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The Information Edge

The Information Edge

Imagery Intelligence and Geospatial Information in an Evolving National Security Environment. Source: Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and CIA. Released January 9, 2001. (PDF Format).

Statement by DCI George Tenet

I want to thank the Independent Commission for its comprehensive review of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. The distinguished members of the Commission dedicated several months of diligent effort to this important study. I appreciate and will carefully consider their suggestions.

This unclassified report about the newest Intelligence Community agency is a welcome addition to the dialogue that must exist between government and the people it serves.


Last year, the Congress requested that an independent commission be formed to review the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, or NIMA. This report documents the commission's finding and recommendations, some of which need to be addressed by the defense and intelligence leadership, and others by NIMA.

This is a commission of which I am proud. For almost ten months, our nine commissioners, richly experienced and with a set of diverse perspectives drawn from government and industry, worked hard to understand NIMA, including its management and organizations, technology development and acquisition strategies, and its business practices. They focused intensely on NIMA's large and diverse customer base, to understand where NIMA is performing well and where it might perform better. Finally, the commission endeavored to analyze and understand NIMA's future, whether to critically assess the current vision, or to suggest other paths that might be more wisely taken.

We had the benefit of considerable input along the way. Thousands of written documents, hours of briefings, and the attention of many senior Department of Defense and Intelligence Community officials provided candid inputs for our consideration. A diverse set of industry participants gave us a look at current technology and management practices and how NIMA might take advantage of these to best do their mission. Various Commissioners visited Denver, St. Louis, Tampa, and Omaha, and to NIMA representatives supporting U.S. forces in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy.

This Commission represents the most recent inquiry into NIMA, one which followed a Defense Science Board study covering many of the same topics. The Commission tried to build on previous studies and where appropriate expand on some of the ideas.

NIMA's mission is complex and daunting. Strong leadership support from both Intelligence and Defense as well as timely implementation of the enclosed recommendations is essential if NIMA is to meet the needs of the national security community in the coming years.

Peter Marino Chairman

Executive Summary and Key Judgments

Late in the fall of 1999, Congress requested the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) to form a Commission to review the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), a new agency perceived by some to be struggling toward coherency as the national security environment and US doctrine--e.g., Joint Vision 2010--evolved mercilessly around it. A proximal event was the disappointing realization that design and acquisition of the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) had sorely neglected the value-adding systems and processes known collectively as "TPED"--the tasking, processing, exploitation and dissemination of the imagery collected by reconnaissance satellites.

The Commission, formed early in 2000 to review key dimensions of strategy and performance of NIMA, has completed its work and offers a number of conclusions and a few recommendations. Several supporting studies were performed by RAND and will be made available in their entirety to the Director of NIMA. The Commission also had the benefit of a number of prior studies, including one recently published by the Defense Science Board. Few of the issues that arose in the course of the investigation were unexpected; most had been previewed by the earlier reports.

The Commission validates the charge that the Intelligence Community is "collection centric," thinking first of developing and operating sophisticated technical collection systems such as reconnaissance satellites, and only as an afterthought preparing to properly task the systems and to process, exploit, and disseminate the collected products.

The Commission concludes that, although some progress has been made, the promise of converging mapping with imagery exploitation into a unified geospatial information service is yet to be realized, and NIMA continues to experience "legacy" problems, both in systems and in staff. Admittedly, these problems are not of NIMA's making--it inherited two disparate cultures, an expanding mission, and inadequate resources. Notwithstanding, the Commission believes that timely development of a robust geospatial information "system" (GIS) is critical to achieving national security objectives in the 21st century. The Director of NIMA understands this and the Commission has every expectation that he will fulfill the promise, circumstances permitting.

The Commission observes the traditional short tenure of senior-most leadership among Combat Support Agencies and is concerned that, with a nominal tour length of two to three years, the current vision and momentum may not endure sufficiently to become institutionalized. The senior-most NIMA leadership garners high marks, but some NIMA management strata are of uneven quality.

The Commission finds NIMA attempting to modernize all systems simultaneously--anticipating the FIA--with high-caliber systems engineering and acquisition personnel in dangerously short supply both in NIMA and in the Intelligence Community at large, which is simultaneously trying to modernize signals intelligence (SIGINT) and bring next-generation reconnaissance satellites online.

The Commission questions whether US military doctrine has evolved to so rely on intelligence--imagery, especially--that it may become unsupportable with current investments. The need to precisely engage--with strategic considerations--any and every tactical target, without collateral damage, without risk to American lives, requires exquisite knowledge immediately prior to, and immediately subsequent to, any strike. Demonstrably, US imagery intelligence cannot support this activity on any meaningful scale without precarious neglect of essential, longer-range issues without additional resources.

The Commission noted occasional competition for intelligence resources between the Department of Defense (DOD) and non-DOD users of intelligence that borders on the unhealthy. Positive leadership must be exerted jointly and sincerely by SECDEF, the Joint Chiefs, and the DCI, who must first reconcile any differences between and among themselves. NIMA, itself, must be more attuned to impending imbalances.

The Commission learned that in a comprehensive requirements review that helped define FIA, considerable imaging requirements were allocated to commercial and airborne imagery: In peacetime, less than 50% of required area coverage is allocated to FIA, while commercial and airborne assets accounted for the majority of peacetime area allocations. For peacetime point coverage the reverse is true, with the bulk of peacetime point targets allocated to FIA, and a minority to airborne and commercial assets. During a major theater conflict, about half of both area and point coverage, are allocated to FIA, while commercial and airborne assets combine to meet the other half of all requirements.

