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Map of the World lead John Goolgasian says discovering intel should be as easy as finding a restaurant.
Map of the World lead John Goolgasian says discovering intel should be as easy as finding a restaurant. ()

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Call it an intelligence revolution: Officials at U.S. agencies are determined to usher in a new phase in intelligence operations, and users already are seeing benefits. The new paradigm was the centerpiece of the GEOINT 2013* symposium in Tampa, Florida, in April, and continues to take shape.

The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is helping to drive some of the biggest changes in intelligence operations the community has ever seen, harnessing high-powered commercial technology to enable users to “live within the data,” as NGA Director Letitia Long described it.

“Today I can say beyond any doubt that we are achieving our goals, we have crossed the tipping point in realizing our vision and we are leading the way to the next phase of intelligence,” Long said. “We are building the platform for communitywide integration. This platform is NGA’s declaration of our principles and priorities that drive integration forward and deliver the next phase of intelligence: immersion. And by immersion I mean living, interacting and experimenting with the data in a multimedia, multisensory experience with GEOINT at its core.”

NGA’s Map of the World, an initiative aimed at seamlessly integrating data, providing intelligence in new ways and bringing the agency’s stores of data out of its historical past into a modern, information service-enabled age, is the power behind the push.

“In the past our products were made specifically for certain services or products, such as for the military commands or intelligence agencies. It involved individual specifications, and the data behind them was stored in individual databases that really didn’t talk to each other,” said John Goolgasian, who runs NGA’s Foundation GEOINT Group and is the lead on Map of the World. “Why can’t we create the same environment for intelligence as finding a restaurant close to your hotel? For example, what’s happening spatially in Crimea and Ukraine? Why can’t we create an environment easy enough so anyone can go in and find information without really knowing they’re doing geospatial analysis or geospatial intelligence?”

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That’s a big part of Map of the World’s goal: to make visualized intelligence accessible and adaptable to a user’s unique needs. Defense and intelligence community users can lay their own data over NGA’s in Map of the World — such as logistical mission information in a defense operations center, or NSA users overlaying signals intelligence.

The initiative will include 12 views that have evolved substantially over the past nine months, with 10 of them published and available to Map of the World users. They include capabilities like the maritime view, which delivers vital safety and navigation information, and provides up-to-date data on things like piracy hazards at sea, Goolgasian noted.

“And you can combine that with other views, such as aeronautical or topographic, so you can start servicing intelligence and operations planning with that information as well,” he said. “If there’s some type of activity at a port, you can start to see how those things interact with each other, moving from port to air to land to sea — all in one place, without a geospatial expert with you pulling that information together.”

Beyond maritime, the other views include international boundaries, analysis, elevation, geospatial names, geomatics, transportation, human geography, the aforementioned aeronautical and topographic data, and controlled imagery and integrated composite view. The last two are expected by August.

Industry and commercial technology have played a huge role in Map of the World’s evolution, starting in the early 2000s when the ability to consume and analyze data online increasingly became the norm. The rise of commoditized navigation and Web mapping accelerated changes that have pushed the intelligence community more toward the open standards used in everyday, unclassified life.

As such, NGA is turning to industry to help solve its toughest problems in nonconventional ways, including with the recent release of a broad agency announcement that describes some key problems and asks for commercial solutions. Goolgasian said the plan is to try to quickly turn that around into contract awards to test out enterprisewide viability.

“How do we bring in information seamlessly, almost in a crowdsourcing sense? How can I leverage intelligence and defense users around the world?” Goolgasian said. “It’s a unifying technology and unifying way of thinking about the world around us, and we want to bring that experience to those users.”

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