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

8. Is There a "National Versus Tactical" Problem?

The Commission heard substantial testimony about a so-called "national versus tactical" problem, namely a concern that NIMA's support to national customers, such as CIA, was being sacrificed in order to support the operational demands of the military customers, such as those at European and Central Command. Here, we attempt to separate out the real issues and concerns, and offer some strategies for their mitigation and possible relief.

8.1 A Characterization of the Problem

Many officials complained that NIMA's tasking, collection, and exploitation strategies had a negative effect on our understanding of long-term intelligence issues--such as the development and spread of weapons of mass destruction--because of a tendency to emphasize military operational needs, such as those of Operations Southern Watch and Northern Watch. While no one doubted the legitimate need for information about the threat to US forces operating in the area of those activities, many did question whether the volume of imagery collection, the details of imagery collection, or the strategy used to ensure imagery collection was appropriate in light of other intelligence needs.

First and foremost, the Commission was concerned that the discussion about this problem lacked rigor in terms of thinking and taxonomy. While discussants revealed important problems related to imagery collection and exploitation on longer-term issues and questions, they seemed to be describing not one but various problems which in the aggregate could contribute to a perception of a "national versus tactical" problem. Among these were competitions between strategic and tactical intelligence targets, strategic and operational intelligence targets, and long-term versus short-term intelligence information needs.

It is overly simplistic to define any customer's requirements slate as being purely focused on national, strategic, operational, or tactical problems; both policy-makers and military commanders alike deal with problems that vary in scope and duration. The accompanying diagram may help us characterize this problem: it points out that this is (at least) a two-dimensional problem. There is the question of who the consumer is for the information--a national-level decisionmaker or an agency such as CIA that is oriented first and foremost to that national policy level, or operators in the theater. And there is the separable question of whether the information primarily serves a strategic or a tactical purpose.

In the case of Usama Bin Ladin, it is primarily of national-level concern, but decidedly tactical--i.e., short-term focus.

In the case of "Northern Watch" or "Southern Watch--nationally directed, but theater-executed mission in Iraq--the theater is principally concerned, and the focus is also tactical.

In the case of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) the focus is more strategic-long-term and principally (although not exclusively) an item of national-level interest.

What unifies the two dimensions, and best characterizes the real problem (as opposed to the atmospherics) is the issue of long-term versus short-term.

8.2 The Need to Turn Down the Heat

This issue disturbed the Commission because of the extent to which it had become polarized--or "politicized"--and bruited about publicly by senior DoD and Intelligence Community officials with little supporting evidence.

A few chose to use this ill-defined problem as yet another reason to condemn NIMA, revisit its creation, and question its future viability as the nation's provider of imagery and geospatial information. Some among the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and CIA continue to dwell on having "lost NPIC" and continually fret about NIMA's role as a combat support agency. These concerns discolor their perceptions of NIMA and threaten to reduce their own and NIMA's overall effectiveness.

The Commission believes that this issue is sufficiently controversial that it requires the DCI's and SECDEF's attention, in particular, to moderate the political differences and address the real problems.

8.3 Identifying Some Component Problems

Concerns about NIMA support to national and tactical customers are best dealt with in terms of specifics, rather than casting the problem as an overall competition. The Commission believes that it is unhelpful to define this issue in such broad terms, and especially perilous to raise it so often and so publicly.

Fundamentally, the problem reflects the scarcity of imagery resources, both collection and exploitation, to deal with today's complex slate of intelligence requirements, especially in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and North Africa. Whereas the geography of the Soviet Union allowed for many imagery collection opportunities of mutual interest to the national and operational communities, the geography of today's adversaries and interesting intelligence targets create competition both within countries and between countries. The current shortage of long-term exploitation derives primarily from the loss of skilled imagery analysts and the need for the remaining few to spend their time mentoring new hires.

