— Intelligence analysts are trying a variety of techniques to squeeze more information from imagery products.
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), for example, has been using a technique known as immersive visualization to give its analysts a new way to examine trends. The technique also is being used by military planners to prepare for tactical operations, Troy Gilbert, the immersive visualization team lead at DIA, said in a June 26 interview.
Immersive visualization involves one or more analysts wearing special glasses to examine imagery that is projected onto four walls to create a 3-D view similar to what consumers experience when they watch a 3-D movie. The technique provides a simulated depth perception that gives the analysts a view similar to what they might see if they were actually moving through the area in question, Gilbert said.
DIA began using the immersive visualization in 2006 as part of an effort to leverage techniques developed at for non-defense users, Gilbert said. Immersive visualization also is used by auto manufacturers and ship builders, as well as firms that are exploring for natural resources like oil, he said.
Immersive displays incorporate imagery from a variety of sources including satellites, aerial sensors and products developed from intelligence gathered by human sources, Gilbert said.
It can be used to view events that took place over the course of several months, providing, for example, the perspective of a vehicle moving down a road in a specific area of interest for purposes including training personnel to spot improvised explosive devices. It also can be used to pump in data to simulate events that are expected to occur, according to Tom Cooke, deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency support team to DIA.
The immersive approach has been an effective tool for fusing a large volume of imagery from a variety of types of intelligence for analysts who might be used to viewing data in the isolation of a single report, making it more difficult to uncover trends in the information, Cooke said. Using commercially gathered imagery could allow the intelligence agencies to provide this capability to law enforcement or other civil officials, he said.
Immersive displays have been used for 23 projects in the past, and are in use for 17 projects at the moment, Gilbert said. He acknowledged there have been success stories, but declined to talk about them due to the sensitivity of DIA’s work.
Other techniques that are aiding intelligence analysts include advanced geospatial intelligence (AGI) that help them detect features not apparent to the human eye – features that might otherwise be missed or misinterpreted, according to Brian McIntosh, senior intelligence officer in the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s office of science and methodology. AGI techniques are specially developed computer processes and algorithms that can be used in concert with a variety of types of sensors, ranging from infrared to radar, to generate new products.
AGI techniques, which are used to better exploit imagery data gathered by intelligence satellites as well as commercial sources, can be used for many purposes including searching for chemicals that may have been spilled in a particular area, McIntosh said in a June 26 interview. This can be useful as analysts monitor events like a commercial chemical spill or search for weapons of mass destruction, he said.
McIntosh said AGI techniques have been used to support operations in and , but declined to be more specific about their use in the national security arena.
Using those same techniques with commercial imagery, he said could help civil agencies deal with situations such as wildfires by precisely pointing firefighters to the best area for controlling the blaze.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will be able to provide even better support to non- military customers with AGI techniques as a result of the improved resolution of the imagery that will be available from satellites launched under the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s NextView initiative, McIntosh said. The agency also is eyeing satellites launched by non- companies that will provide synthetic aperture radar data to help analysts study soil content at various levels, he said.