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09 August 2007

Geospatial intelligence standards evolving

The US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation is an interesting effort to address some aspects of the need for further professionalization in the intelligence field. It has chosen to focus on the boundaries of one of the least well understood disciplines within the field, the emerging concept of GEOINT – a melding of IMINT, geospatial analysis and services, and elements of MASINT (which for a very long time have had no overarching home, being essentially programmatic orphans in whatever organization owned the asset.)

The teaching of GEOINT has long been interesting to us, not least due to the increasing importance of commercial overhead imagery sources and commercial off the shelf imagery and geospatial analysis systems within the community. While one often finds ex IC members working in these commercial firms, there are non-overlapping sources of expertise from the scientific and industrial remote sensing world which have great applicability. There are quite a few academic programs which teach remote sensing applications for the extractive, deep sea, and forestry industries; as well as strictly scientific explorations. Many of their graduates do however go on to employment in the darker side of the house, and should not be overlooked.

The following press release from USGIF therefore marks an interesting milestone of sorts.

"USGIF Launches Geospatial Intelligence Certificate Program

Herndon, Va., Aug. 8, 2007 The United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) today announced the launch of its Geospatial Intelligence Certificate Program to support the professional education needs of the geospatial intelligence tradecraft. Colleges and universities are encouraged to apply to accredit their geospatial intelligence certificate program based on the criteria developed by USGIF. Applications can be found online at http://www.usgif.org/About_Committees_Academic.aspx.
Applications must be submitted by Oct. 31 for evaluation starting in November or by February 2008 for evaluation in May 2008.

The Foundation’s vision for this Geospatial Intelligence Certificate Program is to uphold an accredited institution to support the professional education needs of the geospatial intelligence tradecraft, said USGIF President and Chairman Stu Shea, thereby assuring a continuance of qualified geospatial intelligence professional to support a critical part of our national security.

The USGIF Geospatial Intelligence Certificate Program will assure that students at accredited colleges and universities are familiarized with a broad set of technical and critical thinking skills, as well as provided with knowledge relevant to entering and fostering a career in the geospatial intelligence profession. The Certificate Program, offered by accredited institutions of higher education, will complement a college degree, support career development and provide professional recognition. USGIF will present students with a geospatial intelligence certificate upon successful completion.

The accreditation panel for the USGIF Academy spent more than a year working to create the program. The USGIF Academy Panel comprised representatives from academia, industry and government to establish curriculum guidelines, accreditation standards and processes for geospatial intelligence academic courses and certificate programs.

This is an exciting new program in the geospatial intelligence community, said Aimee Correnti, USGIF vice president of operations. USGIF is not only contributing to the workforce needs of the future, as expressed by the Labor Department study on the top high growth technology areas, but also is ready to further support our nation’s critical national security mission."

We have long expressed deeply mixed feelings regarding “standards” efforts for the art and science of intelligence analysis - even as we strongly support the development of model intelligence curriculum efforts. On the one hand, we wish to strongly encourage the promulgation of analytic tradecraft and the growth of the literature of intelligence. However, many standards efforts have in the past displayed far too many unpleasant aspects of rent-seeking behaviors, particularly by those who would use the idea of a standard to bludgeon others into an all too narrow range of behavior and assignments.

We would argue that intelligence as a profession has grown and changed far too dramatically since the inception of the Long War to be adequately captured in most standards as they are currently articulated, and that additional changes may well render the any attempted version laid down along the same lines obsolete before the ink is dry on the paper. After all, where does a wiki gardener fit into the “standard” roles of intelligence, or a computer network defense specialist who happens to produce analysis based on forensic examination of malware sit within the hierarchy of production? Current “national models” focused on producing generalist and all source analysts have failed to take into account the mind boggling diversity within the field. And while they are to be commended for attempting to create wider exposure to core analytic tradecraft across accounts and applications, we are deeply suspicious of any effort which claims to be the “standard” for the entire community.

For this reason, though, we think that the USGIF effort has hit upon a unique niche. The GEOINT discipline in particular has been more widely scattered than most, and evolved in a much shorter timeline (given the technology dependent aspects of the collection and analysis mechanisms which define this –INT). Its academia, while in many ways far richer in terms of established programs and publications, share far less of a common understanding of their field than do strict intelligence studies practitioners. And defining a standard for an –INT specific discipline is a far less Herculean task than attempting to weld together the lowest common denominator for all sources and all accounts. It remains to be seen if such an effort is replicable outside of that unique niche for other disciplines and issues.

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