The Commission believes that, while this "national versus tactical" contretemps tends to be overheated, it does contain real issues that merit attention, both by NIMA and by its consumers and stakeholders. Among these real issues are the following:

Lack of collection feedback--One difficulty with current processes for tasking imagery collection and/or requesting exploitation is the lack of information available to a requester as to the status of the request. FEDEX(TM) is the invidious comparison--when one sends a package, it receives a unique identifier, or tracking number, which is provided by the sender to the intended recipient. Both feel satisfied that they can track accurately the progress of the package. No such capability today attaches to requests for imagery and/or exploitation.16

Poor collaboration and communication--Contenders for imaging capacity often have more in common than they realize. The DCI, in his Strategic Intent, has given a high priority to improvements in communications infrastructure for collaboration. Substantive managers need to value more the collaborations that take place today, and to find ways to structure their issues and their incentives so as to increase collaboration, which promotes both efficiency and understanding.

NIMA as mediator/facilitator--The Commission found that NIMA gets mixed reviews about its role as mediator of contentions and somewhat better reviews about its role as a facilitator of collaboration. Not surprisingly, the "winners" always like the mediator better than do the "losers." Of course the goal of good mediation (getting to yes) is for neither party to feel disadvantaged. NIMA can help, but the tone has to be set by the Intelligence Community leadership writ large.

Scarcity of imagery analysts--NIMA lost a lot of its expertise, both at its creation and in the overall downsizing of IC personnel in the early 1990's. The departure of NPIC image analysts from the imagery analysis business (many are involved in other CIA analytic functions today) reduced the amount of high-level collection and imagery analysis expertise, some of which could help mitigate the current concerns through more creative collection strategies. The Director of NIMA is to be commended for recognizing this problem and for formulating a creative plan to rebuild the imagery analytic experience base.

(Lack of) Proximity of imagery analysts to their all-source customers--By all accounts, the placement of NIMA imagery analysts at the military commands is highly productive: proximity to the all-source analyst, cognizance of the specific problem set, and collocation with other relevant sources of information all contribute to the heightened ability of the imagery analyst stationed at the commands. Yet CIA and DIA, by virtue of the arrangements made at the creation of NIMA, are bereft of such dedicated, on-site support.17

A focus on short-term problems rather than long-term problems--A focus on short-term problems rather than long-term problems dogs NIMA, as mentioned previously. As with the rest of intelligence, the imagery enterprise has been driven much more toward a current intelligence focus, whether for national or military customers. Intelligence problems that require more long-term research focus, such as WMD issues, get short shrift in the press of daily business.

8.4 Strategies for Relief and Mitigation

Relatively new to the scene are the Assistant DCIs for Collection and for Analysis and Planning (ADCI/C and ADCI/AP, respectively). The Commission applauds the steps already taken by the ADCI/C in improving communication between collectors and consumers, and the creative approach to problems of contention embodied in some studies conducted by his Advanced Collection Concepts Development Center. There is more that he, in concert with the ADCI/AP, can do to institutionalize collaboration and to shorten the loop between requesters and collectors.

In order to relieve the shortage of imagery analysts and restore more emphasis to long-term issues, D/NIMA's strategy is to move 300 positions (60 per year, 2001-2005) from cartography to imagery analysis. Despite a request from the field for half of these, D/NIMA is determined to keep all in the Washington area. The Commission endorses D/NIMA's decision that all should remain in the DC area and be dedicated to long-term issues, which will help restore balance.

8.5 Some Longer-Term Concerns

Some mistakenly believe that with EIS and FIA the contention for collection will be eliminated--that we will no longer be collection limited. But if history is any guide, more collection capacity will be more than compensated for by increased demand.

Even in terms of anticipated demand, the Commission has reservations about whether commercial imagery and airborne assets will be able to deliver on their promise. If not, FIA will fall short of expectations and we will be little better off than now--perhaps worse because people will have built availability assumptions into their systems and concept of operations (CONOPS) that will be expensive to repair.


16 Or for map production either, for that matter.

17 There are NIMA analysts embedded in certain operational activities; this is distinct from more general "command" support to all-source analysts.

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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