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Q&A With Robert Cardillo

Robert Cardillo is the sixth director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), who leads and directs NGA under the authorities of the secretary of defense and director of national intelligence. He became NGA's director on Oct. 3, 2014.
 
Prior to this assignment, Cardillo served as the first deputy director for intelligence integration, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, from 2010 to 2014. In addition, he served as the deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the deputy director for analysis, DIA, from 2006 to 2010. In the summer of 2009, Cardillo served as the acting J2, a first for a civilian, in support of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
 
Before he moved to DIA, Cardillo led Analysis and Production as well as Source Operations and Management at NGA from 2002 to 2006. His leadership assignments at NGA also included congressional affairs, public affairs, and corporate relations.
 
Cardillo began his career with DIA in 1983 as an imagery analyst, and he was selected to the Senior Executive Service in 2000. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Cornell University in 1983 and a Master of Arts in National Security Studies from Georgetown University in 1988.
 
Q: You have spoken frequently about the need to transform NGA and the intelligence community to respond to a transparent world. How are projects like GEOINT Pathfinder and mapping the Arctic aligning NGA for the future?
 
A: Our GEOINT Pathfinder and Arctic efforts affirm that a key to NGA's future success hinges on succeeding in the open--we will go wherever necessary to obtain the needed data--and we will apply that data wherever the mission demands. This isn't an arbitrary shift, but stems from customer demand to operate on the World Wide Web for certain missions.
 
Credit is due to the GEOINT Pathfinder team, which figured out that careful, important balance between the risks and rewards of identifying the agency when registering for free and online services. These are the same publicly available services any external researcher might use in the private sector.
The Arctic is a great example of why we must become more comfortable explaining why we need access to these services. Much of our work mapping the Arctic region is unclassified. As such, we must create and post public content that expands the public's knowledge of Arctic issues, and enable outside input to our datasets. Most of our Arctic-focused customers demand we do so.
 
Q: You often mention the need to "succeed in the open." If asked to give a progress report, what would you say?
 
A: Changing culture or learned behavior is hard, and government isn't known for its ability to turn on a dime. At both the beginning and the end of the day, mission drives the decision to operate in the open. Sometimes we'll operate in the open, and sometimes we won't. Sometimes, we'll do both simultaneously.
Now, if one side of the "succeeding in the open" coin is mission, the other side might be our obligation as a taxpayer-funded institution. What can we share, openly discuss, or give back to that public audience?
For starters, the high rate of GEOINT commercialization gives us an advantage: We can talk transparently about some of our mission sets. Next, our release of more than 50 open source projects on GitHub established worldwide transparency of our products and helps us engage all levels of government, industry, academia and even the casual geospatial enthusiast. Doing so promotes understanding, generates ideas and helps us learn.
 
Several of these projects have gained popularity, including GeoQ, Gamification, MrGeo, Geowave and Hootenanny. Our most popular project is GeoQ, a disaster-response tool that relies on open collaboration and has helped us and others become more efficient and innovative with tradecraft, tools and techniques. It also helps Team GEOINT change its response model for disaster events by coordinating with partners in real-time and transcending legal and policy hurdles.
 
Q: You've recently concluded phase 1 of the GEOINT Pathfinder initiative. What did you learn? What can we expect to see from phase 2?
 
A: One of the most exciting aspects of the first phase of GEOINT Pathfinder project were the lessons learned--and in a humbling way, we certainly learned a lot. As the author Samuel Beckett once said: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." My philosophy is that as long as we learn something valuable from experimentation--as long as we "fail forward"--then taking risks are worth it. Because, if we don't challenge ourselves, someone else--or something else--will.
 
Pathfinder 1 highlighted the technical and soft skills required to be effective in an environment where GEOINT is commercializing. It also emphasized that lifelong learning and constant retraining are essential. It also left us with some big realizations about the "big data" world we live in. We need to increase technical competence and what GEOINT Pathfinder calls our "data IQ." We need to train our staff how to analyze data to generate unique insights, collaborate internally with globally dispersed teams, and communicate those insights to nontechnical audiences.
 
Pathfinder showed us we can do high-quality work within flat organizational structures. When you give people freedom to fail and make it safe to fail in front of others without judgment, you'll be surprised how often they overachieve.
 
Pathfinder 2 has several missions, one of which is developing the agency's flagship unclassified analytic output. We do unclassified analysis, and the analysis is often ported to our classified systems. I believe there is unmet demand for unclassified intelligence output. This doesn't necessarily mean public.
 
Q: You have reached out to the technology and start-up community industry, for example addressing the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) early this year. What does this convey about NGA and innovation?
 
A: More and more. I think the federal government, Department of Defense and intelligence community have come to realize that we cannot and should not do everything ourselves internally. When there is so much amazing technology right outside of our doors, on our cellphones, why reinvent that wheel?
For the IC, this means reaching out beyond our comfort zones to include more public crowdsourcing and partnering. If we are to embrace real innovation, we need to collaborate, not compete, with industry and learn from their ideas. We need to address people, process and technology to keep pace with the future. Events like CES provide excellent opportunities for us to look, listen and learn. They also provide glimpses into the future and how technology may progress.
 
