GEOINT is the Vehicle, National Security is the Outcome

PDDNI Sue Gordon’s vision to move the Intelligence Community forward


The Honorable Sue Gordon, the fifth Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence (PDDNI) began her GEOINT 2019 keynote address Tuesday morning by sharing with the audience wise words she imparted to her newborn granddaughter, Harper, whom she had just met the day before.

The Honorable Sue Gordon, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, spoke Tuesday morning.

“The world is doing what it periodically does. It is changing. And the change that we are experiencing right now is a big one,” Gordon began. “You will need to develop a craft, something that you are good at, and something that you could offer for the cause. And just when you get good at it you are going to have to develop it again. You see, the craft is not the point of your endeavor. Your craft is merely the vehicle for your outcome.”

Gordon said she feels this is an important message to share, not just as the matriarch of her family, but also of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). GEOINT is often an important component to a solution, but not the entire solution.

The PDDNI described this changing world as one of “ubiquitous technology, digital connectives, and data abundance.” As an innovator, Gordon said even she has had to “let go of some fixed points, things that you always believed to be true, because you cannot keep everything fixed and still get somewhere else.”

To explain GEOINT’s role in this “brave new world,” Gordon shared a question posed to her by a student from North Dakota. The student asked how 38 North—a program from the Stimson Center at Johns Hopkins University dedicated to providing the best possible analysis of North Korea, including through the use of commercial satellite imagery—influences the U.S. approach to denuclearization.

Gordon explained, “If we stay in the place where we think our whole craft is about knowledge and not about the use, we’ll miss the joy of the moment we have. You are not in the GEOINT business, you are in the national security business. Your ‘what’ is GEOINT, but your ‘why’ is national security.”

She implored attendees to think about the following IC focus areas:

  • Understanding risk in a 5G World
  • The security of future communications
  • Understanding the threat of human-imposed disaster
  • Exposing the modalities of new terrorist threats

“Each of these problems I posed has a GEOINT component but none can be solved by GEOINT,” she said. “It can’t be somebody else’s responsibility; it has to be all of our responsibilities in our craft to get us there.”

Gordon pointed out that even leading experts can become more comfortable identifying problems than solutions. She challenged attendees with what she believed should be some next steps for the IC.

On example she pointed to is the Intelligence Community Information Technology Environment (IC ITE).

“IC ITE is what the IC has decided on as its vehicle for integration,” Gordon said. “If your solution doesn’t work with it, you are not on team national security. And if we’re doing it wrong, then you need to tell us what we need to do to make it right.”


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