September 01, 2010
Contributor: Pat Tyrrell
Geospatial Intelligence or, as it is more familiarly known, GIS, is a product of the post Second World War explosion of technology – or is it? I would contend that this view is flawed and that GIS has been with us for generations: from the cave man who shinned up the nearest tree to get a better look at his quarry to the Montgolfier Brothers rising above Paris in that misty autumn morning 217 years ago.
Demonstrating the need for intelligence
Man has long appreciated the need to gain height to get a better understanding of his spatial awareness. Maps became an essential tool of the military as early as war itself. The Romans had a very sophisticated view of their empire and its key military hubs. The Elizabethan 'Intelligenceer' knew the value of associating what was happening with both the 'why' and, more importantly, the 'where'.
Location is a key component of the way in which we make sense of data, giving it value, and hopefully, some degree of knowledge. Many of the databases we take for granted have locus: names and addresses or latitude and longitude. Even the pirates’ treasure map marked 'thirteen paces north of the knarled oak tree'! Geospatial intelligence is merely the process of working out where something or somebody is located geographically – in short, where in the world it is.
Best practice and modern methods
My background is in a world defined by such terms as HUMINT, ACINT, TECHINT and SIGINT, each of which refer to the modus operandi of their respective intelligence collection processes. These disciplines have their own, peculiar systems of classification. It is the development of satellite imagery, with a highly restrictive group of recipients, which brought geo-spatial intelligence to its current technical level.
It was this high level of security that gave 'GIS' its special aura - an aura still seen today in the use of the term 'GIS' in the title of many conferences and papers. The problem, as I see it, with this development of separate disciplines within intelligence is that we risk losing sight of the importance of a holistic approach to intelligence in the world today.
Intelligence enables decision makers to be better informed - no more and no less. If we persevere with a narrow, stove-piped approach, we will lose some of the integrity and value inherent in a broader basis for our intelligence. We need to focus on a multi-layered approach, using the fused products of GIS, acoustic analysis, signals intelligence, technical intelligence and human intelligence; together with the intellect, analytical ability and sheer common sense of a good analytical team. Iraq and Afghanistan offer many examples of situations in which seemingly good GIS has not been borne out on the ground.
Intelligence, by its very nature, should be based on a holistic approach to a broad set of collected data. The skill required is to know what weight to place on each element and what elements of data can be considered relevant to building up as complete a picture as possible in order that timely and accurate decisions can be taken based upon the best available assessment. Technology is a great enabler in this process. It is not, however, a silver bullet. The role of the 'Intelligenceer' is as much an art form today as it was in Elizabethan England almost 600 years ago
Posted by Naxal Watch at 8:14 AM