FIA holds to the claim that it will meet all its allocations; however, because of negligible budgeting to date for commercial imagery, and proposed reductions in airborne investment, OPSTEMPO and PERSTEMPO--the FIA era still might not live up to its billing as eliminating collection scarcity. Compounding the problem, the Commission could find no credible plans--i.e., adequately funded program--to integrate commercial and airborne products into FIA and/or TPED.

The Commission echoes the sentiments of Congress with respect to the halting way in which the Intelligence Community is embracing commercial imagery collection--processing and exploitation, as well. In retrospect, inadequate notice was taken of the potential availability of high-quality commercial imagery as a part of the larger FIA architecture. In the spirit of Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 23, the Commission is inclined to endorse the US-industry move to resolutions of 0.5 meters, the capabilities of which should be fully and aggressively incorporated into a serious plan that would, inter alia, remove the current fiscal disincentives that discourage end-users from opting for commercial imagery when it can otherwise meet their needs.

The Commission applauds NIMA's outsourcing of products--largely cartographic, to date--and agrees that considerably more may be warranted, including value-added geospatial products, selected imagery analysis products, and specialized, "science-based" imagery exploitation. Indeed, the Commission wonders whether the time may be right to consider externalizing the operation of almost all legacy systems and legacy products, consistent with assured continuity of service and provision for crisis capacity. The benefits would include freeing up scarce-skilled US government (USG) personnel and relief from the strain on the management attention span of NIMA and the Intelligence Community.

The Commission asked hard questions about key aspects of imagery-TPED. Is the design for TPED adequately understood? Is new thinking being incorporated aggressively and balanced with sound management of technical risk? Are users' future needs well enough understood and provided for? Does the TPED design accelerate the integration of imagery and geospatial concepts--the promise, after all, of creating NIMA? Is the TPED approach grounded in modern information systems thinking? And, is there a plan for rapid insertion of new technology? Is NIMA, with its current staffing, capable of managing the acquisition of TPED? Is the likely cost of TPED fully reflected in current budgets? The Commission acknowledges the herculean task of modernizing while under resourced and simultaneously attempting to satisfy the increasing demand for its staple products.

The Commission found reason to be concerned about the level of research and development conducted by and on behalf of NIMA. Imagery and geospatial activities in the national security sector are only partially congruent with those of interest to the commercial information technology sector. The Commission is convinced that woefully inadequate R&D holds hostage the future success of TPED, the US Imagery and Geospatial Service (USIGS), and indeed of US information superiority. Nor does the Commission see sufficient, aggressive, and effective regard by NIMA for the issues of technology insertion.

The Commission feels that US loss of satellite imagery exclusivity makes a robust imagery-TPED absolutely critical, but does not see this urgency reflected in the programming and budgeting for TPED. By way of explanation or excuse, critics have recited their litany of NIMA-TPED ills. While the Commission agrees with some of the criticisms, it fails to see how that situation can be improved by under funding.

Finally, the Commission suggests that the US loss of satellite imagery exclusivity places a hefty premium on SIGINT-IMINT convergence--sooner rather than later--but questions whether the "multi-INT TPED" is being given adequate priority. The Commission cautions, however, that actually integrating Imagery- and SIGINT-TPED is a bigger, more costly, more demanding job than the sum of the two respective pieces done separately. Staffing such an enterprise in a traditional government way seems, to the Commission, to be a nearly insuperable hurdle.

The Commission offers a number of recommendations of which the most global and far-reaching are summarized here. Where possible the recommendations suggest that specific actions, with specific outcomes and set time frames, be assigned to particular officials.

The Commission recommends that the DCI and SECDEF, with such help from Congress as may be required, ensure that the Director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (D/NIMA) serve a term of not less than five years, absent cause for dismissal, and subject to the personal needs of the individual. In the event that an active duty military officer serves as Director, the cognizant military service must commit to this length of tour and Congress should ameliorate any unique hardship that this entails upon the military service.

The Commission recommends creation in NIMA of an Extraordinary Program Office (EPO) armed with special authorities of the Director of Central Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense, augmented by Congress and staffed--free of staff ceilings and pay caps--through an heroic partnership between industry, NIMA, and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The EPO, to be constituted from the best national talent, shall be charged with, and resourced for all pre-acquisition activities, systems engineering and architecture, and acquisition of TPED--from end-to-end, from "national" to "tactical." The first milestone shall be completion of a comprehensive, understandable, modern-day "architecture" for TPED. Other provisions of law notwithstanding, the Congress shall empower the Director of the EPO to commingle any and all funds duly authorized and appropriated for the purpose of the "TPED enterprise," as defined jointly by the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence.

With some trepidation--anxious not to delay further NIMA's TPED program--the Commission suggests concomitant study of the evolving TPED strategies on the part of commercial imagery vendors and value-added GIS providers. While the timing may not be right, the opportunity to converge on what may become the commercial mainstream should not be overlooked.

The Director of NIMA--with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the managements of Intelink and OSIS--shall ensure promptly that commercial imagery and value-added suppliers are able to pursue an "e-business" model for their products. Budget submissions for the National Foreign Intelligence Program (NFIP), Joint Military Intelligence Program (JMIP) and Tactical Intelligence and Related Activities (TIARA) budget submissions should realistically reflect needed resources for an aggressive program of "open source" imagery acquisition, which shall be sufficiently robust, stable, and predictable as to encourage US commercial interests. The Secretary of Defense should establish a central source of funds against which components can charge commercial imagery purchases.

