3 Ways Geographic Information Technology Benefits the Intelligence Field

Geospatial intelligence is a specialized field within the broader intelligence profession. And specialized within that is the field of Geographic Information Technology (GIT), which is connected to all kinds of far-reaching intelligence ventures that have one thing in common: location, location, location.

Geographic information technology provides the means to answer the questions of What? When? and How?—in addition to Where and Why? All of these are key factors intelligence agencies need to identify, prepare, prevent, protect, respond, and recover from events.

Here are three ways geographic information technology and intelligence go hand-in-hand.

1. Improving military operations

Intelligence organizations worldwide use geographic information technology to collect, synthesize, analyze, and distribute data from multiple sources to maintain situational awareness and share information with decision makers.

Surveillance tools, such as thermal, hyper-Spectral  LIDAR, and SAR are used for information extraction to develop “intelligent” apps to track people and things; identify optimal sites and routes for combat; and target areas for investigation or intervention.

The next phase of intelligence is an immersive phase. Analysts “live in the data;” that is, they interact and experiment with data in a multimedia way, all the while knowing that geospatial answers are at their fingertips at the press of a button.

2. Managing major events

Remote sensing data (provided by satellites and air crafts) in particular provide intelligence agencies with nearly real-time information, allowing them to monitor activities, such as the Boston Marathon or a major election. Data gathered using geospatial technologies are used to make immediate decisions in reaction to events, as they unfold.

Added to that are social media-based geographic information tools and mobile data collection survey tools. An example is Ushahidi, a web-based platform for mapping information from reports from SMS, Twitter, e-mail and the web offer current-event updates. Together, they can be used to describe, interpret and anticipate the impacts of an event or action.

3. Providing analysis for international efforts

Intelligence agencies regularly use geographic information technology to spatially and historically analyze event, including the causes that lead up to a crisis. Take the water shortages (and consequent devastation) in Darfur , Sudan. GIT and intelligence could come together to assist with such conflict resolution brought about by appraising groundwater resources and proposing a solution to the conflict by providing adequate groundwater resources through geospatial research and interpretation.

Some other ways intelligence can use GIT efforts are Relief Web, a United Nations agency that provides time-critical information for humanitarian relief; UNOSAT, which delivers satellite imagery to relief groups; and World Bank’s  Poverty Mapping , a site for measuring and analyzing poverty.