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NGA Director Letitia Long on transformation of the agency

Director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Apr. 14, 2014
Letitia Long is guiding NGIA through a transition to become a new kind of information provider.
Letitia Long is guiding NGIA through a transition to become a new kind of information provider. ()
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The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) 2013-2017 strategy calls for evolving its capabilities in the wake of the Arab Spring and the pivot to focus on the Asia–Pacific region. For an update on how the agency is evolving its capabilities through the Intelligence Community’s Information Technology Enterprise (IC ITE) and improved processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) of geospatial intelligence, NGA Director Letitia Long provided written responses to questions from C4ISR & Networks Editor Barry Rosenberg.

With support of the warfighter a given, what’s at the top of your to-do list?

LONG: Today, we’re transforming from a traditional product provider — static maps, charts, analytic products — into a dynamic content and services provider, delivering advanced analysis, driving integrated intelligence, constantly evolving critical geospatial content and offering expert service — not only to the warfighter, but to all of our customers.

NGA envisions a not-too-distant future where analysts may “live within the data,” immersed in a multisensory, fully integrated environment and equipped with advanced visual, auditory, and tactile tools and technologies. To do all this, we’re aggressively pursuing four critical strategic initiatives: open information technology, the Map of the World, the Globe user experience and advanced analytics.

Open IT and our leading role in the IC ITE is laying the infrastructure for this transformation. Showing the way toward an integrated enterprise, NGA is operating “in the cloud,” making significant strides in productivity, user satisfaction and the integration of different types of GEOINT with other intelligence information.

The Map of the World will soon be the home for all GEOINT-related and multisource content: data, knowledge, analysis and reporting. Intelligence integration in the truest sense, it will provide a single, seamless and integrated environment where intelligence analysts can record and integrate multiple pieces of information about any single object of interest.

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NGA’s customer service will come to be defined by the Globe, a single Web portal to access all our GEOINT data and knowledge. We won’t be satisfied until all intelligence is available — at any time, from any location through any desktop or mobile device.

These initiatives provide the foundation for delivering advanced GEOINT insights in an integrated environment more quickly than ever before. Activity based intelligence, an advanced analytic tradecraft, is focused on discovering the unknown unknowns hidden in the masses of data created every day.

NGA’s 2013-2017 strategy document mentioned the establishment of an agile and dynamic enterprise architecture. Please tell me about how you envision being able to take advantage of such an architecture, and what physical steps have been taken to implement it?

LONG: NGA’s enterprise architecture (EA) guides our solution development and integration efforts toward the common infrastructure outlined by the IC ITE, which allows NGA’s architecture to be flexible and robust, and respond to changes in the mission, customer needs, technology and workforce of the agency. This current structure has evolved over the last several years to better position the agency to meet its current and future mission sets in today’s resource-constrained environment. Through a more agile acquisition process, NGA will soon provide applications and services that can be rapidly combined and tailored to meet customer needs, provide new sources of information and integration information, and take advantage of emerging geospatial technologies in new and unexpected ways.

For this effort to be successful, NGA is implementing policies and architectural guidance that increase programs’ relevance to each other, ultimately improving interoperability among services and platforms, and leveraging the absorption of new and emerging capabilities from mission partners and allies. We are also applying common standards that allow for better discoverability of and access to GEOINT content. NGA is securing this data and information — rather than information systems — through a “tag the data, tag the user” approach, which ensures the right people are accessing the right information.

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This model allows for more flexible platforms on which to rapidly develop capabilities such as Map of the World and the Globe — the future of geospatial intelligence. These two capabilities are prime examples of how an agile and dynamic enterprise architecture will provide discoverability and access to integrated GEOINT data on all networks that is adaptable to customers’ access levels, bandwidth and visualization capabilities.

These critical investments and technologies, combined with NGA’s agile enterprise architecture approach and IC ITE’s powerful cloud computing and shared IT infrastructure, will continue to evolve the NGA EA to better provide secure capabilities that support NGA’s customers while intelligently managing our resources.

In August, the Defense Intelligence Agency and NGA deployed the first iteration for common desktop software, which will include standard email, collaboration tools and video conferencing for all IC employees. What capabilities have been rolled out since then and how many users are being supported?

LONG: Since we deployed the first iteration of the common desktop, we have added a number of new capabilities along with updated versions of current software products. New capabilities include a self-service application provisioning system that allows IC DTE (desktop environment) users to download software for which we already have a license. This relieves our IT staff from manually loading software across the agency, thereby accelerating the availability of standard software offerings to our customers. We have also enhanced our unified communications capabilities by offering a common collaboration tool (Cisco Jabber). This enhancement provides a single interface for secure voicemail integration with email, peer-to-peer file sharing, a screen capture tool and Outlook calendar integration. As additional users transition into the common operating environment, the Cisco Jabber Tool will serve as a single interface for desired community-wide collaboration.

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As of the end of February 2014, there were almost 4,000 IC DTE users being supported across NGA and DIA combined.

What are the timelines/milestones for rolling out other shared desktop and IC ITE capabilities this fiscal year, and what can industry expect in terms of planned RFPs and RFIs?

LONG: Our ongoing rollout has been a measured transition where we could refine the implementation process and improve the product. We are operating on a quarterly release cycle for releasing feature enhancements and desktop improvements, and are working to expand computing capacity in order to support thousands of DIA and NGA users by the end of fiscal year 2015.

In terms of what industry can expect, we plan to select a contractor to implement the second phase of the IC DTE. Phase two includes supporting the migration of the common desktop to the rest of the intelligence community. The IC DTE phase two work efforts will include the migration, implementation and sustainment of the IC DTE common desktop to the rest of the intelligence community.

Recently I interviewed Maj. Gen. Jack Shanahan, director, Air Force ISR Agency, and he had this to say about PED: “Today we are using the term PC-PAD, or Planning and Direction, Collection, Processing and exploitation, Analysis and Production, and Dissemination. Why is it important to move to that concept? The perception of PED is that it’s more passive. It’s platform-based. PC-PAD to me is active, anticipatory, and that means it starts with planning and direction. We had a tendency in the past to look more at a platform. Now we are focused on a problem-driven approach.” What’s your view of how PED should evolve to be more efficient?

LONG: We are fundamentally transforming our analysis by shifting away from problem-driven and target-based approaches and focusing on three key elements:

■ Structuring GEOINT data around the community’s object-based production (OBP) framework. Today relationships between objects and activities are not linked, the data can’t be queried easily and analytic tools cannot be applied. Structuring data around objects allows us to expose GEOINT content and analysis to the IC at the data level and support the IC’s OBP framework.

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■ Creating analytic models and strategies. In the past, models have been part of analytic tradecraft, and either passed on orally to other analysts or written out in narrative format to answer a particular intelligence requirement making them not easily testable, updateable or machine readable.

Building models utilizing structured data will enable the community to improve our cumulative understanding of issues, and enable analysts to identify gaps in our knowledge, test hypotheses, discover unique indicators, anticipate adversary behavior and drive collection.

■ Developing advanced analytics. We must employ new techniques and tools in our tradecraft to automate the structured observations and models to provide advanced data analytics and tools to help analysts discover signatures, patterns and relationships hidden within data.

We are developing algorithms to sustain analysts’ awareness of the knowns, as well as to alert analysts to the anomalies or the unknowns. When analysts spend less time monitoring the knowns, they have more time to discover and understand unknown objects, behaviors and relationships to create common understanding across the IC and DoD and better solve the nation’s most challenging intelligence problems.

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