May 22, 2006

Geospatial-Intelligence Agency provides more than just maps

Satellite image of Islamabad, Pakistan. (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency photo)


by Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

5/19/2006 - BETHESDA, Md. (AFPN) -- It might not be a household name like, say, the CIA, but the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is an integral part of the U.S. intelligence community.

Geospatial intelligence is the collecting and analysis of satellite imagery of the earth's surface. The mission of the agency, headquartered here, is to provide that type of intelligence to support national security objectives.

"If it's something man-made or natural on the face of the earth and it has national security implications, then we map it, chart it, analyze it and make that information available," said Sue Meisner, an NGA spokeswoman. "Geospatial intelligence provides layers of data, or foundation data, upon which other intelligence agencies can build."

The intelligence might be used to help pilots navigate through mountainous terrain during low-flying missions or target enemy positions for precision-weapon strikes.

NGA was formerly known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. Even though the agency now deals mostly with electronic products, it still produces hard-copy maps.

Because NGA is a member of the U.S. intelligence community and is a Department of Defense combat-support agency, its director reports to both the director of national intelligence and the secretary of defense.

The agency gets its raw imagery from either National Reconnaissance Office satellites or through commercial operations.

NGA also contributes to humanitarian-relief efforts, such as tracking floods and fires, and has aided domestic law enforcement agencies during major events like the Super Bowl.

"Our main mission and focus is to support the military overseas," Ms. Meisner said. "But stateside, if a lead federal agency such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency says they need our help to respond to a hurricane, then we can step in."

The agency fields support teams around the globe. About a quarter of the NGA workforce operates outside of its headquarters. A lot of its personnel are collocated with combatant commanders or at other intelligence agencies.

Scott Kather, an NGA geospatial analyst, has deployed twice to Iraq to help troops on the ground. During his second deployment, from October 2005 to February 2006, he was with the 101st Airborne Division. He said some troops were vaguely familiar with NGA mapping products, but most knew little about the agency itself.

Kather said his goal was to find out what the agency could do to help the troops perform their mission and then provide the appropriate products.

"If they thought there were some bad guys at a particular coordinate, I would find an image of that coordinate," Mr. Kather said.

Brig. Gen. Michael Planert, the NGA military executive, said one big challenge the agency faces is getting the word out about what it does and letting people know how to access its products, particularly combat troops.

"I think the marketing part is important, letting people know the capability and products we have and how to get them," General Planert said. "We want to get the (intelligence) into the foxhole."

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