Careers with an incredible view
Strategic Communication in an Era of Radical Transparency
Remarks by Letitia A. Long, Director
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
To the National Summit on Strategic Communications
June 7, 2011
Letitia Long: Thank you very much, Bob (Grupp, President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations) for that kind introduction. Some may wonder; intelligence, strategic communication, radical transparency, secrets. What do they have in common? I was delighted to receive this invitation to come speak with you today, because we don’t often get the opportunity to speak in venues like this since much of what we do is classified and much of what we do is not for the general public’s consumption.
A lot of people don’t know who we are and what we do. I thought I’d take just a minute and tell you upfront that the National Geospatial- Intelligence Agency, or NGA as we call it (and we have acronyms for everything, just as I’m sure you do) — we really are in the information business. We provide geospatial intelligence or GeoInt., as we commonly call it, including mapping, charting, geometry, imagery intelligence and, of late, even human geography; how humans relate to the earth.
We take all of that information, and we put it together. We analyze and then we use it to visually depict, to show in a visual representation and over time, the temporal changes in what is going on around the world and what is happening, and where it is happening relative to the earth’s feature.
Now, of course, some say a picture is worth a thousand words. We like to say once we put our analysis on top of it, it’s worth 10,000 words. But it’s just not words and it’s not just information because with the analysis that we add, hopefully that information can be used to make a decision.
Looking at the images as we do and adding all of the information that we collected from all sources, we know that first impressions can sometimes be misleading. Just as you’re communicating, sometimes first impressions are misleading. And there’s often more to an image than there appears to be just at first glance. Is an adversary trying to hide something from us? So we look at changes over time. Our job is to figure out what changes occur and of communicate that to our customers.
So from that perspective, you as communication professionals and we as intelligence professionals have quite a lot in common. The distance between us really is not all that great. Our perspectives might be a little different. We’re always looking for that which is secret; to bring that up to the front. Although I guess you are doing some of that also. When you get down to it, it’s is all about telling clients, markets and sometimes even your competitors what your story is, whether it’s about your client, about your firm, about your product.
You want others to understand what you do, how you do it¸ why you do it differently and most importantly why your story makes sense. And in both of our worlds, we need good information and intelligence to succeed. People from the world of intelligence are collectors of information and also analysts of information who also need to be outstanding communicators to succeed.
If you cannot communicate the intelligence you produce or if you communicate it late, it’s history, and it’s therefore not of use. It’s not there to warn, it’s not there for those to use if they need it in negotiation, if they need it as part of whatever it is they are doing. And by the same token, a communication’s professional is not likely to be successful if he or she lacks the knowledge or intelligence about customers, the market, products and the movements of key players.
So just as an example, you learn that a competitor’s account might be up for grabs. You know you have to be right there, you got to be on the case, you have to be digging out everything that you can about it.
Communications for you is probably more familiar ground. That’s what you do daily. Perhaps the intelligence part is more of a challenge. For us, it’s just the reverse. For us it is about intelligence. That’s what we do all day long and sometimes the communication of that intelligence is more of the challenge.
But again, for both of our worlds — intelligence is all about using the information, informing your customers, your markets, your stakeholders, your competitors (we like to call them “bad guys”) and doing it in such a way that you are influencing them because communication is often about influence.
So how you communicate and what you communicate is very much dependent upon the audience. I tend to break that challenge into four segments. Communication for us is to our most important asset and that is our workforce. That’s category number one.
Second, is our mission partners. Our mission partners include the combative commands, policy makers, war fighter themselves. They also include other members of the intelligence community because we provide our products; we provide our data, our information, and our knowledge to others in the intelligence community.
Third, and another segment to which we need to communicate, is our overseers and that includes Congress, the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. You need to ensure that you’re keeping them off fully informed.
And finally, the fourth category is to the American public. It’s important that the American public, the taxpayer, at least has a basic knowledge of who we are and what we do.
Another segment of the American public would be our technology partners, our industry partners, and academic partners. Communicating clearly with them what our priorities are, what our needs are, what we are working on, is very crucial if we’re going to help them help us.
So let me talk a little bit about each of those four categories and how we try and communicate and what I think works best.
So the first category of communication is internal: Communication with our workforce. This is critical to the success of our organization. We have about 16,000 employees worldwide; we are in over 200 locations, some of those are not only NGA locations but they are partner locations. We can have 1 person or 2 at sites around the world, which makes communicating a little difficult, so we communicate in a variety of ways.