The Commission recommends that the DCI and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, and Communications (ASD[C3I]) request, and the Congress approve, a substantial increase in research and development by and on behalf of NIMA--in aggregate, an amount more in keeping with the proportionality of cutting-edge industries in the information business. And, to take advantage of this sponsored research, as well as to reap the benefits of the commercial information technology revolution--which fortunately shows no signs of abating--the Director of NIMA shall implement a vigorous technology insertion process. Receptivity to technology insertion should be reinforced in the NIMA workforce and become an incentivized Key Performance Parameter (KPP) of all USIGS system acquisitions; test-beds and Advanced (Concept) Technology Demonstrations (ATD/ACTD) should be used more widely. Consideration should be given to naming a Chief Technology Officer.

Finally, and more broadly, the Commission suggests that serious, far-reaching review is required of evolving US military doctrine and its dependence on an ever-expanding definition of information superiority, so as to determine the contingent liabilities placed on intelligence. These and these alone must define the needed level of investment in intelligence resources by the military services. Anything less is reckless and irresponsible. We cannot simply design intelligence capabilities to cost; we must design-to-cost the overall strategy which consumes intelligence.

Findings of the Commission

NIMA is an essential component of US national security and a key to information dominance. Despite some shortcomings it is a vital, if under-appreciated, organization staffed with talented individuals and led by dedicated officers.

Despite its acknowledged criticality to information dominance, NIMA is under-resourced overall, not only for TPED acquisition (USIGS modernization), but also for commercial imagery procurement, R&D, and training for its officers and for the larger imagery and geospatial community.

NIMA works hard at understanding its customers and, by and large, is quite successful at it. In the field, NIMA receives praise up and down the line. Washington-area customers, too, compliment NIMA but evince concerns about the future insofar as today's relatively happy state of affairs is based on personal relationships and long-term expertise; the concern is that as the present cohort retires the situation could deteriorate.

The tension between the "strategic" (long-term) challenges and the "operational" (short-term) challenges is a larger national security community problem. It most definitely is not the fault of NIMA, despite perceptions of some all-source analysts and their managers that NIMA tilts toward operational military needs at their expense. In fact, the tension itself is more properly characterized as one of balancing long term and short-term intelligence support to a wide range of customers.

D/NIMA appreciates the need to bolster long-term imagery analysis and plans to transfer 300 NIMA positions (60 per year, 2001-2005) from cartography to imagery analysis, all of whom would remain in the Washington, DC, area to support Washington customers and rebuild NIMA's long-term analysis capability.

Having DCI versus the SECDEF as the ultimate tasking authority, in the absence of major hostilities, still makes sense; it continues to ensure that the delicate balance between military and diplomatic intelligence needs is maintained in the face of everyday contentions for national imagery collection resources. The principles of DCI tasking authority, and provision for its transfer to the Secretary of Defense in time of war, have served the nation well. The DCI is purposefully positioned to appreciate national, military, and civil claims against a scarce imagery resource and to adjudicate otherwise irreconcilable contentions as may arise among the constituencies. His role here is not accidental, but by design.

The relatively new positions of Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Analysis and Production, and for Collection (ADCI/AP and ADCI/C) could benefit NIMA considerably by prioritizing the information needs of the national consumers and the reflection of those needs on the collection disciplines, especially imagery. They chair Intelligence Community fora for achieving consensus, the National Intelligence Production Board (NIPB), and the National Intelligence Collection Board (NICB), respectively.

"TPED" 1 is critical for sustaining US information dominance, but there are doubts that the design for TPED is adequately articulated or understood; that the incorporation of new thinking is pursued aggressively yet balanced with sound management of technical risk; that users' future needs are well understood and provided for; or that the TPED design accelerates the integration of imagery and geospatial concepts--the promise, after all, of creating NIMA.

Continuing to organize its business model around legacy products and processes puts NIMA at risk in the FIA era, shortchanges the needs and priorities of users, and fails to facilitate convergence of imagery analysis and geospatial production.

Multi-INT TPED is vital to retaining US information dominance, but progress on converging even IMINT and SIGINT is halting at best. The recent announcement about cooperation on shared requirements databases is a step in the right direction. Against all odds, there is compelling evidence that NIMA should be in the forefront of this convergence because it owns the geospatial construct.

There is a justifiable lack of confidence in NIMA's current ability to successfully accomplish its acquisition of TPED (by whatever name)--reminiscent of the lack of systems engineering and acquisition capabilities of its forebears. The current TPED (or, USIGS modernization) acquisition effort lacks a clear baseline, which should tie closely to overall strategy, requirements, and cost constraints. Heroic measures will be required to remedy the problems. D/NIMA could well benefit from an advisory panel to help, in the first instance, with TPED acquisition.

There is accumulating evidence that the likely cost of TPED (or USIGS modernization) is not accurately reflected--i.e., is significantly underestimated--in the current POM/IPOM. Supporters and detractors alike recognize that the NIMA infrastructure is not up to the present mission, much less the future, and that the full value of FIA cannot be realized unless major improvements are made.

The lines of responsibility between TPED and communications systems, both terrestrial and space, have been blurred. The dialogue so far among NIMA, DISA, NRO, and the user community engenders no confidence that the links will be there when needed. The CINCs and Services conveniently profess not to know where TPED ends.

