Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency
table of contents

Executive Summary and Key Judgments
NIMA from the Beginning
NIMA in Context
Two-and-a-Half Roles for NIMA
The Promise of NIMA
NIMA and Its Stakeholders
NIMA and Its "Customers"
Is There a "National vs Tactical" Problem
NIMA and Its Peers and Partners
NIMA and Its Suppliers
NIMA Management Challenges
NIMA's Information Systems
NIMA Research and Development
NIMA and Its Information Architecture
Appendix A
Appendix B
Glossary of Terms

7. NIMA and Its "Customers"

7.1 Kudos from Users

The Commission found that in the field NIMA received praise up and down the line, from the Commanders-in-Chief (CINCs) to field-grade operations officers and below. Washington-area customers, too, had compliments for the NIMA service they currently receive, but they evinced concerns about the future. Much of today's relatively happy state of affairs is based on personal relationships and long-term expertise; the concern is that as the present cohort retires the situation could deteriorate.

The NIMA Commission concludes that NIMA works hard at understanding its customers and, by and large, is quite successful at it.

7.2 Support to CIA and DIA

When NIMA was formed, CIA and DIA imagery analysts were moved into NIMA. Although some remained assigned to components within DIA and CIA--especially in the DCI Centers--the majority of all-source analysts in CIA and DIA components "lost" their direct imagery support.

This contrasts with the military commands who retained management and operational control of their organic imagery support when NIMA was formed, and have since enjoyed the addition of NIMA IAs assigned to their command and under their operational control.

Support to CIA and DIA all-source analysis is a significant part of NIMA's mission, as D/NIMA well understands. He has made it a priority and told the Commission of his plan to transfer 300 NIMA positions (60 per year, 2001-2005) from cartography to imagery analysis, all of whom would remain in Washington, DC, to support Washington customers and rebuild NIMA's long-term analysis capability.

Despite D/NIMA's efforts to reassure DIA and CIA, some seniors at the two agencies remain concerned about the lack of long-term research in NIMA and the lack of collaborative analytic efforts between NIMA, CIA, and DIA. The Commission discussed options that might alleviate the angst of CIA and DIA and, in the end, decided there was no single, ideal model for how support to these two organizations should be structured--a variety of models, including the present one, could work given sufficient resources, expertise, and interagency cooperation and trust.

The Commission endorses the plan to fill the 300 positions (60 per year, 2001-2005, transferred from cartography) with imagery analysts and would stiffen the resolve of D/NIMA to keep them all in Washington to rebuild NIMA's long-term analysis capability and to focus on neglected national issues. To the leadership at CIA and DIA the Commission counsels patience and good communication as NIMA rebuilds its analytic cadre; all-source analysts should take the initiative to reach out to NIMA IAs.

7.3 Customer Readiness for Change--The Paper Chase

NIMA staff believe, correctly, that many of their customers continue to prefer using NIMA's traditional information products (i.e., hard copy) rather than newer digitally based (i.e., soft copy) technologies. The Commission was treated to the old saw about the trooper who draws his .45 (now, 9mm), shoots a hole in a paper map, and asks pointedly if the digital appliance, so treated, would still perform as well. This is, indeed, a cautionary tale; there is a certain durability to a paper map product. Evidence of just how durable they are (and how venerable they can be) is attested to by the palettes of dated paper maps waiting to be deployed.

The argument is not whether, in extremis, a soldier can depend more on a paper map. Even if paper (or maybe Kevlar) were the required medium of issue, there would still be a question as to where and when the map information should be overlaid on it--at an earlier date convenient to economy-of-scale big presses, or "just-in-time" at the edge of battle, which our trooper forgot to mention almost always seems to occur on the corners of four contiguous map sheets.

The real argument is whether the speed of change of doctrine matches the rate at which technology refreshes itself. Is this a revolution in military affairs, or slow evolution? We should rethink the reliance a soldier must have on his paper map talisman when his logistics train knows where he is and what he needs, when his vehicle knows where it is and where to go, and when his fire-and-forget weapon knows its launch site and aim point.

When doctrinal inertia demands that legacy systems and processes be kept in place at the same time as new demands are levied for new technologies and products, NIMA's problem is to fit it all in a fixed budget.

The solution is twofold.

First, legacy products should be outsourced, or otherwise fairly costed, and users of legacy products must be "cost informed" as to the resources they consume. Ideally, the valuation should be emphasized "at point of sale." One way to do this, which is generally resisted, is to price the products and go to "industrial funding," a euphemism for charging the users--i.e., turning consumers into customers.