Our employees at each of those locations do a variety of work. Some of their work is unique, focused on their particular mission partner. One key thing is that those 16,000 employees need to have shared vision. They need to understand where the agency is going. They need to understand NGA priorities and priority tasks and also understand what each other is doing – and therefore, how can they reach out and leverage results across the agency.
None of these outcomes happens by accident as everyone in this room knows. It does take clear, useful, precise and timely communication.
I write a weekend column in our electronic newsletter. Prior to my coming to the agency, there was no rhyme, no reason to the newsletter, so I said it has to be timely; it has to be consistent. We will do it on a weekly basis. For special messages, if I need to get something out to the workforce, I’ll do a direct email that shows up in everybody’s e-mail inbox. They can delete; we don’t have a mechanism to determine whether they actually read it.
With the newsletter, we track who is reading each article and we have the ability to comment on each of the articles. I do get a lot of feedback from the e-mails, so I’d say they’re fairly effective. I also do announcements on the director’s website so anyone in the agency can send a question to me directly and I will answer it. I answer every single one. I don’t write all the answers myself. I’m not an expert on everything we do, but I read every answer. I ensure that it is what I want to say and it is in my tone. And I would tell you that it’s been an extremely effective way of hearing from the workforce.
Communication is two-way; it’s is not all about transmitting. You have to understand what’s going on out there. You have to understand what the issues are on peoples’ minds. I learn more about what’s going on from those questions than from the chain of command.
Sometimes I’ll ask: “Is that really what we do?” Or, “that’s really our policy? “ Or, “I didn’t know we did that.” So, it’s as effective for me to know what’s going on as it is as effective for people to ask a question of me and get an answer.
It’s June, and we’ve had 500 questions already this calendar year, asked and answered. I don’t have the statistics at my fingerprints but I dare say we probably changed a dozen policies, actual written policies of the agency as a result of the feedback. It has major impact on some of the ways we do our business. Now, one of the ground rules for this is, the topic must be about the mission. I don’t want to hear about a parking issue. I don’t want to hear about things that folks can work through the employee council. I want to hear about furthering the mission of the agency. I found this to be a very effective method of communicating.
I do quarterly town hall meetings, so I get out in front of the workforce personally. Right now, I’m on National Capital Region; we have about a dozen locations in this region, and I will try to get to each location at least once this quarter. I’m there for meetings and briefings on a weekly basis. There’s no substitute for this. Even today’s world of texting and tweeting and blogs, the face-to-face contact is extremely important. I put a high premium on that just as I do in walking around as much as I can on a daily basis, which I have to tell you is hard to do with an agency of our size.
We are very fortunate to be in the in final stages of finishing a new facility in Springfield, Virginia, at Fort Belvoir North. And we are going to consolidate 8500 of our people here on the East Coast in that facility.
This will make communicating easier. We have flat panel displays; we do health placards and communications like that. By having everyone in one location, we’re looking at this as a huge opportunity to increase communication and have everybody hearing the same thing at the same time.
But right now our main vehicle is the electronic newsletter. It’s still fairly new and up for review, but it’s very popular. It’s not unusual for an article to have several thousand people reading it, and if you have 16,000 employees and only have a couple of thousand people are reading the newsletter, you have consider the audience.
Of those 16,000, some are in Iraq and Afghanistan and some of the garden spots in Africa, I’m not expecting them to be reading the newsletter. They work 16 hours/day supporting the war fighter and catch up on the weekly news when they come back to Washington.
So, overall, what makes communication in the workforce successful?
There’s no big flash here. Somebody asked if I was going to have a big message here, but I have no revelations. Articulate the message clearly, set the priorities, celebrate examples of the message behavior that you are trying to reinforce. It’s extremely important in an agency of our size.
Stay consistent, repeat for emphasis, repeat for emphasis, repeat for emphasis. When people are briefing me, I’ve actually heard them say, “I’ve heard this five times already. “ And I say, “Do you want to come to ten town hall meetings and say the same thing?” I think I underestimated how important it is to continue to reinforce the message and repeat for emphasis. Of course, you also use a variety of means to reach the key audiences.