D/NIMA's position is very difficult--he tries to serve two masters, tries to harness two cultures, is under-resourced, driven by technology, and he is forced to run the organization at the tactical as well as strategic level because of uneven management strength in some of his direct reports. The middle management corps is the key to NIMA success in merging cultures, in modernizing, and in outsourcing.

The current tour length of the Director of NIMA, two to three years, is too short to solidify accomplishments, institutionalize solutions, and sustain the momentum for needed change; it allows the Director's intent to be frustrated by recidivists who wait out the change in leadership.

The FIA requirements process expressed considerable demand for commercial imagery, and there is considerable additional latent demand in the field, both of which are seriously attenuated by the fact that national technical means (NTM) appears to be a free good, while buying commercial imagery means trading off against beans and boots and bullets. NIMA's commercial imagery strategy is lackluster and the larger US strategy to commercialize remote sensing is as yet unrealized due largely to the Intelligence Community's and DOD's reticence.

While the US has not been aggressive enough in approving commercial imagery licenses, the National Security Council (NSC) is to be applauded on its recent decision to approve a 0.5-meter commercial imagery license.

There is evidence of cultural and bureaucratic impediments to outsourcing NIMA products, but there are some in NIMA intent on getting the in-house/outsourced balance correct. Lacking, however, is a well-thought-out overall strategy for what might be called "transformational" outsourcing vice using contractors as a "body shop" supplement to a government workforce.

Not yet taking maximum advantage of commercial hardware and software, NIMA appears to depend heavily upon existing processes and products and persists in developing government standards that diverge from emerging commercial standards. Nor is NIMA properly positioned to make good use of an e-business model, which would allow for online order taking and order fulfillment, peer-to-peer and business-to-business transactions, and "point-of-sale" financial transactions.

The documented decline in experience and expertise in its imagery analyst corps jeopardizes NIMA's ability to support its customers. Not limited to NIMA, the downturn in analytical expertise is due to both loss of experienced people and the fewer number of years of experience held by the new hires.

SES/SIS positions in NIMA hover around 1 percent; this is puny, even in comparison to the USG average of 2.5 percent and quite a bit lower than sister intelligence agencies.

Inheriting no R&D legacy from its predecessor organizations, NIMA, today, has too little R&D investment and no overall strategy; it could benefit from a Chief Technology Officer. NIMA is not well positioned for rapid and continual technology insertion and does not make use of Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations (ACTD).

When NIMA does choose to rely on contractors, its acquisition and contracting practices come in for heavy criticism even from successful bidders. If NIMA is to take full advantage of commercial offerings, it must be seen as a steadfast partner.

The sooner NIMA forsakes legacy products in favor of data sets from which the products--legacy and new--can be constructed by consumers downstream, the better.

D/NIMA does not fully assert his role as functional imagery manager, has too little say over end-to-end architecture (including the "last tactical mile"), and too little leverage over all intelligence and defense imagery-related investment.


1 Here we mean to include both imagery and geospatial "TPEDs". When necessary, the term "imagery TPED" is used. Generally, TPED and USIGS can be relatively interchangeable. The reader is referred to the discussion of what TPED is and what USIGS is.

1. Introduction

NIMA's history has been brief, but the Agency has been scrutinized repeatedly by Inspectors General, Defense Science Board Task Forces, and congressional fact finders, inter alia. With all the best intentions, the oversight has been time-consuming and each successive review has rediscovered the blindingly obvious. This is not to say that each did not add value to the work of its predecessors, but only to point out the law of diminishing returns.

The Director of NIMA was extremely helpful to the present NIMA Commission. Not in so many words, but D/NIMA did let on that he hoped this NIMA Commission would become known, not only as a fount of insights but also as "The Last NIMA Commission," at least for a while.

1.1 Commission Creation

The Classified Annex to the FY 2000 Department of Defense Appropriations Conference Bill established an independent Commission to review the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA). The Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), through the Assistant Secretary of Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (ASD[C3I]) and the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence for Community Management (DDCI/CM), respectively, appointed members to the Commission. RAND's National Defense Research Institute--a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC)--was chosen to provide the Executive Secretary and other staff for the Commission.

The Commission's charge was to look broadly at NIMA, across the spectrum of management, system development and acquisition, imagery and communications technologies, and organizational development.

1.2 Specific Commission Tasks

The Commission was charged to conduct a comprehensive review of NIMA's present organizational and management structures, current technology development and acquisition plans, business practices, and operational support services provided to the Defense Department and the Intelligence Community. The review was to include, but not be limited to, the following issues and questions:

  • A review of the management challenges at NIMA;
  • The most effective future course for NIMA's strategic technology development and acquisition programs;
  • The prospect and the efficacy of greater use of commercial sources for imagery collection and exploitation, geospatial information, and storage and retrieval of data and information;
  • The efficiency of NIMA business practices;
  • An assessment of acquisition experience and system integration experience of the NIMA workforce;
  • The sufficiency of current requirements forecasts and cost estimates for USIGS (the US Imagery and Geospatial Service(s)/System) to include an assessment of the adequacy of the budgetary resources devoted to USIGS over the current five-year defense plan (FYDP); and,
  • An investigation of a nettlesome issue generally referred to as "national versus tactical," which the Commission found to be a misnomer.

