The world is changing faster than ever—and so are national security threats. To keep up, the IC must reinvent its relationship with commercial industry.
The last time the GEOINT Community convened in person was in June 2019 at the GEOINT Symposium in San Antonio. Although it wasn’t that long ago, it might as well be 20 years instead of two. After all, the world today is a different place. Not only because of COVID-19, but also because of rapid advancements in technology, the unpredictable swing of social and political pendulums, emerging threats from state and non-state actors, and escalating competition for military and economic leadership.
The view of the world from St. Louis could not be more different from the view of the world in San Antonio.
In a landscape so full of change, however, at least one thing has remained the same: the ability of the GEOINT Community to continuously grow and adapt.
That was the message that the Honorable Dr. Stacey Dixon emphasized Wednesday morning during a keynote address at GEOINT 2021. “Despite the pandemic, this community has continued to make progress and to evolve,” said Dixon, who is principal deputy director of national intelligence in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
Progress and evolution are things at which the Intelligence Community (IC) has always excelled, according to Dixon, who opened her address by acknowledging several important IC anniversaries that illustrate the constant metamorphosis of defense and intelligence. This year, for instance, is the 60th anniversary of the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) and the 25th anniversary of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA)—both predecessors to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). It’s also the 60th anniversary of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Next year, meanwhile, will mark the 50th anniversary of the Defense Mapping Agency, yet another NGA forebear, and the 75th anniversary of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Clearly, the IC is used to change. The question facing it now is: Is the current pace of progress and evolution enough?
The only way to ensure that it is, according to Dixon, is for the United States to forge a better, stronger partnership between government and industry.
“Foreign competitors are numerous and growing,” said Dixon, for whom commercial competition increasingly is a proxy for geopolitical competition. “This includes growth among our allies and friends, but also growth in those countries where [the lines between] public and private—and especially civilian and military—are more blurred or non-existent … Some of these [foreign] companies are closing the gap, creating security concerns.”
If foreign companies are allowed to out-innovate American companies, hypothetical security concerns could easily mushroom into real, impending security threats. Public-private partnership is therefore a major priority for the IC in the decade ahead, according to Dixon, who spent the balance of her address detailing the IC’s unwavering commitment to industry.
“While government still has its own specific needs, commercial industry year over year is playing a bigger role in providing the information that the government previously provided for itself,” explained Dixon, who said the transition of workflows from government to industry can yield benefits for both—as evidenced by the commercialization of the space launch industry, which has made space travel easier and more affordable for government while opening up new markets for industry. “NASA did an amazing job recognizing the changing landscape for launch … Is this a model that could work elsewhere, such as for imaging services and analytics?”
Dixon suggested that it could be—as long as the IC reduces barriers to working with it.
“We want America, and especially American companies, to lead,” Dixon said. “We in government know that partnership with industry is critical to maintaining our edge, and that commercial applications are not just a sideline but a leading source of revenue for industry. That means we need to put in place strategies and requirements that help our partners remain responsive and strong.”
Forums like GEOINT 2021 are where those strategies and requirements are born, according to Dixon, whose address was a call to action for the GEOINT Community. “Are we safer now than we were during the Cold War?” she asked. “Are we safer now than we were [on Sept. 11]? If we are, it is because we as a community made it safer. The question before us now is: What are the strategies, capabilities, and partnerships we need to be safer and resilient and even better prepared 20 years from now? That will be up to us.”
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