People receive information differently in different areas. Some choose to read email because they never want to see another person. You know the definition of an analyst who’s an extrovert? An analyst who’s an introvert looks at their shoes on the elevator on the way up. An analyst who’s an extrovert looks at the other person’s shoes.
So we must recognize the kinds of people that we are working with. Some are never going to come to a town hall meeting or to brown bag lunches on a quarterly basis. People receive information differently, so what is important is constant reinforcement of the message in as many ways as you can.
And I will tell you one thing that’s really a little bit different for us is the fact that we can’t always talk about what we do; we can talk about it internally at the agency. Even then, we can’t always go into detail. So it is more important to celebrate successes internal to the agency. You can’t always go home and say, honey this is what we did today or, this is what I worked on today.
You talk about it in general terms and we all look for that reward, recognition or that feedback. So celebrating successes is extremely important internally.
Our second important category of communication is sharing of information with our mission partners – the others in the intelligence community, the policy makers, the war fighters, the combatant commands, and the first responders. Also, a growing part of our mission is support to humanitarian assistance and disaster recovery operations
Our job in the intelligence community is to enable wise decisions. That is what the Director of National Intelligence has set as an overall priority. Our objective is also to get the war fighter the tactical advantage, whenever they need it. Policy makers can frame their decisions from open sources. They gain information from a variety of open sources. Our job is to build on that information. to add value and expose them to information that is otherwise not readily available. I will tell you that information sharing within the intelligence community has greatly improved.
Bob Grupp mentioned a little bit of my background. I have been in the intelligence business over 30 years, and it’s completely different from the way it was before 9-11. Before 9-11, intelligence and information was communicated very much on a “need-to-know basis.” Those who collected the information, held the information, and they decided who they were going to share the information with. So those who needed the information didn’t necessarily know who to go to in order to get it.
Since then, we have moved to a “need-to-share” environment. Legislation in 2004 mandated an information sharing executive and mandated a very different environment that we previously lived in.
Today, we are sharing information much more rapidly. We have processes in place to expose the information to those who need it. Our analysts are linked to a repository where they can see if there’s a piece of information that they need but can’t access because their credentials don’t automatically allow them into the network. These analysts have the ability to reach out to the holder of that information or the “steward of the information” and request the information, and there is a process in face that very rapidly adjudicates access.
There’s still amount of compartmentalization at NGA. This is important to what we do in order to protect sources and methods. But there is much more of a practice of sharing information today. Far more cooperation, collaboration and integration. Information is integrated up from a tasking perspective.
We don’t necessarily have all of our information collectors integrated from an analysis and exploitation perspective. We have to have some amount of protection of data. We also have to have the systems in place to allow us to find out who’s working at what.
We are constantly seeking to extend the sources and intelligence that we have available to us. With that comes the challenge of using all that information. How do we analyze all of it and make sense of all of that information?
Let me give you three basic scenarios. First intelligence analysts and users really need to be able to serve themselves. Bob mentioned that one of the goals I’ve outlined for NGA is to make our data and information available; make our knowledge available online and on-demand to those who need access to it. So the ability to have that information online on-demand creates demand for access. That’s all they require. We would call that self-service.
I might need to know what a particular region of the world looks like. Show me a map. Show me the features on that map, and show me how I need to get from Point A to Point B relatively easy.
The second scenario is to give value-added assistance. So if someone has been on our website and has pulled down some information, we have someone watching – like at Amazon, when you get that email that says you might also want to read this book or that book. If we see someone pulling our information, we ought to be proactive in this kind of assistance, telling employees that a piece of intelligence or information might be in this direction, or we could immediately get them into online chat to determine their information needs.
A colleague might say: “I see what you just looked for. Will this data be helpful?” So that’s what I am talking about when I say “self service” and “assistance service.”
The model that we have been living in is full-service where 2000 people are embedded all around the world in our mission partners’ footprint. We’re sitting side by side. Our people are inside our mission partner’s operational planning loop. They understand the mission partner’s priorities. They understand the requirements or able to anticipate and offer up that GeoInt product or GeoInt service even before our mission partner asks for it. We will continue that.
That’s the idea when I say “online demand.” For some, it simply means pulling out a fact and they’re good to go. For others, we need to provide a little bit more help; they may need value added. For others, we’re always going to be right there with them because they’re helping us push the envelope in finding new things and figuring out what those enigmas are in adding context.
