— Deployed troops and members of the intelligence community often turn to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) for such jobs as
planning military operations or
While the agency was created primarily to serve those users, a growing
array of other
federal – and state – agencies
are asking NGA for help with
homeland security, disaster relief and other programs, according to NGA officials. While NGA is not actively seeking to expand its customer base, the agency
is happy when asked to assist civil agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency,
said Greg Barac, deputy director of
office of global support.
Military and intelligence customers often come to NGA to answer critical questions about their own location, the location of friendly forces, the location of the enemy
and features of the terrain in which they plan to operate.
products such as
digital terrain maps and analyzed imagery
of enemy facilities are a key enabler in the Pentagon’s push in recent years to increase the precision of its attacks and its post-attack damage assessments, according to NGA spokesman Dave Burpee.
Civil agencies often have similar questions in operations like relief work where they might
need up-to-date pictures of terrain that might
have been devastated by a storm. Such imagery can be used to coordinate the delivery of supplies,
pinpoint areas of flooding
and monitor critical infrastructure, Burpee said. Another example of support to civil users is the work that NGA has done to assist security officials in preparation for events like the Super Bowl and the Major League Baseball All-Star
Game to use imagery to spot possible areas where snipers would be most likely to hide, he said.
In some cases, NGA uses commercial satellite imagery to assist civil agency officials who lack the security clearances to view classified imagery
from spy satellites, Burpee said. In other cases, the agency may use data from spy satellites to develop unclassified products, like a map that illustrates where flooding may be taking place in a particular area, he said.
NGA was established in 1996 out of pieces of the CIA
, Defense Intelligence Agency
and the National Reconnaissance Office. NGA works closely with those intelligence agencies today, as well as with the National Security Agency.
NGA also took on part of the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office, and wholly absorbed the Defense Mapping Agency, Central Imaging Office, Defense Dissemination Program Office
and National Photographic Interpretation Center.
The agency has a total work force of about 15,000 employees. Slightly more than half of those employees are contractors; the rest are either uniformed military or civilian government employees, Burpee said.
NGA today is headquartered in Bethesda, Md., with a variety of facilities in other locations in the Washington area. The agency is planning to consolidate its Washington-area operations at a single facility called Campus East located on the grounds of Fort Belvoir in Virginia by September 2011.
The new location will help address security and force protection issues that are at hand with the move of a variety of Defense Department offices in the Washington area to Fort Belvoir, according to the NGA
Web site. The
Web site also notes that consolidating its Washington-area personnel at Fort Belvoir will “create a world class working environment for the workforce that will better enable the NGA to accomplish its increasingly complex, diverse, and expanding missions.”
Bringing together its Washington-area operations will reduce the need for personnel to travel between facilities, provide ready access to the agency’s various resources
and foster better collaboration, according to the NGA
In addition to its Washington-area presence, NGA maintains facilities in St. Louis,
which previously handled aerial mapping work for the Defense Mapping Agency
and hosts about one-third of NGA’s total work force. Aerial platforms offer benefits including the ability to fly below cloud cover to take pictures, as well as higher resolution than possible with satellites,
Doug McGovern, NGA’s commercial imagery program manager, said during a Sept. 10 interview. McGovern
was promoted Sept. 16 to deputy director of NGA’s acquisition engineering office.
While the St. Louis site continues to focus on working with airborne imagery, NGA has worked since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to increase redundancy between the St. Louis site and its Washington area facilities in order to maintain continuity of operations in event of attack or natural disruption, Burpee said.
Other post-Sept. 11 initiatives include an effort to have NGA employees working face-to-face with their customers, Burpee said. The agency has about 10 to 12 percent of its employees deployed outside of NGA facilities at any given time, he said.
This can involve having personnel working on site at other intelligence agency’s facilities, or embedded in a military unit in an overseas location like Iraq, Burpee said.
In instances where civil agencies have asked for NGA assistance, it can involve support from NGA’s facilities around Washington or St. Louis, according to John Goolgasian, director of NGA’s Office of Americas. However, NGA also can support those civil customers by having its officials join them on site during a security or disaster relief operation with a customized vehicle – the Domestic Mobile Integrated Geospatial-Intelligence System – that can directly receive unclassified products from NGA databases, Goolgasian said.
While many of NGA’s products are classified, the ground systems used to develop them
are available commercially, Burpee said.
The agency relies on a variety of government and commercial sensors in space and in the air to generate data for its products like analyzed imagery, digital terrain maps
and nautical charts. The phenomenologies involved include electro-optics, radar, infrared, multi-spectral
and hyper-spectral, each delivering complementary effects, Burpee said.
The agency turns to radar for purposes like imaging through the darkness of night or heavy weather conditions, McGovern said. In many cases, this type of imagery is
available commercially, often from foreign sources, he said.
The color present with multi-spectral imagery can assist greatly with tasks like crop assessment or other examination of foliage, according to Mark Brender, a spokesman for of Dulles, Va. Other tasks that multi-spectral imagery can help with include detecting enemy efforts to camouflage its assets, Burpee said.
As NGA looks to the future of geospatial-intelligence technology, it turns to its Innovision
Directorate, Burpee said. Innovision handles research and development work that could pay off within five to 20 years. The directorate has teams at universities and government research facilities, and can issue grants for studies in attractive areas of technology to help NGA continue to meets its military and intelligence customers needs in the future as its develops new systems, Burpee said.
NGA uses its Future Warfare Systems office to work
closely with its customers on the development of their own systems that will rely heavily on geospatial intelligence, like the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System, a planned network of manned and unmanned ground and aerial vehicles that rely heavily on satellites for intelligence and communications capabilities, Burpee said.
and distribution of geospatial-intelligence products to support national security.
U.S. Department of Defense and Director of National Intelligence
U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Robert Murrett
Created as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in 1996 by bringing together organizations including the Defense Mapping Agency, Central Imaging Office, Defense Dissemination Program Office, National Photographic Interpretation Center and part of the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office; renamed as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in 2003.
Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., with West facility in St. Louis