National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo drew back the curtain a bit on his organization’s activities during a rare open session of the Senate Intelligence Committee here today.
The NGA, which marks its 20th birthday next week, is the lead agency providing geospatial intelligence to warfighters and many other customers, Cardillo said.
The agency’s motto — “Know the Earth, Show the Way, Understand the World” — encapsulates the mission of the nearly 14,500 men and women who work there, he said.
The NGA delivers images, maps, processes and capabilities to service members around the world, but it also serves in many other capacities as well — and not all of them are classified, Cardillo said.
“Every day we grow in our ability to know the Earth, as we gain access to an ever broadening pool of foundation data that includes commercial and allied electro-optical open sources and direct user input from the field,” he told the committee.
Not just DoD
While DoD remains the biggest customer for the agency, it’s also employed during domestic and overseas disasters to assess damage, locate dangers and plan for relief, Cardillo said. NGA works directly with the lead federal agencies responding to fires, floods, earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes or other natural or man-made disasters, he added.
The NGA also ensures safety of navigation in the air and on the seas by maintaining the most current information and highest quality services for U.S. military forces and global transport networks, the director said.
“To be clear, national technical means from my mission partners at the National Reconnaissance Office provides exquisite and peerless capabilities to meet our hardest challenges,” Cardillo said. “But for NGA to provide the most value for our customers, we must be able and open to leverage all geospatial content as a component of our daily operations.”
Since 2006, the agency has partnered with the commercial imaging industry to dramatically improve delivery of commercial geospatial intelligence, Cardillo said. Roughly 90 percent of the agency’s output derives from these unclassified assets, he said.
Cardillo is the geospatial intelligence proponent for DoD and the intelligence community.
“Earlier this year, I called on the community to focus attention on three priority areas: professionalization, interoperability and unit of effort,” he said. “I’ve also mandated professionalization by requiring all GEOINT personnel at NGA and the services be certified — this includes me.” The certification process must be completed by 2018.
To promote interoperability, the agency is developing standards to provide the vocabulary, the grammar and the interface rules “to ensure the product is interpreted as the author intended and that the end-users interpret the product in the same way,” he said.
Unity of Effort
Cardillo has invested agency 2016 funds to support capabilities in other agencies. This includes U.S. Special Operations Command’s efforts on human geography in parts of the Middle East and North and Sub-Saharan Africa. The agency is also working on the State Department’s Secondary Cities Project “that generates data on urban food, energy and water nexuses in non-primary cities,” he said.
National decision makers, military commanders, scientific researchers and first responders look to the NGA “to help them understand what is happening at any given place, at any given time, and to anticipate what may happen next,” Cardillo said.
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