For years, military attaches and Special Forces have taken digital photos and unmanned planes have shot video footage of target countries (like Iran and North Korea) of interest to military intelligence. But this excellent data has never been integrated into the databases of the agency that deals with such information, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Now the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wants that to change, the Washington Post reports. "New products including full-motion video and ground-based photography should be included with available positional data [such as maps] in National Geospatial-Intelligence libraries for retrieval on Defense Department and intelligence community networks," the Senate panel said in its report on the fiscal 2007 intelligence authorization bill.
"The committee wants troops to be able to dial up what the route ahead will look like and where potential ambush points may be," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, an expert in satellite- and ground-based intelligence.
"The NGA's current library of geospatial products reflects its heritage -- predominantly overhead imagery and mapping products," the committee wrote in its report. "While the NGA is beginning to incorporate more airborne and commercial imagery, its products are nearly devoid of FMV [full-motion video] and ground-based photography," it added.
The report notes that on-the-ground imagery is potentially a lot more useful than aerial photography. "The route to and from a facility or photographs of what a facility would look like to a foot soldier -- rather than from an aircraft -- would be of immense value to our military personnel and intelligence officers," the report said.
The issue is, at heart, the same one plaguing many other aspects of government data collection - breaking through IT solos so that information collected in one system can be made available to others. And the problem is still that systems integration is, as President Bush would say, "hard work."
Pike said that technical difficulties exist in finding ways to integrate the new collection into the NGA data libraries. "Lots of still-camera imagery does not have time and place stamped into it as do the satellites," he said. He also noted that full-motion videos, where a UAV can be traveling 100 mph, creates a problem in stamping locations so viewers know the start and finish of the target.