DIA Looks to Open-Source Intelligence

The agency is embracing data science and automation to leverage information from social media and location-based apps


Through social media and location-based apps, the world is telling us about itself every day, Donna Bridges of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Integrated Analysis and Methodologies Division said Monday from the Government Pavilion Stage at GEOINT 2017. Bridges discussed how GEOINT would support the agency’s future mission.

“The knowledge of the crowd is something we want to leverage,” Bridges said.

She added one of DIA’s current challenges is incorporating and aggregating open-source intelligence into the database loop—in other words, getting the best spatially-enabled data to the analyst through automation.

“The old way of doing things will no longer work because it doesn’t scale,” Bridges said. “It used to be one analyst would look at one image at a time.”

With automation, thousands of images are scanned every day, so experts know—with confidence—where there are airports, where there are solar panels. “And we want to be able to do that for the world,” she added.

Today, DIA combines traditional sources with big data to feed the intelligence cycle and create a living, digital inventory of the Earth.

“Our mission generally is to avoid strategic surprise,” Bridges said. “We’re trying to take this data, bring it in, and augment what we already have to answer analytic questions. Those questions change every day.”

Bridges’ colleague, Joe Ingram, said in an attempt to counter the traditionally non-agile government pace, their division hires not only analysts, but also coders and data scientists.

“The world is literally mapping itself faster than we can database it,” Ingram said. “Luckily for us, we have smart data-scrapers and data scientists that are able to go out and collect, aggregate, and correlate a lot of this data into our existing intelligence databases.”

Ingram said DIA has gotten really good at doing so.

“Now the challenge,” he said, is “getting the data and analytics to the warfighter in every domain.”

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