What does that picture mean? What does it mean, for example, that tanks moved from point A to point B? Have they done it at the same time year after a year because it’s part of an exercise, or is this the first time they have moved, and is that something we need to be alarmed about? Or the planes on a runway may look like decoys. Are they?
Are there signals emanating from those images that help determine if they are real? Are there heat signatures emanating from an object? This is where analysis adds value to information.
So we’re really trying to move to three levels of service and move to broadening and deepening our analysis so that we can add the
sp what?” So we can add that context, so that we can help our mission partners anticipate. And I daresay that’s what you all do well – a communications professional anticipating what clients need, anticipating what you need to obtain to be out in front. It’s about delivering better assistance and value by knowing the context, knowing what the missing pieces are.
All of that is communication. Our communication and yours takes place under great pressure, under deadlines which are often not negotiable.
If the secretary of defense is about to walk in a meeting, you must know what the other person is going to say or you must know the latest piece of intelligence. So our whole community, the whole Intelligence community, really needs to be in sync, needs to be sharing information and meeting together to ask questions, like “what’s missing? Do we have the right hypothesis? Have we challenged the assumptions correctly upfront? How does the human geography change what we are seeing on the ground? And is the information credible enough to share with overseers? To share with decision makers?
So the Director of National Intelligence or the DNI has set as his top priority the effect of integration of intelligence. To do that well, we first have to have the best possible information and it does come from many different resources.
I’d like to just spend a few moments talking about recent success – the contribution of the intelligence community to the successful take down of Osama bin Laden. It was a combination of our intelligence capabilities that allowed us to put the whole picture together.
With the signals intercepts that the NSA received, to what CIA had been doing on the ground with their human sources, and with NGA’s role providing geospatial intelligence. Because of the GeoInt that NGA provided, we were able to know a lot about the location of the compound in Abbottabad as well as its design, the structure of it and the pattern of life activities that were taking place there. That contributed to the thought that there really was somebody very important living in the compound.
Now, it’s very rare that you hear about NGA and see us mentioned in the newspaper. Who here had heard of NGA before you knew I was going to come talk? Okay, actually more than usual in the audience so you are very savvy consumers out there. But I woke up on a Monday morning to find our line drawings on the front page of the New York Times –communication doesn’t get much better than that. (We had prepared for release of information that NGA was involved, so there was no issue.)
Then to also hear the White House National Security Advisor out there actually mention NGA in some of the press briefings was just unprecedented. There were a lot of heros associated with those events, and I was very proud that NGA was a part of it; our work really was a part of making that happen.
In order to get to the decision that the president had to make (and you’ve heard some say it’s a very courageous decision based upon the information that we had), the information he is receiving obviously has to be very precise. We have to say: “This is what we know, and with what certainty level, and this is what we don’t know, and why.” That’s part of what we do each and every day.
We also play a significant role in emergency response and humanitarian aid activities. This is a growing role for us. We can usually see long before others the extent of damage immediately after a natural disaster. We help in relief and recovery efforts including the Haiti and Japan earthquakes.
I understand Admiral Roughead talked a bit about how social media helps the Navy respond. We were able to take a lot of the tweets about the earthquake and tsunamis in Japan and map those and direct our first responders to priority based on the number of people asking for help. We did a lot with the government of Japan that we’re not able to talk about here this morning. We were able to give our first responders from the USA urban search and rescue priorities within days after the disasters so they knew exactly where to go and what to expect.
Right now we are working with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the tornados, the flooding, the fires in Arizona. Again, we are able to see what’s happening on the ground and to visually depict that and rapidly get that information out.
I also mentioned making data available to the private sector. We did that after the earthquake in Haiti. We posted our information on the web to make it easily accessible for people so they pull it and integrate this information with their other information. We’re constantly looking for ways to do that.
Our third communications priority is with our overseers. It is extremely important that we keep them informed on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. That includes the US Congress. I have the pleasure of testifying before Congress multiple times a year and informing them of what we’re doing. I hear their concerns, their questions and help them form the debate. We are a democratic institution, so it is important that we do keep Congress fully and timely informed.
Equally important is the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. That’s where we receive our priorities. That’s where we get our budgets. So keeping them informed is important.
