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Wednesday, 06 October 2021 18:00

GEOINT 2021 Keynote Address

by PDDNI Stacey Dixon

 

St. Louis, Missouri

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

As Prepared

 

Good morning: Nancy (Clemens) thank you for the introduction. I appreciate the invitation from both Robert (Cardillo) and Rhonda (Schrenk) to return to GEOINT. The last time we gathered together for the GEOINT symposium was in early June 2019. How the world has changed since then! If you had known then what you know now, how might you have spent this past two years differently? Thankfully, during this time, despite the pandemic, this community has continued to make progress and evolve.

 

It is wonderful to be able to be here in person with so many friends from industry, academia, and government – including former colleagues from NGA, particularly Vice Admiral Sharp, who you’ll be hearing from shortly. It is also great to be in St. Louis for GEOINT, a city that is an incredible supporter of the geospatial sciences and GIS technology, and home to NGA’s current West campuses and Next NGA West which I had a chance to tour yesterday. Just Amazing! I would also like to thank my colleagues who are here from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, including John Beieler and Jeanette McMillan who are participating in the great lineup of speakers USGIF has assembled.

 

As I begin, I’d like to reflect on the anniversaries we marked this year. The first to come to mind is a somber one we just commemorated, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 – a day that immediately and significantly changed this country and the world. However, there are many others anniversaries of importance, particularly to this community.

 

Twenty-five years ago the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, NIMA was created. And 60 years ago a NIMA predecessor, the National Photographic Interpretation Center, NPIC, was created. It was also 60 years ago that the Defense Intelligence Agency began providing capabilities to America’s warfighters and the National Reconnaissance Office capabilities began to benefit defense and intelligence partners. In 2022 looking forward to: the Defense Mapping Agency, a NIMA predecessor based here in St. Louis; CIA, and NSA will celebrate milestone birthdays as well.

 

World War II and the Cold War were catalysts for the organization, or reorganization in some cases, of these secret agencies. Their creation also illustrates a theme: much of what we’ve done in GEOINT in the past has been highly secretive, and driven, more than anything, by responding to crises.

 

Each of these anniversaries also marks a pivotal point where the nation sought to address a national security challenge through the application of technology and innovation. Our predecessors’ experiences shaped their future…a future that is now our present. They deliberately took the challenges at hand and the adversity they faced, and turned them into strengths.

 

These agencies were created by men whose lived experiences included the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the invasion of Korea, and the Soviet Union’s acquisition and testing of nuclear weapons. Each was a surprise for which we had little or no warning. Our nation’s leaders wanted to be sure we were not surprised again.

 

NGA was created because we identified significant gaps in imaging and mapping during the first Gulf War, which overlapped with a longstanding desire to make GEOINT operations not only more effective, but more responsive and efficient.

 

The world we live in now – including the consolidation of federal agencies into Department of Homeland Security, the creation of the ODNI, -saw a dramatic demand for industries’ capabilities in the aftermath of, and in response to, 9/11.

 

A problem. A solution. A commitment to improve America’s security…and through it all America’s GEOINT community continued to evolve, and its importance has only grown. Those were the challenges then. But the world is doing what it does – it…is…constantly…changing…and the rate of that change is only accelerating.

 

GEOINT is a field where those who are successful embrace change. Although it was the government’s needs that led us into the space race, industry has since taken the baton and is driving the proliferation of satellites of every kind.

 

And while government still has its own specific needs, commercial industry, year by year, is playing a bigger role in providing the information that the government previously provided for itself with the assistance of industry partners who helped us build our own capabilities.

 

In some ways, I’m sure it seems like we in government are still getting used to this reality. Frankly, as many of you well know, we have not always been the easiest customer. We want to be a better customer: not simply a purchaser of your products, or a regulatory barrier to your success: we want – and we need – the American GEOINT industry to be the strongest and most capable on Earth. A strong economic sector is vital to supporting our Defense Industrial Base and our nation.

 

This is an evolving relationship. Those of you who attended the session preceding this one caught a glimpse of these changing dynamics in the innovative tradecraft competition. There, private companies applied machine learning, data science and gaming technology to help predict a national security crisis, not unlike the ones that spurred the creation of NRO, NGA and ODNI.

 

This is the world we are in, and this conference is a point of departure – much like St. Louis was for pioneers going west. USGIF continues its important role as a critical convener: it is where we come together to find solutions, and make the GEOINT community stronger by pushing technology, accelerating innovation, and advancing tradecraft.

 

The question before us now is how do we do this:

  • In a time when the world has been stunned by the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • As we are increasingly tasked to anticipate and overcome threats from state and non-state actors; and,
  • In an age of strategic competition where rivals challenge us militarily and economically in domains both old and new.

 

It will be up to us, and it will require the GEOINT community and the IC – in partnership – to be resilient and to adapt…and we will do so…together.

 

The next frontier is space. Some might call it the final frontier. Space is an example of where commercial competition has extended into places where governments used to be the only operators.

 

Once we entered the space race, this collaboration between government and industry kept us ahead of our adversaries. Government was the customer, and the relationship served us well. However this model is no longer sufficient to guarantee future leadership. It must – and it is – being rethought. The stakes – for those in this room, but really for the nation, are high.

 

At the formation of the NRO and NPIC, access to space and to GEOINT in general was primarily for the use of, and structured by, government. By the time NIMA was stood up, before it became NGA, that paradigm had begun to change, with commercial imagery in its nascent stages and few foreign competitors.

 

Contrast that with today when so much of the investment in GEOINT satellites is from the private sector, and there is an array of foreign commercial competitors. Today we are balancing buying GEOINT capabilities from commercial companies and building custom satellites. It is now a matter of policy to consider commercial imagery first. This trajectory is set to accelerate. For example, since the beginning of the year NGA has signed three new private sector service contracts, and NRO is planning for future commercial capabilities.

