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Geospatial intelligence

Geospatial intelligence, GEOINT (GEOspatial INTelligence) is intelligence about the human activity on earth derived from the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information that describes, assesses, and visually depicts physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth. GEOINT consists of imagery, imagery intelligence (IMINT) and geospatial information.[1]

Amplified definition

GEOINT encompasses all aspects of imagery (including capabilities formerly referred to as Advanced Geospatial Intelligence and imagery-derived MASINT) and geospatial information and services (GI&S); formerly referred to as mapping, charting, and geodesy). It includes, but is not limited to, data ranging from the ultraviolet through the microwave portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, as well as information derived from the analysis of literal imagery; geospatial data; and information technically derived from the processing, exploitation, literal, and non-literal analysis of spectral, spatial, temporal, radiometric, phase history, polarimetric data, fused products (that is products created out of two or more data sources), and the ancillary data needed for data processing and exploitation, and signature information (to include development, validation, simulation, data archival, and dissemination). These types of data can be collected on stationary and moving targets by electro-optical (to include IR, MWIR, SWIR TIR, Spectral, MSI, HSI, HD), SAR (to include MTI), related sensor programs (both active and passive) and non-technical means (to include geospatial information acquired by personnel in the field).[2]

Here Geospatial Intelligence, or the frequently used term GEOINT, is an intelligence discipline comprising the exploitation and analysis of geospatial data and information to describe, assess, and visually depict physical features (both natural and constructed) and geographically referenced activities on the Earth. Geospatial Intelligence data sources include imagery and mapping data, whether collected by commercial satellite, government satellite, aircraft (such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles [UAV] or reconnaissance aircraft), or by other means, such as maps and commercial databases, census information, GPS waypoints, utility schematics, or any discrete data that have locations on earth. There is an emerging recognition that "this legal definition paints with a broad brushstroke an idea of the width and depth of GEOINT"[3] and “GEOINT must evolve even further to integrate forms of intelligence and information beyond the traditional sources of geospatial information and imagery, and must move from an emphasis on data and analysis to an emphasis on knowledge.”[4]

Geospatial data, information, and knowledge

It should be noted that the definitions and usage of the terms geospatial data, geospatial information, and geospatial knowledge are not used consistently or unambiguously further exacerbating the situation. Geospatial data can (usually) be applied to the output of a collector or collection system before it is processed, i.e., data that was sensed. Geospatial Information is geospatial data that has been processed or had value added to it by a human or machine process. Geospatial knowledge is a structuring of geospatial information, accompanied by an interpretation or analysis. The terms Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom (DIKW) are difficult to define, but cannot be used interchangeably.

Quite simply, geospatial intelligence could be more readily defined as, data, information, and knowledge gathered about enemies (or potential enemies) that can be referenced to a particular location on, above, or below the earth's surface. The intelligence gathering method could include imagery, signals, measurements and signatures, and human sources, i.e., IMINT, SIGINT, MASINT, and HUMINT, as long as a geo-location can be associated with the intelligence.

Relationship to other "INTs"

Thus, rather than being a peer to the other "INTs", geospatial intelligence might better be viewed as the unifying structure of the earth's natural and constructed features (including elevations and depths)—whether as individual layers in a GIS or as composited into a map or chart, imagery representations of the earth, AND, the presentation of the existence of data, information, and knowledge derived from analysis of IMINT, SIGINT, MASINT, HUMINT, and other intelligence sources and disciplines.

Other factors

It has been suggested that GEOINT is just a new term used to identify a broad range of outputs from intelligence organizations that use a variety of existing spatial skills and disciplines including photogrammetry, cartography, imagery analysis, remote sensing, and terrain analysis. However, GEOINT is more than the sum of these parts. Spatial thinking as applied in Geospatial Intelligence can synthesize any intelligence or other data that can be conceptualized in a geographic spatial context. Geospatial Intelligence can be derived entirely independent of any satellite or aerial imagery and can be clearly differentiated from IMINT (imagery intelligence). Confusion and dissension is caused by Title 10 U.S. Code §467's separation of "imagery" or "satellite information" from "geospatial information" as imagery is generally considered just one of the forms which geospatial information might take or be derived from.

It has also been suggested[by whom?] that geospatial intelligence can be described as a product occurring at the point of delivery, i.e., by the amount of analysis which occurs to resolve particular problems, not by the type of data used. For example, a database containing a list of measurements of bridges obtained from imagery is 'information' while the development of an output using analysis to determine those bridges that are able to be utilized for specific purposes could be termed 'intelligence'. Similarly, the simple measurement of beach profiles is a classical geographic information-gathering activity, while the process of selecting a beach that matches a certain profile for a specific purpose is an analytical activity, and the output could be termed an intelligence product. In this form it is considered to be generally used by agencies requiring definitions of their outputs for descriptive and capability development purposes (or, more cynically, as a marketing strategy).

Geospatial intelligence analysis has been light-heartedly defined as “seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought” or as "anticipating a target's mental map." [5] However, these perspectives affirm that creating geospatial knowledge is an effortful cognitive process the analyst undertakes; it is an intellectual endeavor that arrives at a conclusion through reasoning. Geospatial reasoning creates the objective connection between a geospatial problem representation and geospatial evidence. Here one set of activities, information foraging, focuses around finding information while another set of activities, sensemaking, focuses on giving meaning to the information. The activities of foraging and sensemaking in geospatial analysis have been incorporated in the Structured Geospatial Analytic Method.[6]

De facto definition

An emerging de facto definition of geospatial intelligence is vastly different from the de jure definition expressed in U.S. Code. This new de facto definition is:

Geospatial Intelligence is a field of knowledge, a process, and a profession. As knowledge, it is information integrated in a coherent space-time context that supports descriptions, explanations, or forecasts of human activities with which decision makers take action. As a process, it is the means by which data and information are collected, manipulated, geospatially reasoned, and disseminated to decision-makers. The geospatial intelligence professional establishes the scope of activities, interdisciplinary associations, competencies, and standards in academe, government, and the private sectors.[7]

This has been suggested as an operational definition of Geospatial Intelligence which might use the moniker of GeoIntel so as to distinguish it from the more restrictive definition offered in U.S. Code Title 10, §467.

GEOINT Agencies

US Service Fusion/GEOINT Centers


See also


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  2. ^ Memorandum for Principal Director of National Intelligence, Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Collection, from James R. Clapper, Lieutenant General, USAF (Ret.), Director [NGA] 17 October 2005,
  3. ^ Masback, Keith (2010) GIF 2010 Volume: 8 Issue: 6 (September)
  4. ^ Priorities for GEOINT Research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, The National Academies Press, 2006, P. 9
  5. ^ Bacastow, Todd S. (2010). The Learner's Guide to Geospatial Analysis. Dutton eEducation Institute, Penn State University.
  6. ^ Bridges, Donna M. (2010). A Structured Geospatial Analytic Method and Pedagogy for the Intelligence Community. International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA) Journal. 19 (1).
  7. ^ Bacastow, T.S. and Bellafiore, D.J. (2009). Redefining geospatial intelligence. American Intelligence Journal. Pp 38-40
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