Peter Marino,

Nancy E. Bone,

Jack Dangermond, Commissioner

R. Evans Hineman, Commissioner

James V. Hirsch,

Robert King,

C. Lawrence Meador, Commissioner

Keith Rhodes,

LTG Sidney ("Tom") Weinstein, (USA ret),

Kevin O'Connell,
Executive Secretary


Dr. Joseph Markowitz,
Senior Consultant

Steve Comer,
CMS Liaison

Capt. Steve Monson, USN,
C3I Liaison

Rahul Gupta,
Commission Staff

Dana Johnson,
Commission Staff

Charles Kelley,
Commission Staff

Martin Libicki,
Commission Staff

Julie Jones,
Executive Officer

John Ivicic,
Security Officer

1.4 Commission Methodology

As might be expected, the Commission met frequently in plenary sessions where it heard briefings from current and former Executive Branch officials from defense and intelligence organizations, congressional staff present at the creation of NIMA, and representatives from the commercial sector. The majority of the information was gleaned from NIMA officers, who were exceptionally responsive, and from NIMA's customers--military and non-military, operational and intelligence organizations, and other civil (non-defense) organizations--who all were unsparing of their time to help the Commission in its work.

In the course of its deliberations, the Commission journeyed beyond Washington as and when necessary, most often to meet with NIMA's consumers on their home ground and to visit commercial and industrial partners.

The Commission, as commissions often do, found it useful to organize itself into working groups for the purposes of digging deeper into particular issues and making most efficient use of the diverse expertise represented on the Commission. The working groups were

  • TPED Working Group

reviewed the logic of TPED, its current state, and its acquisition management. Its first challenge was defining TPED--or USIGS modernization--and understanding its scope. Another challenge was to understand whether the program to replace IDEX-II imagery workstations had run aground, and if so, why. An emphasis on architecture and multi-INT issues rounded out its program.

  • Management Working Group

considered, inter alia, the respective roles of the DCI and SECDEF, the authorities and responsibilities of the Director of NIMA, and a variety of workforce issues.

  • Commercial Working Group

focused on the entire spectrum of "commercial" issues:

- Commercial Imagery--its potential economies and ability to unburden USG collection systems, as well as its potential both to contribute to US information superiority and to diminish US information superiority;

- Commercial Sources--the issues that surround outsourcing of products and services;

COTS--the degree to which NIMA can take advantage of commercial "off-the-shelf" technology in its systems; and,

- "Commercialization"--the change in business processes that might embrace e-commerce practices and allow those who consume the imagery capacity to be better informed as to the cost of the resources they consume--i.e., turn the "consumers" into "customers."

  • Clean Sheet Working Group

spawned a "Clean Sheet Working Group" to investigate what NIMA would look like if reinvented free from its legacy information systems. The Working Group chose to focus on NIMA's information architecture largely because of the business that NIMA is in. But there was an important secondary reason. NIMA is about to embark on a major TPED acquisition initiative, which will, for better or worse, define its information architecture for a decade or two to come.

1.5 A Review of Previous Studies of NIMA

There have been a number of insightful studies of NIMA, of which the Commission took full advantage. At least nine studies of NIMA, some classified, some not, have been conducted in the last few years. Some of these studies had a very specific focus, while others took a broader review of NIMA, as has this Commission.

The preparation of this report prompted us to review some of the major themes that emerged in those efforts and how they relate to our own. Virtually every one of these studies envision NIMA as a smaller, elite, and mission-driven organization in the future. They also envision an important role for NIMA in US information dominance, derived both from imagery and geospatial information. Prominent among the earlier studies and again addressed here are the following themes:

  • The need to strengthen NIMA's role as the functional manager for imagery and geospatial information
  • The need to develop NIMA's workforce, especially in the areas of systems engineering, acquisition, and imagery analysis
  • The need for better planning and communication with regard to tasking, processing, exploitation, and dissemination (TPED)
  • The need to take strong advantage of an emerging commercial sector, and focus government resources on providing unique capabilities
  • NIMA's challenges in technology planning and acquisition, especially in the area of TPED, and
  • The need for agile, integrated tasking and other capabilities across satellite, airborne, and commercial sources of imagery.

The Commission has two observations related to these recommendations and the challenges inherent in them:

  • First, while NIMA's transformation is still incomplete, and progress against some of the goals mixed, the Commission observes progress in virtually every area. For example, while the Commission has a number of comments and recommendations about NIMA's acquisition and technology issues, we do find demonstrable progress across the period of these studies in the NIMA Acquisition and Technology Directorate.
  • Second, and in light of our own recommendations, the Commission suggests that it is time to let NIMA get on with implementing the recommendations made by this and prior panels. The continued study of NIMA drains resources from those staff who must interact with task forces, and from those who must implement what is an increasingly clear set of issues required for NIMA's transition to a more effective agency.

1.6 Support to the Commission

The Commission had the full support of the Community Management Staff (CMS)--including the personal help of the Hon. Ms. Joan Dempsey, the Hon. James Simon, and the ASD(C3I)--again, including the personal support of the Hon. Art Money, and Capt. Steve Monson, USN.

NIMA itself provided immeasurable support, starting with the personal attention of General King, Director of NIMA, without whom the report would not be the same. His staff and management team were equally unstinting in their support.

The Commission was ably aided by RAND's National Defense Research Institute, which studiously recorded critical items of information from the briefings and researched special topics for the Commissioners. The special studies included:

Commercial Imagery Policy: This study assessed the overall state of progress within the United States on imagery commercialization, including an assessment of input factors to the second-generation licenses under National Security Council consideration during the Commission's tenure. The study analyzed NIMA's Commercial Imagery Strategy in light of this situation, and made recommendations about its future course.

