Summary

The mission of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is to provide timely, relevant, and accurate geospatial intelligence to support national security. NGA defines geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) as “the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess, and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth” (NGA, 2004a). NGA faces a crisis of need in the post-9/11 world. Without effective GEOINT, the nation and its armed services are vulnerable to security risks and threats. NGA must improve the speed, rigor, accuracy, fidelity, and relevance of its geospatial analyses while the sources of data increase in number and type, and data volume grows. Because GEOINT is moving rapidly to ever-finer temporal, spatial, radiometric, and spectral resolutions, increased volumes and more complex data must be absorbed—that is, captured, stored, analyzed, and reported. The time horizons of problems that the intelligence community seeks to understand have gone from months and days to hours and minutes. Other challenges include adopting and spearheading new methods and technologies while maintaining fully operational existing systems; integrating data from a host of old and new sources through rapid georectification and spatial analysis; improving uncertainty management, including dealing with denial and deception; dealing with data volume issues, especially the need to automate human interpretation tasks; ubiquity of access, including web-based systems and the effective reuse of existing data; and the ability to work effectively within a broadening pool of partners and allies while maintaining appropriate security control. The challenges can be



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Priorities for Geoint Research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Summary The mission of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is to provide timely, relevant, and accurate geospatial intelligence to support national security. NGA defines geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) as “the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess, and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth” (NGA, 2004a). NGA faces a crisis of need in the post-9/11 world. Without effective GEOINT, the nation and its armed services are vulnerable to security risks and threats. NGA must improve the speed, rigor, accuracy, fidelity, and relevance of its geospatial analyses while the sources of data increase in number and type, and data volume grows. Because GEOINT is moving rapidly to ever-finer temporal, spatial, radiometric, and spectral resolutions, increased volumes and more complex data must be absorbed—that is, captured, stored, analyzed, and reported. The time horizons of problems that the intelligence community seeks to understand have gone from months and days to hours and minutes. Other challenges include adopting and spearheading new methods and technologies while maintaining fully operational existing systems; integrating data from a host of old and new sources through rapid georectification and spatial analysis; improving uncertainty management, including dealing with denial and deception; dealing with data volume issues, especially the need to automate human interpretation tasks; ubiquity of access, including web-based systems and the effective reuse of existing data; and the ability to work effectively within a broadening pool of partners and allies while maintaining appropriate security control. The challenges can be

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Priorities for Geoint Research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency summarized as the conversion of what today are data into distilled information and knowledge. Yet analysis methods have not evolved to integrate multiple sources of data rapidly to create actionable intelligence. Nor do today’s means of information dissemination, indexing, and preservation suit this new agenda or future needs. NGA will play a major role for the entire intelligence community in creating the next-generation National System for Geospatial Intelligence and has set forth a consistent vision of what this next-generation GEOINT should be. This vision is intended to see NGA through the transition into a new era. NGA also plays a leading role in supporting fundamental research for the next generation of GEOINT, termed GEOINT2 in this report. It is within this context that the National Academies was asked by NGA to identify research priorities and strategic directions in geospatial science for the NGA’s Basic and Applied Research Program. The goal of the study was to examine both “hard problems” in geospatial science that must be addressed to improve geospatial intelligence, and promising methods and tools in geospatial science and related disciplines to pursue in order to resolve these problems. The results of this study are intended to help NGA’s chief scientist to anticipate and prioritize geospatial science research directions and, by doing so, to enhance NGA’s mix of research as it addresses these priorities. NGA has defined its “top 10 challenges” for GEOINT. Using these as a base, along with knowledge of the current state of the art in geospatial information science, the hard research problems associated with each of the GEOINT challenges were identified, leading to a total of 12 recommendations. The hard problems are summarized in Table S.1. Several promising methods and techniques for approaching each of these hard problems are addressed in the body of this report. While it is useful to associate the hard research problems with the GEOINT challenges, it is also instructive to look at them in the context of the GEOINT process. This study puts forth a framework that describes the GEOINT2 process information flow. The key stages in this geospatial information flow are to acquire, identify, integrate, analyze, disseminate, and preserve. Consequently the hard problems are linked to one or more steps in the process flow that they impact. Looking at the hard problems, both in terms of an overall GEOINT challenge and in terms of the GEOINT process itself, is useful for prioritization of research goals. The success of the research program in creating new technologies and techniques to address NGA’s GEOINT vision is dependent not only on the focus of the research, but also on the research process itself. NGA-led research is conducted through a wide variety of programs inside and outside NGA, including academic research grants, broad area announcements, contracts, and funding to various agencies and organizations. The

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Priorities for Geoint Research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency TABLE S.1 Summary of Hard Problems NGA Challenge Hard Problems Recommendation (1) Achieve persistent tasking, processing, exploitation, and dissemination (TPED) Assimilation of new, numerous, and disparate sensor networks within the TPED process 1 Spatiotemporal data mining and knowledge discovery from heterogeneous sensor data streams 2 Spatiotemporal database management systems 3 (7) Compress time line Process automation and human cognition 4 Visualization 5 High-performance grid computing for geospatial data 6 (2-6) Exploit all forms of imagery (and intelligence) Image data fusion across space, time, spectrum, and scale 7 Role of text and place name search in data integration 8 Reuse and preservation of data 9 Detection of moving objects from multiple heterogeneous intelligence sources 10 (8) Share with coalition forces, partners, and communities at large GEOINT ontology 11 (9) Support homeland security Covered by other areas   (10) Promote horizontal integration Multilevel security 12 effectiveness of the research process has become even more important since a considerable part of the research activity in geographic information science now has some roots in NGA-funded programs. Therefore, this study makes five recommendations to increase the effectiveness of the research process. To improve the coordination of the research program, the committee recommends increasing the use of peer review and

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Priorities for Geoint Research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency better defining the roles, responsibilities, and relationships of the various participants in NGA research. To increase the number of basic research projects that result in the development of new technologies and techniques that can be incorporated into the GEOINT process, the committee recommends an improved definition of the current and future information systems architectures and a clear plan for integrating research and development projects into these architectures, including better integration with open systems architectures. To maximize the pool of research expertise available to NGA, the committee recommends working to involve the geospatial science and technology community from coalition countries. Finally, the complete set of recommendations is given a priority of 1 to 3, with 1 being the highest. The priorities are summarized in Table 6.2 of this report and are proposed for consideration by NGA as it works to develop a research agenda to support the evolution to GEOINT2, the geospatial intelligence infrastructure for the twenty-first century.