The last category of communications priorities at NGA is with the American Public. We do have an unclassified website that says much about who we are. We need to recruit employees constantly, so we are attending recruiting events. We’re also working with our industry partners and with our academic partners so they understand who we are and what we do. The more that our mission partners understand us, the better they’re going to be able to help us. We look for all kinds of venues whether they’re technology days or tech fairs. We work with technology experts and professional organizations, and come to venues like this and talk about who we are and what we do.
We’re constantly trying to refresh NGA’s image, needs and priorities. I think we all use these methods of communication.
Certainly social media, in particular, is changing how we communicate. It is changing the very business of GeoInt. I mentioned using Twitter feeds to help first responders. We also look at what’s happening in social media round the world, such as in the crisis in Egypt and in Libya…how people communicating in social media respond. Does that give us a sense of what was happening on the ground? We need to harvest the information from social media to use in our intelligence analysis to better understand what’s going on around the world.
So I daresay social media is an area that’s ripe for us to exploit. From the GeoInt perspective, you take Google maps, you take iPhones with GPS, you take Geo-tagged Facebook photos. There’s a wealth of information out there. There are adversaries posting or emailing, or sharing information that we can certainly exploit.
These commercial technologies are driving a data-rich environment, and increasingly it will be dominated by a geo reference and highly tagged information. So from a GeoInt perspective, taking that and displaying it in a geospatial way enables us to see patterns and identify trends that we might not have been able to see previously in text information. So keeping up with industry, and doing our job well, means keeping up to speed and learning from others.
Recently our slogan has been: “Know the earth, show the way.” I think that served us very well in a much more static environment. Our work is about looking at imagery that incorporates the earth’s physical features to tell the story of what is out there. We are in an environment now where we need to know why something is in an image, incorporating human geography along with the imagery, and the earth’s physical features, so that we can know the earth and show the way, but understand the world. That is where NGA is headed.
Our challenges are similar to yours; it is about communicating clearly, precisely, and in a timely manner. We have the added complexity of living in a classified world, but quite honestly, it’s one way of living with and living in all of our lives. I think a lot of our challenges are very much the same. At the end of the day, we have to communicate effectively to do our jobs. So I’ll just close with that and say thank you for inviting me, and I am happy to take questions you may have.
Question: Thank you very much. Your work is fascinating. Thank you for sharing with us this morning. I’m sure there are questions. Let me ask one.
I want you to drill down a little bit on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It was obviously the result of incredible intelligence work. There was probably information out there that made you cringe, and on the other hand the story brought great notoriety to NGA – visibility that you are not accustomed to receiving. Can you describe for us in a little more detail how you handled the release of information about NGA, and whether that better enables you to accomplish your mission?
Letitia Long: So, to the first part of the question, the initial reaction was jubilation, I woke up to see the front page in New York Times with the line drawing that our folks did and attributed to National Geospatial -Intelligence Agency – it doesn’t get much better than that. Above the fold and it wasn’t bad.
The picture that you saw out there of the National Security Cabinet, with President Obama and all the members sitting around the table with a laptop and two images that were sitting on the keyboard. If you look closely you could see our seal and trust me, every NGA employee took that and said, Mom, Dad, Son, Daughter, that’s us! That’s way cool. Because we don’t get to talk about who we are. We talk very generally about who we are and what we do. But we don’t get to talk about the contributions that we make to operations like that.
So it went from feeling jubilation to, Oh my God, I can’t believe the detail that’s out there. And then it went to “I really wish people would stop talking about this because we’re revealing our trade craft. And the really two serious things that happened when secrets are made public when you reveal a source that oftentimes maybe the single source and then that’s what strikes up whether it’s a communications intercepts that we are receiving in some way. The adversary understands they’re vulnerable and turns it off or it’s a human source but unfortunately sometimes they’re killed because it’s recognized who that source is because it can only be one of the few people who is revealing that information.
Or trade crafts are compromised. Some of our trade craft was compromised, and I’m not going to say exactly what it was because it hasn’t been fully laid out anywhere. And so we went at whole spectrum from “Yes!” to … “We really have to stop talking about it.”
And you may have noticed there was a stop to the public remarks that were being made. In the first hours, there was the president and then it was John Brennan and series of Senior Intelligence Officials and then it went to the next tier – and then it stopped. And it stopped because we had the conversation among the senior intelligence community and the White House, and we said we’re just going to stop talking about this. We’ve celebrated. Now let’s move on. We have to get number two and number three and there’s a lot of work to be done.