The contrary argument, which has admitted merit, is that information/intelligence should, like oxygen, be free.14 Otherwise, to their detriment, warriors will neglect to "buy it," just as they frequently do for training or spares. One way to resolve this apparent paradox, not surprisingly, is leadership.

Second, insofar as new demands for new-tech products result from the introduction of a new weapons system, the cost of the geospatial product to support the system should be an identifiable variable in the "total cost of ownership" of that system. It should be factored into original acquisition decisions no less than fuel costs, ammunition, training, or spares. And it should be programmed and budgeted in the same manner and with the same vigor as the system itself.

7.4 Turning Consumers Into Customers

The Commission observes that national technical means (NTM) imagery appears to be "free" to government agencies, while use of commercial imagery generally requires a distressingly large expenditure of (largely unplanned, unprogrammed) O&M funds. This perception of NTM imagery as a free good, not surprisingly, influences the willingness of those organizations to seriously consider purchasing commercial imagery. Two suggestions for resolving this problem have been suggested to the Commission.

The solution, which the Commission favors, is to remove cost from the user's equation. That is, to set aside a central commercial imagery fund--administered separately and immunized from "embezzlement" by the Services, inter alia--against which components would then draw transparently to acquire commercial imagery, which would then seem as "free" to them as does NTM imagery.

While appealing, this solution ultimately must invoke a "rationing" scheme just as does NTM, inasmuch as the fund would seldom be sufficient to satisfy every demand. Only half jokingly, this can mean that the products are sometimes "freely unavailable."

The current solution is to "ration by price." Commercial products come already priced, which allows the users to be accurately "cost informed" as to the value of the resources they consume--ideally as they are about to consume them.

As previously pointed out, opponents argue that information/intelligence should, like oxygen, be free. Otherwise, to their detriment, warriors may neglect to "buy it," just as they frequently do for training or spares. To repeat: one way to resolve this apparent paradox is enlightened leadership.

7.5 NIMA "Commercialization" Strategy

If NIMA is in the information business, to what degree should it emulate commercial information providers? Modern information architecture argues that all of NIMA's information holdings be accessible via the "Web"--the Secret and Top Secret versions of Intelink, as well as a Virtual Private Network like OSIS--and that applications be similarly Web enabled and/or Web-served. Here, we consider whether NIMA's "business processes" should follow an e-business model, as well.

NIMA might serve its consumers best if it were to adopt many of the stratagems of commercial e-business. For example, NIMA might:

  • "Advertise" its products by "pushing" news about them to interested subscribers--i.e., those who "opted in" for e-mail notification--and it might deliver with its products accompanying "banner ads" that allowed users to "click through" to additional product and applications information, and doctrine. The goal is to educate the subscribers in context. NIMA's products, maps and images, have intrinsic "eye appeal" and would be well suited to this.
  • Advertise, in context, ancillary services such as training and new applications, both COTS and government-off-the-shelf (GOTS) over the protected Webs; and deliver these products and services over the same media.
  • Use "hot links" on its own products--the soft-copy maps and images it delivers to subscribers--to allow users to click through to substantive collateral materials.
  • Embed context-sensitive training and educational materials within the NIMA products, and enable the user to click through to take advantage of these.
  • Arrange for hot links on other INT products to direct users, in context, to relevant supporting NIMA products.
  • Permit qualified imagery vendors and value-added suppliers to "market" directly to the national security community--this would include qualified outsource enterprises to display available products and services, take orders directly, and fulfill them directly with suitable copies, as appropriate, to NIMA libraries.
  • Encourage commercial vendors to keep (i.e., to "replicate") their own archives on-line accessible over the USG's classified and PVN networks.
  • Provide multiple access pathways to NIMA library holdings, including "commercial vendor" pathways so that goodwill associated with past vendor performance can guide a user's browsing and extraction from archives.
  • Ensure that all products and services--from USG as well as from commercial vendors--carry a meaningful "price sticker" that allows consumption decisions to be "cost-informed."
  • Depending upon "industrial funding" decisions, enable account reconciliation with online payment transactions and balance checking; consider extending the transactions to "real" credit card purchases from qualified commercial vendors who have been invited online.

