Integration crucial to geospatial intell as budgets slashed: Clapper

Need to share and protect data pose additional challenges

After a decade of rapid growth fueled by generous budgets, the geospatial intelligence community is facing a future that will be dominated by budget cuts. Integration will be the cornerstone of plans that will let the industry continue to bring more benefits during this era of austerity.

“The deficit poses a challenge to national security.…Coincidentally today we handed in our homework assignment, if you will, to [the White House Office of Management and Budget], and it calls for cuts in the double-digit range with a ‘B’ over 10 years,” said James Clapper, director of national intelligence.

He stressed the benefits of integration during his opening speech at GEOINT 2011 Symposium in San Antonio, Texas, on Oct. 17, 2011. This focus on collaboration and integration was set by the 9-11 Commission, which felt that the sum is greater than the parts when intelligence is integrated. Integration has several dimensions, going horizontally across intelligence communities and vertically in engagements between state and local agencies, Clapper said.

“It’s crucial here that we have cooperation with the FBI and the Dept. of Homeland security. The FBI has undergone an incredible transformation,” Clapper said. DNI and the FBI recently forged a cooperative agreement, he said.

Integration will also occur on the technical side, which will be critical for expanding capabilities while budgets are being slashed. Clapper hopes that as much as half of the savings will come from advances in information technology.

“There is a huge potential for achieving savings and integration through IT, 20 to 25 percent of our activities are coded as IT. We are seeing advances in cloud computing. It’s an enabling technology, not a panacea, that has great potential,” Clapper said. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and the DNI will work towards integrating a common IT architecture while still allowing flexibility for unique requirements.

The role of commercial providers will also be impacted during this period of austerity.

“We are committed to sustaining a healthy industry base, commercial imagery has a very important complementary role to play,” Clapper said. “The question of whether its role will continue at the levels of the past remains to be seen.”

Additional challenges facing the geospatial intelligence field are the responsibility to share data, the necessity to protect data and the need to protect American citizen’s civil rights. He also noted that maintaining diversity will be a key role as the DNI hires new people, which must occur so there’s an influx of new blood and new ideas. This diversity will include multi-language capabilities, he added.

Overall, a primary focus of the integrated intelligence-gathering community will be on improving intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. “ISR is the coin of the realm, there is an unlimited appetite that won’t fade even as we phase down in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Clapper said.

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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