[SatNews] "Our folks used to say they would spend 75 percent of their time looking for data and 25 percent of their time actually doing the analysis. That's greatly changed—it's almost the inverse now."
After nearly four years as director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and nearly 35 years in federal service, Letitia A. Long has announced she will retire in early October.
The announcement provides plenty of time for an orderly transition and handover, she said.
Long's successor, Robert Cardillo, is a career intelligence professional. Currently the deputy director of national intelligence for intelligence integration, Cardillo also has worked as the deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the deputy director for analysis at DIA, and the director of analysis and production at NGA.
The secretary of defense and senior leaders in the defense intelligence community have a great deal of confidence in Cardillo, Long said.
"I've known Robert for, gosh, almost 20 years. The agency will be in great hands," she added. "There could not be a better choice. ... I certainly feel good retiring knowing that the agency will be in great hands."
The agency has changed greatly during her tenure, Long said. A desire for greater transparency and increased utility of geospatial intelligence data guided Long as she plotted the course for NGA, she said.
"When I came into the agency, I set a course and outlined a vision to put the power of GEOINT in the hands of the user, which really means ... making our data much more accessible for our own folks, our analysts, as well as for our customers, and connecting with our customers on a level that we really hadn't been able to in the past, largely because technology didn't allow for it," the director said.
While the effort to improve is forever ongoing, Long said, the agency has achieved her vision of user-friendliness and accessibility. "Our folks used to say they would spend 75 percent of their time looking for data and 25 percent of their time actually doing the analysis. That's greatly changed— it's almost the inverse now," she said.
Information is now in one place, and it's tagged and cataloged so it's easy to find, Long said.
She added, "And the tools that we've developed make it much easier [for analysts] to spend their time doing analysis, and that's what we hire them to do."
These efficiencies have also allowed the agency's analysts to develop new uses for the data and to acquire data from new sources, she said. "We continue to add new sources all the time," Long said. "It's not only government-built satellites, it's commercial imagery, it's airborne imagery, it's social media information—information that is readily, publicly available. We're able to integrate that with our classified information and, therefore, give a little more insight."
NGA operates in three security domains—unclassified, secret and top secret—which means the agency has a diverse group of customers with similarly diverse needs. The agency's homegrown applications allow its customers to tailor downloaded imagery to their specific needs, Long said.
"They can download the data, download an application and display it the way they want, they get access to it much more quickly because we put it out there much more quickly," she said.
This approach can save lives, Long said. Just a few years ago, the agency would have to print hard-copy books of imagery and analysis for its partner agencies during disaster responses, such as during a hurricane. These books would allow first responders to do their jobs, she said, but they didn't always contain up-to-date information, due to the pace with which disaster situations change.
Now, as soon as the agency sees a hurricane coming, it orders the imagery and creates a password-protected event page, Long said. NGA will upload imagery and analysis immediately, and first responders can download it to their tablets and access it in the field. If the first responders don't have communications access, NGA can deliver the data or provide pre-loaded tablets, she said.
"We've given them applications where they can record their observations and upload what they're seeing, so that we then ingest it and spit it back out for the larger community," Long said. "All of this is happening in real time. At the end of the day, everyone has more up-to-date situational awareness [and] they're able to send the search and rescue teams immediately to the areas that are hardest hit. ... That's putting the power of GEOINT right into the hands of the user."
The agency provides similar capabilities in classified settings and for warfighters, she said. "We're operating in a very different way than we did when I arrived at the agency almost four years ago," Long said.
Serving as the director of NGA was a privilege and the culmination of her career, she said. "By and far the best thing about this job has been the people, and that will be the hardest part as I retire," Long said.
The employees of NGA are true heroes, she said, committed to the defense of the nation. They work extraordinarily hard every single day to ensure that the best analysis and the best information get into the hands of those who need it in time for them to make the best decisions, the director said.
"Whether it's the president walking into a meeting, or a warfighter planning or executing an operation, or a first responder going into a rescue, we know what we do makes a difference. And it's because of the men and women at NGA. And I will truly miss them," Long said.