic approach during her keynote speech at GEOINT 2012. Long noted that culture is one of the biggest challenges when asking people to work together to approach problems from a different perspective.

“But I will tell you, when folks are seeing change and see what’s being delivered almost on a daily basis, the culture isn’t as hard as you might think,” Long said.

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