"National Versus Tactical" Issues: This classified study assessed the US imagery collection strategy in an area of high contention for collection resources, in order to understand whether there is an imbalance between strategic targets and tactical targets. This study also included a number of analytic experiments designed to look at how changes in collection strategy-such as changes in collection priority, platform, or sensor--would impact overall collection volume as well as collection against strategic and tactical targets in the given area.

Outsourcing: This study looked at NIMA's strategic vision and the role of outsourcing within it. It assessed the tensions between NIMA's attempts to modernize (partially) through outsourcing and more traditional perspectives on production both at NIMA and within the NIMA customer base. It mapped the role of outsourcing-and the mechanisms to implement it-from NIMA's strategic plan and business plans through its outsourcing strategy and outsourcing processes. The study also analyzed the effectiveness of NIMA's outsourcing processes in the areas of mission support and geospatial products, including the "make-or-buy" decisions associated with them.

TPED Acquisition: This study examined the acquisition strategies being used by NIMA to acquire the hardware, software, and other equipment needed to support the agency's role in tasking, processing, exploitation, and dissemination (TPED). It looked at the dominant characteristics of NIMA acquisitions-such as the emphasis on commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology, use of open architecture, and the level of integration challenge-the dependent factors for NIMA's acquisition strategy, and an assessment of three systems that NIMA is presently acquiring in light of those factors.

RAND also provided tailored support to the Commission's Working Groups. Among the inputs to the Commission were papers and briefings on the following topics:

"Clean Sheet" Paper: RAND coordinated the various inputs of the Clean Sheet Working Group into a document, entitled "An Alternative Scenario for NIMA: Strategy, Structure, Process, and Technology." Portions of this paper have been incorporated directly into this report.

Briefing on Organizational Cultures: This briefing for the Management Working Group identified the key internal and external factors influencing NIMA's emerging organizational culture, including the extent to which NIMA's component cultures-military, mapping, and intelligence-create challenges for current attempts to merge imagery and geospatial analysis. The study postulates three alternative futures for NIMA, including the culture/capabilities mix implications for each of them.

Paper on Geospatial Technologies: This paper, entitled, "The Integration of Geospatial Technology and Information into Our Everyday Lives," identified current trends in geographic information systems and other geospatial technologies, and a future vision of the geospatial marketplace. It identified the changing role of user communities, data issues, and standards as important elements of that marketplace. The NIMA Commission's Commercial Working Group was a co-sponsor of this paper, along with another RAND sponsor.

Copies of these RAND studies will be made available to the Director of NIMA. A complete list, for the record, of those individuals and organizations with whom the Commission met is available in the appendix of this document.

2. NIMA from the Beginning

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), according to its own lights, "...was established October 1, 1996, to address the expanding requirements in the areas of imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial information. It is a Department of Defense (DoD) combat support agency that has been assigned an important, additional statutory mission of supporting national-level policymakers and government agencies. NIMA is a member of the Intelligence Community and the single entity upon which the US government now relies to coherently manage the previously separate disciplines of imagery and mapping. By providing customers with ready access to the world's best imagery and geospatial information, NIMA provides critical support for the national decisionmaking process and contributes to the high state of operational readiness of America's military forces."2

NIMA was borne, not out of whole cloth, but by combining extant intelligence and defense organizations involved in imagery exploitation and mapping, charting, and geodesy--mainly, the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) and the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA).3 The creators, inter alia, were the Hon. John White, then Deputy Secretary of Defense, and the Hon. John Deutch, then Director of Central Intelligence. The creation of NIMA presumed a natural convergence of the mapping and image-exploitation functions--as each become "digital"--into a single, coherent organization organized around the construct of a geospatial information system (GIS).

NIMA's creation was clouded by the natural reluctance of two cultures to merge and the fear that their respective missions--mapping in support of defense activities versus intelligence production, principally in support of the national policymaker--would be subordinated, each to the other. To a large extent, a NIMA culture has yet to form, but the Commission is heartened by signs that the two legacy cultures have begun to see benefit in melding their respective disciplines to solve real intelligence problems, as exemplified in a later section.

While convergence of mapping and imagery exploitation around the organizing GIS construct still appears to make good technical sense, NIMA has yet to achieve unity, either of purpose or personnel. Even in today's new-speak, NIMA advertises itself in terms of USIGS--the US Imagery and Geospatial Service. The NIMA mission--to provide timely, relevant and accurate imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial information in support of national security objectives--shows the same multiplicity.

This is not to downplay the early challenges of merging multiple administrative, logistic, and personnel systems at different locations, while trying to communicate/collaborate over different, noninteroperable computing and communications systems.

NIMA's vision is to guarantee the "information edge" to the US national security community. Expanding on its vision, NIMA aims to have its information provide the common reference framework for planning, decisions, and action; provide ready access to databases of imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial information that it acquires and/or produces; use its information holdings to create tailored, customer-specific solutions, the information from which enables their customers to visualize key aspects of national security problems; and to value the expertise of its people who are critical to acquiring and/or creating the information that gives the advantage to its customers.

Suitably laudable are NIMA's core values: commitment to its customers, demonstrated pride, initiative, commitment, personal integrity, and professionalism; a culture that promotes trust, diversity, personal and professional growth, mutual respect, and open communication; an environment that rewards teamwork, partnerships, risk taking, creativity, leadership, expertise, and adaptability; and a tradition of excellence and personal accountability.



3 More completely, "NIMA was formed through the consolidation of the following: the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA), the Central Imagery Office (CIO), the Defense Dissemination Program Office (DDPO), and the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) as well as the imagery exploitation and dissemination elements of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO), and the Central Intelligence Agency" ibid.

