To get an idea of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s flexibility and the powerful resources at its command, consider the following missions it has performed in recent years:
- In March, the website DefenseOne revealed that the NGA had started a program to choke off the Islamic State’s profits from the black market oil industry it operates in Syria and Iraq. The website revealed that NGA was monitoring the Islamic State’s physical transport of oil in individual trucks and oil drums. In addition to charting oil supply networks, the NGA diagrammed social networks and other human relationships that don’t show up on traditional maps.
- As the Arctic thaws out, and Russia and other nations boost their military presence in the resource-rich region, the NGA is leading a fast-building effort by U.S. intelligence agencies to study potential threats in the region for the first time since the Cold War. The NGA has spent the past two years “drawing new maps and charts of waterways and territories in the vast region,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
- In Iraq, the NGA helped crush the epidemic of improvised explosive devices that killed hundreds of American GIs with an aggressive intelligence partnership formed with the Joint Special Operations Command. Called NGA SKOPE, the program merged data collected from various sources to predict when insurgents would next strike. This involved NGA monitoring the vehicles that the bomb-making cells used. “Based on vehicle positioning in a previous attack, it could detect for similar vehicle positioning to stop future IED strikes before they occur,” journalist David Brown wrote.
- The NGA helps the National Security Agency track down terrorists through a program called GEOCELL, which used telephone traffic around the world to pinpoint the locations of the enemy. When suspected terrorists answered or made a phone call, the NSA would capture the signal and hand it over to the NGA, which would use satellite imagery to zero-in on the calls points of origin on a map.
- The NGA is starting to play a lead role in the hunt for cyber attackers against U.S. government assets. The NGA now helps America’s cyberwarriors from the NSA and the U.S. Cyber Command track down online adversaries by providing imagery of the facilities from which cyber attacks originate.
- The NGA is already a key player in analyzing radar and overhead imagery of Iran’s nuclear program, and the NGA’s role in this process will only intensify in the years ahead now that America’s nuclear deal with Iran looks like a done deal.