NIMA 'inadequate' in analyzing spy data

The federal government's premier agency for providing spy satellite imagery needs billions of dollars to build the required information technology architecture for analyzing and disseminating information. Although the National Imagery and Mapping Agency performs admirably in collecting data, it — and other U.S. intelligence organizations — has traditionally focused on that area rather than processing, analyzing and disseminating the data, according to a recently released independent study requested by Congress.

"The commission is convinced that woefully inadequate [research and development] holds hostage the future success of [reviewing and releasing data by] the U.S. Imagery and Geospatial Service, and indeed of U.S. information superiority," the study's authors concluded. A nine-member commission formed by a provision in the 2000 Defense Appropriations Act mandated the study.

NIMA was created in 1996 by merging the Defense Mapping Agency, the Central Imagery Office, the National Photographic Interpretation Center and imagery support offices within the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office. Its mission is to provide timely, relevant and accurate imagery, imagery intelligence and geospatial information in support of national security objectives. Fulfilling that mission is crucial to the Defense Department's goal of achieving information superiority on the battlefield.

The report essentially absolves NIMA of most of the responsibility for its situation, saying its woes were largely inherited when the agency was created. NIMA officials are not contesting the commission's findings.

"What the commission pointed out is that we as a nation and the intelligence community has historically focused more on the collection end of our business," said Robert Zitz, director of NIMA's initiatives group. The task of analyzing and distributing that data to users has traditionally lacked adequate resources, he said.

Zitz said following the report's recommendations would take "a significant amount of funding [that] has been characterized as being in the billions."

The report provided no estimates, but the commission made it clear that it "fails to see how that situation can be improved by underfunding."

The commission also recommended creating an "Extraordinary Program Office" within NIMA that would be given special authority by the CIA director and Defense secretary, and be aided by Congress and staffed via a partnership with industry, NIMA and the National Reconnaissance Office. The office would be given money to design and install a "modern-day" system architecture along with systems engineering.What NIMA needs

Other commission findings on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency include:

NIMA's director needs an advisory group to help sort out system development issues. NIMA needs to be smaller, more elite and mission-driven. The agency needs ongoing initiatives to hire adequate numbers of system engineering and acquisition personnel. NIMA must reverse a decline in expertise in its imagery analyst corps.

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