NIMA in Context

3.1 The National Security Context

When the Soviet Union exited the world stage left, the US national security community breathed a momentary, collective sigh of relief. The elation was, however, short-lived. Despite the clamor of the popular sentiment for a "peace dividend," the challenges to our national security, perhaps less immediately life threatening, became more numerous, more diverse, and, in some ways, more difficult.

Emerging threats notwithstanding, the United States drew down its military and intelligence capacity as it traditionally had done after resolution of each preceding conflict. The Gulf War was but a satisfying interlude to "demobilization" through which we coasted on our residual military strength and our accrued intelligence. What should have been an object lesson on the wisdom of investing in capability became, instead, the rationale for continued disinvestments because of the lopsidedness of the Gulf conflict.

There were two lessons learned, and subsequently reinforced, one by the policymakers and the public, the other by military planners.

Policymakers and the US public--having seen the vision of miraculously light American casualties and minimal collateral damage--forced "rules of engagement" to become excessively stringent (and overoptimistic). There is wishful endorsement of the kindest, gentlest, "zero-zero" warfare--zero American lives lost, zero collateral damage.

Military planners evolved Joint Vision 2010 (now 2020) that placed immense faith in the ability of the intelligence community to deliver on the military desire for continued information superiority, indeed, "dominance".

Consequently, a substantial "contingent liability" was levied on intelligence, at a time when intelligence capabilities were still being diminished apace. The result, to paraphrase a popular motion picture, is that political and military thinkers are writing checks that the Intelligence Community cannot cash!

In 2020,4 the nation will face a wide range of interests, opportunities, and challenges. This will require diplomacy that can effectively advance US interests while making war a less-likely last resort, a military that can both win wars and contribute to peace, and an intelligence apparatus that can support both. The global interests and responsibilities of the United States will endure, and there is no indication that threats to those interests and responsibilities, or to our allies, will disappear.

Three aspects of the world of 2020 have significant implications for our statecraft, our Armed Forces, and the Intelligence Community that underpins both. First, the United States will continue to have global interests and be engaged with a variety of regional actors. Transportation, communications, and information technology will continue to evolve and foster expanded economic ties and awareness of international events. Our security and economic interests, as well as our political values, will provide the impetus for engagement with international partners. For the engagement to be successful, no matter the playing field or the opponent's rules, our commercial and diplomatic "forces" must be fully informed and constitutionally prepared to prevail short of war, while our military must be prepared to "win" across the full range of military operations in any part of the world, to operate with multinational forces, and to coordinate military operations, as necessary, with government agencies and international organizations.

Second, potential adversaries will have access to the global commercial industrial base and much of the same technology as the United States. We will not necessarily sustain a wide technological advantage over our adversaries in all areas. Increased availability of commercial satellites, digital communications, and the public Internet all give adversaries new capabilities at a relatively low cost. We should not expect opponents in 2020 to engage with strictly "industrial age" tools--information-age tools will be the key to our effectiveness.

Third, we should expect potential adversaries to adapt as our capabilities evolve. We have superior conventional warfighting capabilities and effective nuclear deterrence today, but this favorable military balance is not static. We have the best intelligence and most fully informed statecraft. In the face of such strong capabilities, the appeal of asymmetric approaches and the focus on the development of niche capabilities by potential adversaries will increase. By developing and using approaches that avoid US strengths and exploit potential vulnerabilities using significantly different methods of operation, adversaries will attempt to create conditions that frustrate our US diplomatic, economic, and military capabilities.

The potential of such asymmetric approaches is perhaps the most serious danger the United States faces in the immediate future--and this danger includes long-range ballistic missiles and other direct threats to US citizens and territory. The asymmetric methods and objectives of an adversary are often far more important than the relative technological imbalance, and the psychological impact of an attack might far outweigh the actual physical damage inflicted. An adversary may pursue an asymmetric advantage on the tactical, operational, or strategic level by identifying key vulnerabilities and devising asymmetric concepts and capabilities to strike or exploit them. To complicate matters, our adversaries may pursue a combination of asymmetries, or the United States may face a number of adversaries who, in combination, create an asymmetric threat. These asymmetric threats are dynamic and subject to change, and the United States must maintain the capabilities necessary to successfully anticipate, deter, defend against, and defeat any adversary who chooses such an approach. To meet the challenges of the strategic environment in 2020, our diplomacy and our military must be able to achieve full spectrum dominance.

3.2 The Collection Context--FIA

The Commission observes that the FIA-era increase in imagery of more than an order of magnitude does not, in and of itself, imply a need for a proportionate increase in exploitation capacity. Some increase may be needed, but an N-fold increase in imagery does not necessarily translate into an N-fold increase in information content, particularly when the additional imagery capacity is used to more frequently "sample" the same target for activity analysis, or indications and warning (I&W). Watching grass grow does not take a lot of exploitation.

The Commission notes, elsewhere, that there are outstanding requirements, endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and not satisfied by FIA as currently baselined. Among these, military users of imagery, especially the US Army, argue for the importance of direct theater downlink (TDL). Of course, the argument goes beyond just the "downlink" of imagery, which is effectively accomplished with only minimal delay, today, via communications satellites. Rather, the argument is, a regional commander should be "apportioned" the space reconnaissance assets as they are in view of his theater of operations. However, National technical means, FIA included, have not been designed, heretofore, to accommodate this requirement. To modify the electro-optical imaging design would substantially reduce the available imaging time over theater as the satellite traded off imaging operations for communications operations.

