Geoint and activity-based intelligence combine
The desire and hunger for intelligence is unlikely to ever be sated. As new methods of collection and analysis arise so organisations demand ever more.
This also depends on where the threats are coming from and where the action is happening, as the requirement for information is likely to be much higher in those regions than others.
This is the case for the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. Geo-intelligence is becoming the backbone of an intelligence product – the analysis – and with the rise of APAC countries as increasingly strong regional and global actors it is starting to really draw the attention of the US away from more traditional areas of focus like Europe and the Middle East.
It is not just gathering and processing of more intelligence from the more traditional sources like agents or satellite surveillance, it is also the collection of huge amounts of open source information – everything from local media reports to social media posts – that can give almost real-time data. This feeds into what is known as Activity Based Intelligence (ABI), the bringing together of all of these sources and geo-referencing it so that a user can get access to all the relevant information needed much faster. See the GEOINT feature in the March/April edition of Digital Battlespace for more details.
Because of the demand in APAC there is a need for more GEOINT capability. According to Dennis Bowerman, GEOINT mission manager for US Pacific Command with the US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, it is also the best way to conquer the ‘tyranny of distance’ that the region has to deal with.
Speaking at the Defence Geospatial Intelligence conference in London on 25 January, he said that the potential threats and challenges in the region can be met with more GEOINT capability, but what is needed is more persistent coverage of an area of operations and better maritime domain awareness in particular.
This is where the ABI comes in. More unclassified information from open sources that can be shared with allies has to be utilised and enhanced. But across the board in intelligence agencies and other organisations there has to be a change in attitude – instead of thinking that unclassified information as supplementary, it needs to be considered a priority.
The theory is that because the military does not know from where and when the next threat will comes from by the time an event occurs it is too late to start gathering some types of intelligence. Therefore this has to be done in advance in a generic way that will support the classified intelligence when that is gathered.
Australia is one of the countries taking a lead in this area with a plan in place to improve its space-based data
collection tools and is likely a sign of things to come.
Reece Biddiscombe, director of collection capability at the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO), said that the MH370 and MH17 airline disasters brought Australia’s lack of capability into focus, given the difficulty it took to gather and exchange GEOINT data because of classification issues.
This has resulted in a programme for the Australian Defence Force to get improved satellite image collection called DEF799, which will introduce a Direct Tasking and Receiving Facility (DTRF) that includes the development of three antenna sites.
The plan is to build DTRF as an unclassified system, which therefore makes it cheaper to develop, less sensitive, removes the need to conceal contractual arrangements to vendors and increases competition.
By combining the capabilities of map-based GEOINT with the influx of more open-source information under ABI, more relevant data can be analysed sooner and exchanged much easier for allies to employ when events take place and allow a more effective response to take place. In some cases it could mean an ability to predict some events taking place which would put commanders in a unique position to plan for action ahead of time.