The Learner's Guide to Geospatial Analysis

What is Intelligence and What is Geospatial Intelligence?


What is Intelligence?

In his 2006 book, Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy, Lowenthal (p 8) 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 analyzes and intelligence operations themselves.
  • Intelligence as an organization
    Entities that carry out various functions for Intelligence.

Lowenthal points out that to the average person, intelligence is about secrets and spying. However, according to Lowenthal, this view of intelligence as primarily secrets misses the important point that intelligence is ultimately information about anything that can be known regardless of how it is discovered. More specifically, intelligence is information that meets the needs of a decision maker, and has been collected, processed, narrowed, and offered to meet those needs. This is to say, intelligence can be considered a specific subset of the broader category of information. It also can be said that all intelligence is information but not all information is intelligence. A key point is that Intelligence and the entire intelligence process responds to the needs of the decision makers. Lowenthal also points out that many think of intelligence in terms of government and/or military information. This is certainly a major use of intelligence, but political, business, social, environmental, health, espionage, terrorism, and cultural intelligence also intelligence. Lowenthal states a fundamental that Intelligence is not about truth (Lowenthal, p 6) and it is more accurate to think of intelligence as "proximate reality." Intelligence analysts do their best to arrive at a accurate approximation of what is going on but they can rarely be assured that their best analytic results are true. Therefore, the is "intelligence products that are reliable, unbiased, and free from politicization. In other words, to develop a product that is as close to the truth as it can be humanly possible to discern." (Lowenthal, p 6).

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 ethically collect, develop, and present knowledge in a way that is appropriate to the decision-making environment.

In this definition, Geospatial Intelligence doesn’t just provide the means by which to answer the questions of what?, when?, and where?, but also how?, why?, and what is the significance? Central to this proposed definition is the notion that the best geospatial intelligence resource is an educated analyst and that intelligence is about nothing if not about “out-thinking” your opponent. For all the appropriate emphasis on technologies, methodologies, tools, and infrastructure, people still are the most precious resource.