Robert Cardillo Shares His Vision for NGA in the Intelligence Community of the Future

Robert Cardillo, NGA

Robert Cardillo, NGA

The Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) hosted a leadership dinner Jan. 21 featuring National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director Robert Cardillo. Director Cardillo provided his vision for positioning NGA in the Intelligence Community (IC) moving forward in his keynote address.

According to Cardillo, the future presents a steep curve in the emerging commercial space satellite marketplace. Under his functional management authority, Cardillo is responsible for the standards and interface protocols that ensure new interfaces fit within NGA’s current architecture.

“When my analyst sits down to attack an intelligence problem, I don’t want them thinking they must go to the drone screen and figure out the source input,” Cardillo said. “Quite frankly, I want all of these sources to compete with them. That’s why we call it a source marketplace, so they all compete to provide potential answers.” In other words, Cardillo expects the data to flow seamlessly into NGA’s architecture.

You don’t have to work in national security to need quick and accurate location data to inform decisions. Cardillo likened NGA’s need for data that informs location with that of a burger chain selecting the next place to open one of its restaurants.

“It would be of high interest to them to see traffic patterns, to understand financial records in neighborhoods, and to see patterns of life and human geography, because they want to find a place that will get them the most revenue,” he said. “I see these types of companies as selling a service. In the past people thought about either flying an airplane or a satellite to get a picture of something, but now my sense in reading the business material and value preposition is they’re much more into the business analytics. Here’s the cost benefit: if you were to buy this piece of property and put your franchise there, we think you’d get this kind of traffic. If that makes sense to you, then you would build your franchise there.” 

So, how does NGA approach determining a location based upon available data?

“My interest is in a different kind of traffic,” Cardillo said. “If we’re placing an embassy or securing an existing embassy, I’m interested in traffic flow, demographics and potential threats in the area. It’s a different application of the same capability.”

“What I’m excited about is that I don’t see imaging companies, such as Skybox Imaging or BlackSkyGlobal interested in selling pictures – they are interested in selling analytics. I’m excited about having conversations about that possibility.”

Another topic Cardillo touched upon was NGA’s plans with object-based production. “We’re doing it. It’s not a debate anymore – if it was it’s over and we’re moving on it,” he said.

Cardillo used another example – this time, a lighthouse – to illustrate his point. Over the course of a couple of decades, the same lighthouse might have multiple data associated with it, even though it is just one object. According to Cardillo, the premise underlying object-based intelligence is one object, one time, and once the physical object has been revealed from its multiple data entries, analysts – or sailors, as in the case of the lighthouse, can be confident that they know exactly what lies within a given space.

“Quite frankly, I don’t want the analysts worried about that,” said Cardillo. “What I want them to think about is the objects that are moving around the lighthouse, such as commercial traffic, and whether the lighthouse is projecting its signal on the proper Coast Guard standards, etc.”

Cardillo explained that a nefarious trafficker will not beacon such signals. “Our job is to discriminate between a known, the lighthouse, a good commercial trafficker, and now there’s this third object that I picked up on and could be a drone or an airplane, or could be a satellite.”

Looking to the future, Cardillo sees potential for NGA to lend its expertise to some of the major issues of our time, including the democratization process in emerging countries. For example, he sees potential alliances with the State Department on advancing democracy in countries such as Afghanistan.

“Our country has enough fun trying to figure out who wins a certain district or a certain state [in political elections], and this is a brand new democracy. When they sit down and have these debates, they don’t even have a map that says what street names exist in a certain village or town,” Cardillo said. “I think NGA should play in that space, not to do the diplomacy, not to do the negotiations, but to enable countries that are on the beginnings of that path towards democratization … we could offer additional confidence in the people that are being governed. That’s where I would like to surprise people on that open side.”

Related: SAVE THE DATE: NGA Director Robert Cardillo to Speak at INSA Leadership Dinner, Jan. 21NGA Inaugurates Robert Cardillo as New Agency Director

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