GEOG 885
Advanced Analytic Methods for the GEOINT Professional

Review: What is Intelligence?


Lowenthal defines intelligence in three ways:

  • Intelligence as a process.
    A means by which certain types of information are required and requested, collected, analyzed, and disseminated, and as the way in which certain types of covert action are conceived and conducted.
  • Intelligence as a product.
    A knowledge product resulting from analyses and intelligence operations themselves.
  • Intelligence as an organization.
    Entities that carry out various functions for Intelligence.

To most, intelligence is information that is secret. This misses a fundamental point. Information is anything that can be known, regardless of how it is discovered. Intelligence is information that meets the stated or understood needs of policy makers, and has been collected, processed, and narrowed to meet those needs. Therefore, intelligence is a subset of the broader category of information. Intelligence and the entire process by which it is identified, obtained, and analyzed responds to the needs of policy makers. It can be said that all intelligence is information; not all information is intelligence.

Most people tend to think of intelligence in terms of military information. This is a component of intelligence, but political, economic, social, environmental, health, and cultural intelligence also provide important inputs to analysts. Policy makers and intelligence officials must also consider intelligence activities focused on threats to internal security, such as subversion, espionage, and terrorism.

Significantly, Intelligence is not about truth. It is more accurate to think of intelligence as proximate reality. Intelligence agencies face issues or questions and do their best to arrive at a firm understanding of what is going on. They can rarely be assured that even their best and most considered analysis is true. Their goals are intelligence products that are reliable, unbiased, and free from politicization.

De Jure Definition of Geospatial Intelligence

De jure is a Latin term which means "by law" which is commonly contrasted to de facto which means "concerning the fact" or in practice but not necessarily ordained by law. The NIMA Act of 1996 establishing the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and the subsequent amended language in the 2003 Defense Authorization Act as codified in the U.S. Code, governs the mission of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The de jure definition of Geospatial Intelligence is found in U.S. Code Title 10, §467:

The term "geospatial intelligence" means the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess, and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the earth. Geospatial intelligence consists of imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial information.

The moniker GEOINT has become associated with geospatial Intelligence with a specific meaning and context. It has often been said that the 2003 renaming of NIMA to NGA recognized the emergence of geospatial information as an intelligence source in its own right, which is termed GEOINT. The term GEOINT connotes a source of intelligence like HUMINT, MASINT, COMINT, ELINT, SIGINT, IMINT. GEOINT is uniquely multi-source in that it integrates and enriches information collected by the other INTs into a spatiotemporal context.

The de jure definition drives us to focus on Geographic Information Systems and digital remote sensing, since these technologies, as a substantial component of workflows such as TPED (Tasking, Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination), heavily leverage spatial data handling and image processing technologies to transform geospatial data. However, there is a growing recognition that GEOINT "must move from an emphasis on data and analysis to an emphasis on knowledge" (Priorities for GEOINT Research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, The National Academies Press, 2006, P. 9). Here the use of the term knowledge means the confident understanding of a subject with the ability to use it for a specific purpose appropriately. This is to say, geospatial knowledge creation involves much more than automated data handling and is a complex cognitive process involving perception, learning, communication, association, and reasoning.

De Facto Definition of Geospatial Intelligence

We would like to suggest the following as an emerging definition of Geospatial Intelligence, which might carry the moniker of GeoIntel, as a means to guide the preparation of the geospatial professional:

Geospatial Intelligence is actionable knowledge, a process, and a profession. It is the ability to describe, understand, and interpret so as to anticipate the human impact of an event or action within a spatiotemporal environment. It is also the ability to identify, collect, store, and manipulate data to create geospatial knowledge through critical thinking, geospatial reasoning, and analytical techniques. Finally, it is the ability to present knowledge in a way that is appropriate to the decision-making environment.

Central to this proposed definition is the notion that the best geospatial intelligence resource is an educated analyst. Intelligence is about nothing if not about "out-thinking" your opponent. For all the appropriate emphasis on technologies, methodologies, tools, and infrastructure, people are the most precious resource.