7.6 The Short Attention Span of Most Consumers

The Commission can confirm a shortage of long-term analysis in NIMA--although this neglect does not seem to be limited to NIMA, but rather prevalent throughout the Intelligence Community. As has ever been the case, absent constant vigilance, current intelligence tends to drive out long-range research. A complicating factor, for NIMA, is the fact that the long-term analysis that languishes is more properly the province of the national--i.e., nonmilitary--consumers. Notwithstanding the real scarcity of long-term efforts, the perception on the part of the national consumers may be exaggerated. Beyond the addition of collection and exploitation capacity, the alternative is better communication and credible management of expectations.

The Commission does not believe that NIMA can, itself, effect a rebalancing of short-term/long-term analysis, nor redress the "national-tactical" imbalance, if there is one. It is, in fact, the responsibility of the Director of Central Intelligence, in concert with the Secretary of Defense, to make these trade-offs. Even they, however, are prisoners of a well-meaning, but somewhat feckless, prioritization embodied in PDD-35.

Once envisioned as a justification for, and ratification of, the Intelligence Community's allocation of resources--an allocation that would purposefully reduce or eliminate coverage of some issues and areas, accepting the attendant risk--PDD-35, instead, has not one but two categories of highest importance, another category of highest importance for transient issues, which are remarkably intransigent, and a still higher highest priority of support to US deployed forces. And, of course, this "guidance" is coupled with an imperative to "miss nothing else of critical importance!" The Commission does not debate that these are all of the very highest importance, but does observe that this does not really help make hard allocation decisions. More important it does not help condition expectations nor suppress appetites.

The Commission reiterates that the shift toward short-term issues and away from long-term analysis is neither unique to NIMA nor of NIMA's making. Nor is it solely a reaction to tactical military concerns. In fact, it is a response to pressures from the policymakers as well as the operators. Like it or not, this is the age of "interactive TV news"--when CNN speaks, the NSC often feels compelled to act! The competition that pits intelligence against the news media is corrosive; the news media are not bound by the same needs for accuracy, which is always the enemy of timeliness.15 The consequences of a CNN misstep is (perhaps) a retraction the next day; the consequences of ill-advised action, misinformed by over hasty intelligence, can be far reaching. Notwithstanding, pressures to focus on the immediate are relentless; we commend the Intelligence Community for its attempts to resist and urge continued efforts for the vital long-term work.

7.7 Tension Between "National" and "Tactical" Users

While understandable, the Commission believes this perception misdirected. Worse, the "national-tactical" debate has become a rallying cry for a competition that is already disruptive, and threatens to become destructive.

The context for this issue can be found in a number of recent events and trends: (1) the increasing number of military contingencies requiring intelligence support; (2) the overall increase in intelligence requirements worldwide; (3) insufficient collection capability and too few imagery analysts; and finally, (4) the absence of a single overwhelming target of focus such as the Soviet Union. All of these factors influence the policy/mission rationale and underpinning for intelligence support provided by NIMA.

The Commission finds that the issue is not one of national intelligence requirements versus tactical intelligence requirements, nor is it strategic versus tactical. Rather, the issue is one of balancing long-term intelligence support and analysis versus short-term (i.e., crisis support) intelligence support and analysis. Largely because of the operational pressures described above, perceptions (but not necessarily data) exist that NIMA emphasizes support to the warfighter at the expense of building long-term analytical capital and support to the national intelligence community. In reality, this is a complex issue, but perceptions have contributed to beliefs that the national Intelligence Community is being shortchanged. The Commission suggests that this issue be framed in the "long versus short" context, but more important that the community needs to recognize that NIMA provides support to a wide range of customers at all levels, all in support of national security goals and objectives.

The Intelligence Community leadership must work to defuse this issue, and certainly refrain from itself throwing gasoline on the fire.


14 While some argue users should have to pay for their imagery and geospatial information, others argue that information dominance cannot be achieved by rationing the information in this way. Surely, Joint Vision-2010/20 did not envision that the turbo-charged engine of information dominance would need to be fed quarters, more like a parking meter.

15 As in "haste makes waste."

Foreword | Executive Summary and Key Judgments | Introduction | NIMA from the Beginning
NIMA in Context | Two-and-a-Half Roles for NIMA | The Promise of NIMA
NIMA and Its Stakeholders | NIMA and Its "Customers" | Is There a "National vs Tactical" Problem?
NIMA and Its Peers and Partners | NIMA and Its Suppliers | NIMA Management Challenges
NIMA's Information Systems | NIMA Research and Development
NIMA and Its Information Architecture | Recommendations | Appendix A
Appendix B | Glossary of Terms

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