The Commission notes, in passing, that at least one of the commercial satellites5 is actually a TDL design. Its tasking instructions and deposit of imagery are done by "regional operations centers" (ROCs), and inasmuch as the commercial vendor is anxious to sell "imaging minutes on orbit" the US military could experiment, today, with this concept, and "pay by the minute"--i.e., without capital investment or long-lead programming and budgeting. Cryptographic provisions to guarantee theater privacy are already in place.

3.3 Commercial Imagery

On September 24, 1999, Space Imaging successfully "launched" the world's first commercial one-meter imaging satellite, IKONOS. The US government was a positive factor in this endeavor, despite some national security reservations, and Presidential Decision Directive 23 codified US policy on foreign access to remote sensing capabilities. Space Imaging was granted a license that permitted it to sell commercial imagery at a resolution of one meter, among others.

While the importance of resolution is often overstated, improved resolution clearly allows new information to be extracted from an image. As imagery resolution moves from the tens of meters to one meter and below, military applications move beyond terrain analysis, through gross targeting, to precision targeting, bomb damage assessment, order-of-battle assessment, to technical intelligence findings.

The Commission endorses the move to allow US companies to move to higher resolution as required by the competition and demanded by the marketplace. It will demonstrate continued technical superiority and signal US government intent to keep US companies in the forefront. It will raise the bar, discourage others, and impose new barriers to entry. More importantly it will open up new markets for satellite imagery now the exclusive province of airborne photography. And the vastly improved, immediately visible resolution characteristics will substantially improve "eye appeal," capturing the imagination of the public, and especially the imagination of those from whom the new applications will flow. The vitality produced by this change cannot be overstated--this energy will fuel the next generation of NIMA-relevant COTS technology.

Until recently, NIMA has been a captive customer for satellite imagery provided by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), whose raison d'etre is building and operating satellites, pure and simple. Because of government internal accounting practices (planning, programming, and budgeting) the NRO has a capital budget to build satellites that is loosely derived from requirements that NIMA voices on behalf of its consumers.6 Once the satellites are built and launched, there is no attempt to recover sunk costs. Even operating costs for the imaging constellation, ground processing, and exploitation are not recovered. Imagery acquired from US "National technical means" is a free good.7 However, use of commercial imagery either by NIMA or by its consumers directly is not a free good; operating budgets must accommodate any imagery purchases from Space Imaging and/or its competitors. In a sense, notes the Commission, commercial imagery providers face competition from an established behemoth with deep pockets that gives away its wares.

The US government, Defense and Intelligence, and/or NIMA have not requested that the Congress appropriate substantial funds for commercial imagery. Notwithstanding, the Congress has successively appropriated "extra" monies for NIMA to purchase commercial imagery (and, presumably, value-added imagery products). The Commission is disappointed that NIMA has been slow to articulate a commercial imagery strategy that Defense and Intelligence would endorse. The Commission is more distressed by an announcement promising $1 billion for commercial imagery purchase, which has subsequently proved to be so much fiction.


4 This section paraphrases and elaborates upon the "Strategic Context" of Joint Vision 2020.

5 IKONOS, the newest imaging satellite launched and operated by Space Imaging, Thornton, Colorado.

6 "Consumers," not "customers," because, as we shall see, they do not "pay" for products in the conventional sense--no unseen hand of Adam Smith operating here!

7 But, because it is free and (therefore) heavily oversubscribed, it is rationed by an elaborate, dynamic prioritization scheme that is accused by some of being politicized as well as cumbersome.

4. Two-and-a-Half Roles for NIMA

Below we describe two missions and a supporting function: intelligence production, geospatial information provision, and acquisition agent, respectively. We distinguish between the two missions, each of which NIMA has to do, and acquisition, which could be done for NIMA although the Commission does not endorse distancing acquisition in this way.

The Commission distinguishes the mission of intelligence from that of geospatial information by noting that in the former case, the analyst tries to go beyond the data, while in thelatter, the GIS specialist tries to portray the data with scrupulous accuracy.

4.1 NIMA as an Intelligence Producer

NIMA inherits a proud tradition of imagery analysis from its forebears, especially the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC). We can trace the modern era of national imagery collection to the U2, its successor the SR-71, and the earliest film-return satellites. Each was a technical marvel in its own right: the U2, an airplane that could fly so high that no then-available missile or pursuit plane could reach it; the SR-71, an airplane that could fly so fast that none could catch it; and satellites still further out of reach, aloft for years, which ejected exposed film cassettes to be snagged in midair by a plane that would deliver it to the classified "drugstore" to be developed. Equally marvelous was the exploitation industry that grew up to service these reconnaissance assets, especially NPIC--generations of dedicated men and women at light tables continuously developing their art and improving their craft.

The information gleaned from national imagery has informed (and transformed) US policy and operations--it has, indeed, assured the safety of the republic. To successfully "read out" the story an image has to tell requires both technical and substantive experience. Recounting that story in a convincing way to the uninitiated requires additional expository and illustration skills. Not all imagery interpreters/analysts have all skills honed to the same degree. Indeed, one can distinguish between photo interpreters (PIs) and imagery analysts (IAs), the latter, some would say, being the higher calling. By whatever name, however, IAs and PI's historically have seen themselves as distinct from geographers and cartographers--the stuff of a Geospatial Information Service (GIS). Moreover, the business processes that consume imagery intelligence are distinguishable from those th 

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).