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Is GEOINT Too Exclusive?

August 6, 2015  - By 2 Comments

Dr. Todd Bacastow, PSU, talked with me about geointelligence in the broader business community. See the full interview below.

Time for a Revolution — or Evolution

In July at GEOINT 2015 I was talking with long-time colleague Dr. Todd Bacastow. Many of you may know him as the retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and Penn State professor heavily involved in the Geospatial Intelligence Certificate program and the lead for the GEOINT Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) series focused on GEOINT. He proposed a topic for my column that struck a nerve with me since I and others had danced around the potentially heretical issue — is it time to open and expand the GEOINT community to a larger audience?

As retired military officers, Todd and I share a common overarching loyalty and desire to do what we can to make life better and more survivable for our colleagues on active duty. GEOINT has certainly helped by providing detailed and timely actionable intelligence for those at the tip of the spear. However, can we do even better? Most assuredly yes!

The most advanced tip of the spear is our Special Operations community. Manycivilians picture Special Operations members as knuckle-dragging Rambos shooting up the countryside, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, they are without doubt the most intelligent, observant and capable people on our DOD team. They’ve learned over decades of experience that they can complete their missions and accomplish far more by winning the hearts and minds of individuals they deal with. Doing that requires hours, days and weeks of due diligence reviewing intelligence and any crumb of information that will make a difference.

Gone are the days of just looking at aerial photography. Now we have countless sources and types of imagery, analytics, tracking, social media, signals and human intelligence. Putting that complex slurry of information together into solid actionable intelligence is everyone’s goal, and the business community is no exception.

Looking around the GEOINT Expo, I saw countless three-letter agency reps, military and homeland security personnel. There were an equal number of defense contractors and related business personnel, but everything was focused on military/security applications. Other than Pitney Bowes showing MapInfo, primarily a business-focused GIS, there were few exhibitors showing technology not aimed at the traditional GEOINT community.

Our military and other first responders have tasks and responsibilities that are serious, complex and becoming more challenging. Limiting the talent pool and body of knowledge to only the narrow GEOINT community is not something we can afford to do. The creative talent found in the broader business community is too valuable to neglect.

Watch the video interview I shot at GEOINT 2015 with Bacastow and Dennis Bellafiore, Ph.D., both of Pennsylvania State University.

My chief concern is bringing the business community in with the understanding that this would be an open and sharing environment. My first real use of GIS after retiring from the Navy in 1993 were some business applications, mostly site studies and trade area analysis. In those early days, GIS grew rapidly within the business community. There were trade shows aimed at business applications of GIS, and even a publication called Business Geographics. Much to my surprise, Business Geographics and associated trade shows died out after only a few years. Some said that everyone learned all there was to learn! I don’t think so. A more likely reason was that the geospatial technology gave businesses a competitive edg.e so there was little incentive to expose trade secrets. Everyone wanted to learn about GIS, but few wanted to open their own kimono.

Would an all-inclusive GEOINT organization run into the same fate? Perhaps if we promote it as “we are all in the same boat” and this is your opportunity to help those at the “tip of the spear.” In this age of cyber warfare and corporate espionage, perhaps we might be able to make this happen by promoting mutual aid and security. I think USGIF and most geospatial industry partners would be interested and very supportive of the idea. But most important, can you imagine the explosion of ideas and the benefits to all geospatial users.

Todd, Dennis and I would really appreciate your opinion. Please leave comments below.

Art Kalinski

About the Author:

A career Naval Officer, Art Kalinski established the Navy’s first geographic information system (GIS) in the mid-1980s. Completing a post-graduate degree in GIS at the University of North Carolina, he was the Atlanta Regional Commission GIS Manager from 1993 to 2007. He pioneered the use of oblique imagery for public safety and participated in numerous disaster-response actions including GIS/imagery support of the National Guard during Hurricane Katrina; the Urban Area Security Initiative; a NIMS-based field exercise in Atlanta; and a fully manned hardware-equipped joint disaster response exercise in New York City. Kalinski retired early from ARC to join Pictometry International to direct military projects using oblique imagery, which led to him joining SPGlobal Inc. He has written articles for numerous geospatial publications, and authors a monthly column for the GeoIntelligence Insider e-newsletter aimed at federal GIS users.

2 Comments on "Is GEOINT Too Exclusive?"

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  1. Cliff Mugnier says:

    Open it up? Sure, that would be an Earth-shattering idea. In fact, I’ll bet the interest and readership would really blossom among Persian Operators. Taliban and ISIL readers would be most interested, too.

    Golly, what a wonderful idea!

    (Note: I have two sons that indeed work and operate in SCIF areas.)


    • Art Kalinski says:

      I believe the reader is conflating the classified and unclassified GEOINT worlds. Currently anyone who can read and/or has a computer can access the unclassified GEOINT body of knowledge – College courses, publications such a KMI Geospatial Intelligence Forum, USGIF Trajectory, Earth Imaging Journal,ESRI,etc. Additionally, USGIF posts a wealth of information about GEOINT including written and video content covering much of the unclassified GEOINT Symposiums.
      The problem has been that the information flows out but the reverse is very limited, so we don’t benefit from potentially new and beneficial ideas.
      As I mentioned, Todd and I have our first loyalty to our military colleagues, including my active duty daughter and son-in-law. Inviting the business community to participate might help all of us and strengthen USGIF.

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