What we have gained from that, certainly from an NGA perspective, is a lot of name recognition. I won’t say that we’ve seen an immediate spike in resumes, but actually, even though we don’t have that name recognition of an FBI or CIA, we enjoy upwards of a hundred applicants for every one job that we post on our NGA website. So we may see a spike in applicants.
Another positive outcome is we have a lot of companies that we haven’t done business with start to think: “We kind of get what you’re doing. At least I think I understand it. I understand what some of your challenges may be. Let’s talk about some solutions we may have to offer.”
So there are definitely positive on outcomes to this publicity and we are doing everything we can to capitalize on it.
Man: There seems to have been a lot of change in the intelligence community since 9-11. Can you describe this?
Letitia Long: There absolutely has been change. The key is we are much more integrated than we were before. We have talked about silos or stove pipes within the community. And when we talked about it previously, they were bad. We had them for the wrong reasons. We had them for administrative, security, for bureaucratic reasons. I like to talk about out stove pipe’s in a positive sense. It’s the development of our trade craft.
We need to hone our trade craft. We need to train our folks. Not everybody does everything. The key is the integration and then working together. And it’s tremendously different than it was a decade ago. It isn’t perfect. And I don’t want to leave you with that thought. We can always be collaborating and integrating and working together but we’ve come a long, long way. Thank you.
Man: Thank you very much for coming and for your service to our country.
I’m curious can you please tell us how you train your people to be good communicators? How do you develop a strategic communications plan and how do you ensure that employees fit into that communication strategy? Do you commit that plan in writing?
Letitia Long: To your first part, we probably do much the same as you. We got classes within our college and classes across the intelligence community, critical thinking and structured analysis is one of the bed rock classes that all analysts go through. And we have it at a community level so everyone gets the same instruction. A number of agencies add onto that; part two, if you will.
So all of our analysts take that course as well as some advanced communications. I told that little joke about introverted and extroverted analysts; we do have that challenge right off the bat. Some folks who are attracted to our community aren’t the most outgoing, if you will. But I will tell you, there’s are actually far more attorneys then I ever would have thought who are part of the intelligence community who are analysts who went to law school never intending to practice law, but bring that critical thinking, structured analysis, the briefing, the presentation skills that you would need in a court room. They bring that to our venues and so it’s something that we hone in on and work on and train to.
We require all of our analysts to do what we call 7/24 rotation. It means you’re going to spend a year in one of the offices that work 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. So they are on the watch. They have to be able to sift through a ton of information, get to the issue and then brief it. That’s who I get calls from in the middle of the night. If there’s an issue, that’s who I hear from the minute walk through the door in the morning and so you get that opportunity and it’s an opportunity to spend a year in an office like that.
It’s really going to help you hone those briefing and communication skills and also the critical thinking skills.
We don’t have necessarily a communication’s plan that’s published and put out to the whole agency. But I am fortunate t have a communications director. He has laid out the communications strategy for the agency that starts with me, but doesn’t end with me. It can’t just be me doing the talking. Its how it all fits together, from me to my deputies to the key line officers and down from there.
Integrated with that is our strategic plan. The strategic plan does certainly lay out our goals. And one thing I didn’t talk about but will share this morning…is while NGA is the premier provide r Geospatial intelligence, we are not the only provider. There are the military services intelligence centers all focused on their specific problems. And it’s really our folks who are embedded in their organizations along the combat and commands.
So we also have a strategic plan for the whole enterprise. Our communication strategy is very much tied to the strategic plan. One of thinks I talked about is a global workforce having a shared vision.
Employees need to understand how they fit into the vision; how each and every day they come to work furthers that vision. So they are also part of our communications strategy. They need to be able to say, here’s where I am, here’s where I work, here’s what I do, here’s how it furthers the output and the mission of our organization and secures our nation at the end of day.
Letitia Long: I’m going to take advantage of everything that is out there and is publicly accessible. There are far more Geospatial information programs in colleges and universities today than have ever been, which is great for us. We have a whole stable force to recruit from. They’re very skilled in the Geospatial part of our business, and they walk in sometimes with better tools than we have our desktops. So it pushes us to do more, to take advantage of them. We have a lot of relationships with colleges and universities across the US.