Pathfinder 1 provided most of its software development projects publicly, including a WordPress modification and a deep learning system. Transparent projects in places like GitHub help us communicate more clearly with nontraditional partners. The majority of the CES audience probably doesn't speak the "Beltway acquisition language" we speak internally. They do identify with strong documentation within GitHub. This clearly shows what we're working on and how industry and academia can get involved.
 
Q: Where do you see NGA's relationship with the commercial remote sensing industry, which provides the great majority of the imagery you use, today? How is this relationship evolving toward in the future?
 
A: NGA's relationship with the commercial remote sensing industry remains strong. And I see this relationship becoming deeper and broader as we move forward. Commercial imagery has been our primary source of foundation imagery data for years. However, we also use it to support a wide and expanding variety of other missions to support the defense, intelligence and federal civil communities. Its quality, accuracy and ability to be shared make it essential to many U.S. government missions, including disaster response and diplomatic actions.
 
The ongoing explosion in commercial geospatial capabilities—and I'm talking about more than just imaging sensors here—is causing a seismic shift in geospatial intelligence. We anticipate the new generation of commercial providers will supply new insights, with opportunities to improve resiliency and spectral diversity. As companies launch increasingly capable constellations of small earth observation satellites, an enormous wave of new geospatial content will feed modern big-data analytics and pave the way for new analytic methods and tradecraft.
 
NGA will ingest a wide variety of commercial services in the future, including imagery, geospatial information and analytics. Commercial GEOINT is a key part of our strategy to succeed in the open.
 
Q: You released the NGA Commercial GEOINT Strategy late last year, highlighting the need for persistence--collection at the speed of the observable--from multiple sources. What role do you anticipate for small satellites in the future of geospatial intelligence?
 
A: It's a great time for GEOINT. The increased capabilities and sources are really exciting. And the new analytic methodologies and geospatial services the small-sat data streams will enable is even more exciting. We are engaging with industry and our mission partners in the intelligence and defense communities to understand what capabilities industry is delivering and how we can use them to support mission requirements. NGA is source-neutral regarding data sources. We are working closely with the National Reconnaissance Office, and will use all available information sources, including the best mix of commercial capabilities, to improve our ability to deliver value to our customers.
 
Q: Last fall, NGA Deputy Director Sue Gordon announced an initiative to develop a streamlined and more efficient acquisition system. Why is this initiative important to NGA and what have you accomplished so far?
 
A: We all know that the only way to our future is through partnership - in this case with those who produce the technologies that have increasing potential to enable emergent needs. We have done a lot. We streamlined our acquisition structure and we introduced GSM. But we, both industry and government, still need to shift to a focus on outcomes and we still need to be faster from identification to integration.
 
Q: How has activity-based intelligence influenced such current events as the migration of Syrian refugees and the structural integrity of the Mosul Dam?
 
A: Activity-based intelligence (ABI) is a mindset. It refers to how we think about our intelligence problems and how we go about developing the analytical judgments that provide valuable knowledge that addresses customers' needs. ABI isn't new. It has been part of the IC and GEOINT tradecraft for years. ABI allows us to exploit patterns of life and discover new information from data.
 
A prime example of how we are using ABI is our multi-INT approach to conducting anticipatory analysis of Syrian refugee movement. The ongoing situation within Syria makes our process unique because we cannot solely depend on GEOINT to formulate reliable analysis. We're combining open source, tribal, ethnic, and Syrian threat reporting with our own geospatial intelligence and structured observation management data to begin to conduct predictive analysis of population movements. While each independent data source show trends over time, we're striving for high-confidence analytic assessments that can only be achieved by integrating multiple sources of information. This approach allows NGA to provide our mission partners the information required to provide timely humanitarian assistance.
In the case of the Mosul Dam, we have been monitoring the situation since August 2014, when ISIL took control of the dam and subsequently lost it. We continue to assess its status and monitor the decline of the dam's stability, identify structural issues and areas of movement.
 
We continually develop processes to exploit spatial correlations of geo-located data to highlight activity at the dam that may not be visible through logical or relational means. All of that work resulted in appropriate warning to policy and warfighting customers.
 
Q: You recently announced a realignment of your research and development directorate. What does this mean for the future of NGA and your R&D initiatives?
 
A: Restructuring our R&D group into NGA Research is an important step to keep NGA at the forefront of GEOINT. NGA Research is key in our delivery of disruptive innovation to the IC mission. NGA Research will work with and leverage world-class talent from outside the agency, including industry, academia and cutting-edge scientific and technical institutions globally.
 
Our previous R&D efforts focused on development. Although that focus ushered in countless GEOINT capabilities, to keep ahead of our adversaries we must strategically invest our time and trust in key scientific GEOINT areas. As innovative discoveries are made, we need to quickly and rigorously analyze, define, safeguard and execute our plan of transition. Disruptive innovation only counts to the IC if it is transitioned to the right place at the right time. NGA Research is already executing in seven areas. These areas, or "pods," are in radar, automation, geophysics, spectral, environment and culture, geospatial cyber and anticipatory analytics. I am confident that NGA Research will give the IC the significant advantage it needs to stay ahead.
Last modified on Thursday, 12 May 2016 14:38

Additional Info

  • Issue: 7
  • Volume: 13
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