Intel/GEOINT

Former NGA director joins satellite imagery company

WASHINGTON — The former leader of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has joined Planet Federal, a commercial satellite imagery provider that works closely with the intelligence community.

Robert Cardillo will be the chief strategist and chairman of the board of Planet Federal, where he “will be responsible for supporting strategic decision-making for future products and services that align with mission needs of the U.S. government, driving meaningful partnerships and increasing the utility of commercial innovations for global government agencies,” the company said in its announcement Tuesday.

Cardillo served as NGA director for four years, leading the agency charged with mapping the world and providing geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) to the intelligence community and policy makers. The former director has a lengthy history working with GEOINT, launching his intelligence career in 1983 as an imagery analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Before becoming director of the NGA, Cardillo worked in leadership positions with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He was President Barack Obama’s daily intelligence briefer from 2010 to 2014.

While Cardillo stepped down as director in February 2019, he has remained heavily involved in the GEOINT community. He joined the boards of multiple contractors and was named chair of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s board. He was also named a Distinguished Geospatial Fellow by the Saint Louis University Research Institute and has been an advocate for making the St. Louis region — the future home of the NGA West campus — a hub of GEOINT activity and innovation.

During Cardillo’s time at the NGA, the responsibility for acquiring commercial satellite imagery was gradually transitioned to the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency in charge of designing, developing and building the nation’s spy satellites. As the primary consumer of commercial imagery, NGA still sets imagery requirements for any contracts. Since leaving the agency, Cardillo has been an advocate for commercial imagery, calling on the NGA and other government agencies to embrace more commercial, academic and foreign capabilities.

At Planet Federal, Cardillo will work with one of the most prominent companies providing satellite imagery to the intelligence community and competing for government contracts. Under Cardillo’s leadership, NGA had a multiyear subscription for daily access to Planet’s unclassified 3-5 meter resolution images. In 2019 that subscription transitioned to NRO. Planet was one of a handful of companies initially awarded study contracts by NRO in 2019. Those study contracts will help NRO determine what kind of contracts the office will offer to commercial providers. And in November, NGA added Planet Federal and BlackSky data to its Global Enhanced GEOINT Delivery system — a portal that provides unclassified imagery to the federal government and 55 foreign partners.

“As our world becomes less tethered to facts, a daily snapshot of our planet creates a framework for more civil discourse. This information provides more informed conversations around our common challenges — international order, threats to privacy, oppression of minorities and infringement of civil liberties,” said Cardillo in a statement accompanying the Planet Federal announcement. “We have an exciting opportunity to provide a more transparent planet by contributing to the global scientific baseline and shining a bright light on bad actors. I believe there’s an argument to be made that Planet’s comprehensive daily view can help return America to its role as a beacon for truth and a partner for global prosperity.”

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