Below we describe two missions and a supporting function: intelligence production, geospatial information provision, and acquisition agent, respectively. We distinguish between the two missions, each of which NIMA has to do, and acquisition, which could be done for NIMA although the Commission does not endorse distancing acquisition in this way.
The Commission distinguishes the mission of intelligence from that of geospatial information by noting that in the former case, the analyst tries to go beyond the data, while in the latter, the GIS specialist tries to portray the data with scrupulous accuracy.
NIMA inherits a proud tradition of imagery analysis from its forebears, especially the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC). We can trace the modern era of national imagery collection to the U2, its successor the SR-71, and the earliest film-return satellites. Each was a technical marvel in its own right: the U2, an airplane that could fly so high that no then-available missile or pursuit plane could reach it; the SR-71, an airplane that could fly so fast that none could catch it; and satellites still further out of reach, aloft for years, which ejected exposed film cassettes to be snagged in midair by a plane that would deliver it to the classified "drugstore" to be developed. Equally marvelous was the exploitation industry that grew up to service these reconnaissance assets, especially NPIC--generations of dedicated men and women at light tables continuously developing their art and improving their craft.
The information gleaned from national imagery has informed (and transformed) US policy and operations--it has, indeed, assured the safety of the republic. To successfully "read out" the story an image has to tell requires both technical and substantive experience. Recounting that story in a convincing way to the uninitiated requires additional expository and illustration skills. Not all imagery interpreters/analysts have all skills honed to the same degree. Indeed, one can distinguish between photo interpreters (PIs) and imagery analysts (IAs), the latter, some would say, being the higher calling. By whatever name, however, IAs and PI's historically have seen themselves as distinct from geographers and cartographers--the stuff of a Geospatial Information Service (GIS). Moreover, the business processes that consume imagery intelligence are distinguishable from those that consume GIS data.
There is absolutely no expectation that NIMA's role as an imagery intelligence producer will decline. If anything, because of the travails of the US SIGINT system--going deaf, some would say--the role of imagery intelligence will be still more important.
An equally proud tradition, which NIMA inherited from the Defense Mapping Agency and its predecessors, is the provision of maps and charts to the Defense Department and beyond. The mission of mapping, charting, and geodesy (MC&G) has been, and continues to be, critical to the national security community. NIMA produces over one hundred standard "map" products. These remain in high demand. Indeed, despite the digital revolution, NIMA is distributing more paper products than ever. Notwithstanding, the mission has evolved rapidly, apace with information technology, and now we speak more broadly of a Geographic Information Service/System.
The skills of the geographer and cartographer need to be honed every bit as finely as those of the imagery analyst (IA) or photo interpreter (PI). But, they have not traditionally been fungible. The Commission forecasts the broader construct of GIS will come to embrace both and foster a convergence of skill sets.
Despite some encouraging experiments with collocation of the two disciplines, and encouraging examples such as that recounted below in Tale of Two Cities, the Commission has looked largely in vain for real convergence. Interestingly, it found some, not in Washington or St. Louis, but in-theater, closest to military operations, where "topographic engineers" are creating fused products. Both US Army intelligence doctrine as well as US army engineer doctrine should explicitly articulate how the terrain analysts should work with imagery and intelligence analysts throughout the force, as well as how the larger "topo" battalions relate to NIMA.
NIMA is in the information business. Therefore, NIMA requires information systems to execute its core missions of producing imagery intelligence and providing GIS information. However, the acquisition of those systems need not be considered a core business of NIMA. Another, responsive, organization could well be the procurement agent for NIMA systems. This has a certain appeal.
NIMA's forebears, by and large, did not do systems acquisitions: DMA and NPIC both required (and received) outside help for their major systems procurements. Consequently, NIMA has neither the tradition nor the organic assets to conduct major systems engineering and acquisition activities. It is trying to build such a cadre. However, the going is slow, and the competition for information-systems skills fierce. Moreover, building a cadre of systems engineering and acquisition skills inevitably comes at the expense of the core skills of imagery intelligence and GIS. There is internal competition for slots and grades, and more important for upper-management attention.
The Commission wrestled with the question of how intimate to NIMA must be the systems acquisition and acquisition activities. The Commission sought external alternatives but found none satisfactory--none skilled with the "excess" capacity to take on the NIMA workload. Grudgingly, the Commission concludes that NIMA must, itself, acquire the skills to acquire. However, the Commission recommends that NIMA do this in a manner highly unusual for government, and the reader is directed to those sections of the report that discuss and recommend formation of an "Extraordinary Program Office" (EPO).
| Executive Summary and Key Judgments
| Introduction | NIMA
from the Beginning