NGA senior leaders discuss challenges to industry and the future of analysis
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has once again sent approximately 200 intelligence officers to the GEOINT Symposium with active learning assignments, and NGA leaders round out the many panels and Government Pavilion Stage presentations taking place throughout the week. Just prior to the Symposium, senior leaders shared insights on the future of the analytic workforce, the broader GEOINT Enterprise, and what they hope to learn in the exhibit hall.
Sue Kalweit, Director, Analysis
You participated in a GEOINT Foreword panel Sunday on the changing analytic landscape. How do you believe the landscape is changing across the IC?
First, it’s about our adversary. The changing tactics, techniques, and procedures our adversary is using—whether it’s the North Koreans, the Chinese, the Russians, or ISIS—are acting in ways we hadn’t anticipated or that are surprising to us and we need to get ahead of that. The opportunity for us right now is made available through the growth in the remote sensing industry as well as other publicly available data. When combined with our intelligence data remote sensing advances have the potential to provide 24/7/365 insight to all human activity of interest to us. And by applying the capabilities of data science and analytics we have the opportunity to discover insights that allow us to anticipate events, behaviors, and actions our adversaries are going to take and be able to interdict, disable, or disrupt.
In order to do so we have to retune the skills and competencies of our workforce. We have developed in the GEOINT Community as a workforce that exploits imagery or remotely sensed data and puts into words what is observed. We now have to unlock that content from the pixels and put it into a more structured alignment to integrate it with other data and conduct the data science and analytics now possible.
Moving in that direction requires that our entire workforce be more data savvy and have more skills, knowledge, and comfort in working with data. We have to add skill sets to our existing workforce while also bringing in persons whose primary skill set is around data science, analytic methodologies, data analytics, and who also have mission understanding.
Much of our workforce comes with mission understanding—having studied international relations or political science—or GIS/geospatial analysis expertise. Our geospatially skilled workforce already has a strong familiarity with data so we want to add to that. For our international relations or political science-oriented workforce, we want them to be more comfortable with data science and analytics.
You will be speaking in the Government Pavilion Tuesday afternoon about the future of analysis. How do you envision the analytic workforce of the future?
There’s the workforce within NGA, but across the enterprise to include the National and Allied Systems for Geospatial Intelligence and our industrial partners, is a much larger workforce. Across that enterprise we will have people focused on collecting foundational military intelligence through structured observation management (SOM), where they will be unlocking content from pixels. And we will have software that is automatically collecting observation through automated means. So, a combination of automation and leveraging the entirety of the enterprise—that’s how we’re going to collect.
The analyst’s day will start with an alert, for instance, that indicates events are occurring that could lead to something of interest. The analyst will explore events that have occurred and potential alternatives of events that could occur. They will do so by exploring data associated with those events. Some data will be imagery, some will be structured observation, and it is going to be presented to them in charts that indicate activity that is unusual or abnormal from an expected baseline. They’re going to see the trend that’s been building, and those trend lines are all informed by SOM data.
This will cause analysts to think about what collection is needed or who else in the community they need to coordinate with. Modeling and cueing is going to become the frame of reference for their day. Now, an analyst’s day often starts by asking what imagery was collected over their target, as opposed to cueing off the intelligence problem first and asking what data is available to answer their question.
Fundamental to that approach is collecting all of the observations out of the data. There is so much remote sensing data not only now, but it is going to bust wide open with all the commercial small sats going up. Automation is a critical part of our near term and future. We need automation for change detection and object identification, characterization, and contextualization—those four levels. And therein lies a real challenge to industry.
Dustin Gard-Weiss, Director, GEOINT Enterprise Office
You are moderating a panel Monday morning on the Future of GEOINT featuring members of the Allied System for Geospatial Intelligence (ASG). Why is this panel significant and what do you hope attendees will learn?
First and foremost, the panel reflects the evolution and diversity of the GEOINT enterprise. Our commonwealth partners contribute GEOINT to the benefit of our enterprise, they bring unique capabilities to bear, and they also have unique needs.
When I think about the Symposium one of the themes is: How do we unify the disparate parts of this enterprise to confront issues together? The answer is increased awareness of who the members of the enterprise are, their perspectives on GEOINT, and the roles and values they bring in terms of needs and contributions. This panel is an opportunity to educate the audience about our many enterprise partners—whether it’s the military services, commonwealth partners, or the Five Eyes. They’re each different and this panel will highlight the differences each member of the ASG offers, and that we are bringing them closer and they provide value to the enterprise.
NGA is going to focus on the whole GEOINT enterprise, to include the National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG) and ASG in the GEOINT 2017 exhibit hall. What does the agency plan to highlight?
There will be an NSG booth at which NGA and other enterprise members will present. There will be a number of presentations from NGA but we are also including a diverse range of partners. Whether its academic partners, traditional partners such as the U.S. services, or traditional partners with non-traditional ways of addressing the needs of our enterprise, such as the State Department and HumanGeo, for example. There is a wide range of technology, innovation, and tools, capabilities, and approaches we seek to highlight in this booth. It is an increasingly diverse community and we are reliant on our community members more so today than before.
The other pieces we plan to highlight are the opportunities—to show efforts underway between one or two members of enterprise that could be extended to benefit the entire enterprise. We want to emphasize the diverse membership and the value it creates. GEOINT capabilities are pervasive and in use across the world. We owe it to our partners, customers, stakeholders, and decision-makers to highlight that.
David Gauthier, Director, Office of Strategic Operations
What are you most looking forward to about GEOINT 2017?
A number of USGIF working groups will be meeting during the week, so I wanted to avail myself the opportunity to pop into their meetings and learn about some of the cutting-edge GEOINT going on there.
Also, NGA Director Robert Cardillo loves to make first-of-a-kind announcements during the GEOINT Symposium, so it will be interesting to see him roll out something new in his speech this year.
You gave a talk Sunday at GEOINT Foreword on analysis-as-a-service and non-traditional GEOINT. For those who missed it, what were the highlights?
I was excited to speak about the growth of capabilities in the commercial and private markets for GEOINT and how analysis-as-a-service is going to be an important tool for GEOINT professionals to have at their disposal. It’s kind of unique in that I ran the first NGA test of purchasing analysis-as-a-service on the open market in 2015. I talked about that, some lessons learned, and how that has grown into additional contracting and crowdsourcing opportunities. I also shared what’s happened in the two-and-a-half years since that occurred, and about how NGA and its partners should think about using these services in the future.
What technologies and solutions will you be in search of as you tour the GEOINT 2017 exhibit hall?
I’m looking forward to getting facts on the ground about technologies like machine learning, deep learning, AI, and neural networks. There’s a lot of hype in the community about these technologies and applying them to GEOINT problem sets. I think we will be asking some hard questions of the different vendors and looking for performance results. Do they have data that can back up the claims we see in the literature?
I am always interested in seeing how people are using different types of sensors and sensor technologies against GEOINT problems in all domains. I’ll also be on the lookout for visualization and display technologies for big data. We’re constantly challenged with how to visualize the narrative that makes sense in an ocean of data being presented to the user.
Like last year, the government participation from NGA will be organized to make maximum use of the opportunity to talk to so many industry and academic partners. It’s not just a field trip for us. It’s a research assignment and we’ll be out there on the ground asking a lot of hard questions and digging into the current state of the profession.
Photos by NGA. From left to right: David Gauthier, Sue Kalweit, Dustin Gard-Weiss