On the commercial side, there’s just an explosion in the Geospatial arena. So if it’s already done commercially, I’m going to take that and use it, and we’ll do the value added part. That means we can concentrate on the newly advanced collection systems, the really advanced sensors. We use Google Earth. GOI and Digital Growth are two commercial satellite vendors here in the US. We buy a whole lot of their product because that foundation data at the resolution they provide it — that’s good enough for our whole lot of our problems sets.
So we can use that, so we can save our high tech, our really high-resolution satellites to go after the key intelligence problems. So we use information from everywhere we can. If we can direct someone to something that is already done, I’m going to do that. It frees up our assets to spend their time on the real hard targets or the real hard problems. We’re shameless when it comes to taking what others have done, and we should be. We shouldn’t have the “not invented here” syndrome.
Letitia Long: There’s a real awareness in the intelligence community about the need to properly classify information. I really believe that, after spending 30+ years in this business. As opposed to simply classifying information, people now really do stop and think about whether that is necessary.
Where I think we have a unique problem is with our coalition partners. I think we do a good job with level: the top secret, secret, confidential. I think we do a good job with that. There is still a tendency to mark information, “no foreigners,” as the default, as opposed to considering who could this information be share with? Part of this is education, and part of this is simply lack of knowledge on part of those who are making the original classification. It’s difficult to know if you classify something today, that it’s releasable with another country tomorrow or next month or next year.
We have a group of people whose occupation is called Foreign Disclosure Officer, and that’s what they do each day so the analysts can focus on analyzing and writing and posting and publishing information. The Foreign Disclosure Officer can make the call on who that is released to.
Are we over-classifying? Probably in some cases, but I would tell you that being in a war for the last decade in a coalition environment has really propelled us to classify properly. We get it when foreign soldiers are standing side by side with ours, and they’re dying out there just us our soldiers and our forces are dying. They need to have information; we need to be able to share information.
I have not seen a pull back in the sharing of information as a result of WikiLeaks.
What I have seen, and this is a good thing, is the investment and now spending the time to put the proper other audit plans in place. And there was a fear that we are all going to retrench. And say we shouldn’t have been sharing. In fact individuals don’t necessarily need access to everything’s that out there. And a number of our systems in our well intentioned haste to share are pretty much opened up. So if you have the logon ID, you could pretty much go anywhere.
As I said upfront, there still is a time – to have a need-to-know caveat, so what we’re doing is putting in place really good audit trails and more levels of security so that we can have communities of interest and really keep the information that we need to within a certain spheres contained.
Letitia Long: The things we do with social media…we’re assuming others are doing their best. I know some people who say, I’m getting rid of my cellular phone. I’m never carrying another cellular phone in my life. Okay it’s a little bit drastic.
We need to understand the threat; we need to understand the counter intelligence assets and what can be done. When Twitter first came out and my daughter is like, why will I want to do that? Four weeks later it was, this is really cool. I can just let everybody know where I am all the time. I like that.
And then that realization sets in. I’m still amazed of some of the things people post and the fact they just leave their pages and their walls wide open and know that anybody, friend and the no friend, anyone see it. The flip side of that, for us, is that mining the information is huge.
There’s so much out there and we are learning everyday how to take more advantage of it. The flip side to that is a huge counter-intelligence threat. And as all of our new employees come in we can’t tell them, you can’t tell then not do have a Facebook page but we do caution them. We do show them what our adversaries have done with the information so we do try to educate them and we have continuing, I mean it’s a yearly requirement actually to have our counter-intelligence briefing whenever we are going to a high threat area or counterintelligence briefing whenever we’re going to a country where there is a very good, very hostile foreign service who might target our folks.
Now I’m talking broadly for the whole Intelligence community that we do have requirements. We’re always looking at both sides of that. I assume all of my classified e-mails are being read by somebody. I just assume that. I think most people in the Intelligence Community assume that. I know the threat and deal with it.
There is a huge amount of information out there, and from our perspective, more data is better. And we’re going to mine that data every way we can and from GeoInt., perspective we’re going to portray it geospatially and we’re going to look for trends over time and it’s going to help us figure out what the bad guys are up to.
Bob Grupp: Our time is up. So we will now move to our next session. Let me just say we deeply appreciate what you and your colleagues do and we thank you very, very much for being with us this morning.
Letitia Long: I appreciate your time and I appreciate the questions. They’re very good. Thank you.