 

While the benefits of government collaboration remain significant, so have the burdens and restrictions imposed by government. We have gone from a time when government was the biggest consumer, to an age of competition. Government must continue to pivot to allow this important industry to flourish… and to remain your biggest supporter, though not necessarily your biggest funder.

 

For example, as you are well aware, American companies have been constrained by a commercial licensing process that for many has been slow and opaque and felt burdensome. We want America, especially American companies, to lead. We in government know the partnership with industry is critical to maintaining that edge, and that commercial applications are not just a sideline, but a main source of revenue for industry. That means we need to put in place a strategy so our private sector partners can remain innovative, responsive and strong.

 

To do that ODNI brought together all the different IC space interests so our community could speak with one voice to engage the Departments of Defense, State, Interior, and Commerce. We want to develop effective and coordinated policy that will increase economic opportunities for the commercial remote sensing community. In less than three years these departments, working with the IC, were able to reduce the time it takes to review new licensing requests in half.

 

This success ultimately led to the creation of what we now know as the Intelligence Community Commercial Space Council, created in October 2020, to help DoD and commercial and civil space agencies develop effective and coordinated policy. In the IC, we want to understand and adapt to the rapidly evolving commercial mindset, including providing greater clarity to the licensing process – particularly around national security concerns – and we’ve had tremendous success. More and more, for both large, established industry partners and smaller innovative vendors, the answer we have been giving licensing requests from industry is “yes.”

 

But this is not the end of the story: in fact we believe this is just the beginning of a new, exciting chapter in our relationship. We are increasingly integrating industry voices into our deliberations to better understand and address the needs of America’s commercial partners. We understand that foreign competitors are numerous and growing. This includes growth among our allies and friends, but also growth in those countries where public and private, and especially civilian and military are more blurred – or are nonexistent. In our analysis, some of these companies are closing the gap, creating security concerns…and winning private sector business that could be yours. We want to pare down the constraints you face to only those that are absolutely necessary, particularly when it comes to competing on capabilities that are commercially available from others.

 

While lifting some restrictions won’t be possible – because custom and classified GEOINT capabilities are critical to helping us understand and confront core national security issues – it should be possible to provide a unified, clear response that will allow you to make the investments you need and want to make more quickly.

 

Broadly speaking, there are models for us to look to as to where we want to go. One close to the hearts of those here is the space launch industry. Prior to the last decade only large governments with sophisticated space programs had launch capabilities. With the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2005, there was a critical need to fill seams in launch, and the private sector was actively encouraged by NASA and others to develop alternatives.

 

What have been the results so far? The cost per kilo to send materials into low earth orbit has dropped significantly. A robust, competitive market has developed, resulting in a flurry of innovation. While government remains a significant customer, reliable low cost launch has been at the foundation of so many other uses, including broadening the aperture for a variety of GEOINT services.

 

NASA did an amazing job of recognizing the changing landscape for launch. Their approach allowed the private sector to provide a needed service for government that was cost effective. A key question remains: is this a model that could work elsewhere, such as for imaging services and analytics, for example?

 

In all of this, it is important to recognize that there is a growing consensus not only in the IC, but also among policymakers, that the kind of change we’ve seen in launch services is the right way to go in other areas.

 

This is because:

  • There is a recognition that the competitive environment is rapidly changing, and in this new environment American industry must continue to lead;
  • That if we don’t adapt, others will set the rules and challenge our leadership. We should set the rules, influence the standards, and do so in a way consistent with our democratic values; and,
  • We believe that a fully engaged private sector is necessary to keep America competitive in an area that is increasingly important commercially, and yet remains vital to our nation’s security.

 

The best and most sustainable policies are those for which there is a national consensus, and that receives support across parties and administrations. This is now one of them.

 

But whether we’re operating with you on space or on earth, I’ve found that one key to the success of longstanding private sector government partners, specifically within the IC and particularly those that provide technical services and products, is understanding our need for security and resiliency.

 

We must know that our partners take this issue as seriously as we do. During both wartime and peacetime we deliver intelligence to our customers in conditions that are often far from perfect. We may be forced to operate with limited information, limited bandwidth, or in a degraded environment. Many times lives hang in the balance. Failure is not an option.

 

The ability to be secure, resilient and recover quickly is critical not just on the battlefield, but in outer space, in cyberspace, in maritime environments, and in so many other domains where we operate. This is increasingly true as systems are more and more integrated, and as we get closer and closer to real time engagement between sensor and operator. Those who are successful partners with us understand how critical security and resiliency are in the systems on which we rely.

 

You know, part of what makes the GEOINT community so powerful is that it looks at the world as it was, as it is, and as it can be. The future is not set in stone: we can influence it, change it, and strive to make it better.

 

When CORONA was the height of available technology, its images would sometimes take weeks to get to customers, whether that was a general in the field, or policy makers in the White House. The goal now is to get data from sensor to system or sensor to decision maker in timelines that were previously unimaginable. Not achieving that goal is unthinkable now.

 

As I conclude my remarks, I have a question for you.

 

Are we safer than we were during the cold war? Are we safer than we were on that September morning 20 years ago when our nation was attacked? If we are, it is because we as a community made it so. The question before us now is what are the strategies, capabilities and partnerships we will need to be safer, resilient and even better prepared 20 years from now? That will be up to us: To paraphrase the call to action from a top secret, high-tech government project from long ago: We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We can make it better than it was: better, stronger, and faster.

 

That is what we want for GEOINT. That is what we need from you. Let’s do it together.

 

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