The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is a combat support agency within the United States Department of Defence whose primary mission is collecting, analysing, and distributing geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) in support of national security. Initially known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) from 1996 to 2003, it is a member of the United States Intelligence Community.
NGA headquarters, also known as NGA Campus East or NCE, is located at Fort Belvoir North Area in Springfield, Virginia. The agency also operates major facilities in the St. Louis, Missouri area (referred to as NGA Campus West or NCW), as well as support and liaison offices worldwide. The NGA headquarters, at 2,300,000 square feet (210,000 m2), is the third-largest government building in the Washington metropolitan area after The Pentagon and the Ronald Reagan Building.
In addition to using GEOINT for US military and intelligence efforts, NGA provides assistance during natural and man-made disasters, aids in security planning for major events such as the Olympic Games, disseminates maritime safety information, and gathers data on climate change.
US mapping and charting efforts remained relatively unchanged until World War I, when aerial photography became a major contributor to battlefield intelligence. Using stereo viewers, photo-interpreters reviewed thousands of images. Many of these were of the same target at different angles and times, giving rise to what became modern imagery analysis and mapmaking.
Engineer Reproduction Plant (ERP)
The Engineer Reproduction Plant was the Army Corps of Engineers first attempt to centralise mapping production, printing, and distribution. It was located on the grounds of the Army War College in Washington, D.C. Previously, topographic mapping had largely been a function of individual field engineer units using field surveying techniques or copying existing or captured products. In addition, ERP assumed the “supervision and maintenance” of the War Department Map Collection, effective 01 April 1939.
Army Map Service (AMS)/US Army Topographic Command (USATC)
With the advent of the Second World War aviation, field surveys began giving way to photogrammetry, photo interpretation, and geodesy. During wartime, it became increasingly possible to compile maps with minimal field work. Out of this emerged AMS, which absorbed the existing ERP in May 1942. It was located at the Dalecarlia Site (including buildings now named for John C. Frémont and Charles H. Ruth) on MacArthur Blvd., just outside Washington, D.C., in Montgomery County, Maryland, and adjacent to the Dalecarlia Reservoir. AMS was designated as an Engineer field activity, effective 01 July 1942, by General Order 22, OCE, 19 June 1942. The Army Map Service also combined many of the Army’s remaining geographic intelligence organisations and the Engineer Technical Intelligence Division. AMS was re-designated the US Army Topographic Command (USATC) on 01 September 1968, and continued as an independent organization until 1972, when it was merged into the new Defence Mapping Agency (DMA) and re-designated as the DMA Topographic Centre (DMATC) (see below).
Aeronautical Chart Plant (ACP)
After the war, as airplane capacity and range improved, the need for charts grew. The Army Air Corps established its map unit, which was renamed ACP in 1943 and was located in St. Louis, Missouri. ACP was known as the US Air Force Aeronautical Chart and Information Centre (ACIC) from 1952 to 1972 (See DMAAC below).
National Photographic Interpretation Centre (NPIC)
Shortly before leaving office in January 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the creation of the National Photographic Interpretation Centre (NPIC), a joint project of the CIA and DIA. NPIC was a component of the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology (DDS&T) and its primary function was imagery analysis. NPIC became part of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (now NGA) in 1996.
NPIC first identified the Soviet Union’s basing of missiles in Cuba in 1962. By exploiting images from U-2 overflights and film from canisters ejected by orbiting Corona satellites, NPIC analysts developed the information necessary to inform US policymakers and influence operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Their analysis garnered worldwide attention when the Kennedy Administration declassified and made public a portion of the images depicting the Soviet missiles on Cuban soil; Adlai Stevenson presented the images to the United Nations Security Council on 25 October 1962.
Defence Mapping Agency (DMA)
The Defence Mapping Agency was created on 01 January 1972, to consolidate all US military mapping activities. DMA’s “birth certificate”, DoD Directive 5105.40, resulted from a formerly classified Presidential directive, “Organization and Management of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Community” (05 November 1971), which directed the consolidation of mapping functions previously dispersed among the military services. DMA became operational on 01 July 1972, pursuant to General Order 3, DMA (16 June 1972). On 01 October 1996, DMA was folded into the National Imagery and Mapping Agency – which later became NGA.
DMA was first headquartered at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C, then at Falls Church, Virginia. Its mostly civilian workforce was concentrated at production sites in Bethesda, Maryland, Northern Virginia, and St. Louis, Missouri. DMA was formed from the Mapping, Charting, and Geodesy Division, Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), and from various mapping-related organizations of the military services.
DMA Hydrographic Centre (DMAHC)
DMAHC was formed in 1972 when the Navy’s Hydrographic Office split its two components: The charting component was attached to DMAHC, and the survey component moved to the Naval Oceanographic Office, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, on the grounds of what is now the Stennis Space Centre. DMAHC was responsible for creating terrestrial maps of coastal areas worldwide and hydrographic charts for DoD. DMAHC was initially located in Suitland, Maryland, but later relocated to Brookmont (Bethesda), Maryland.
DMA Topographic Centre (DMATC)
DMATC was located in Brookmont (Bethesda), Maryland. It was responsible for creating topographic maps worldwide for DoD. DMATC’s location in Bethesda, Maryland is the former site of NGA’s headquarters.
DMA Hydrographic/Topographic Centre (DMAHTC)
DMAHC and DMATC eventually merged to form DMAHTC, with offices in Brookmont (Bethesda), Maryland.
DMA Aerospace Centre (DMAAC)
DMAAC originated with the US Air Force’s Aeronautical Chart and Information Centre (ACIC) and was located in St. Louis, Missouri.
National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA)
NIMA was established on 01 October 1996, by the National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 1997. The creation of NIMA followed more than a year of study, debate, and planning by the defence, intelligence, and policy-making communities (as well as the Congress) and continuing consultations with customer organisations. The creation of NIMA centralized responsibility for imagery and mapping.
NIMA combined the DMA, the Central Imagery Office (CIO), and the Defence Dissemination Programme Office (DDPO) in their entirety, and the mission and functions of the NPIC. Also merged into NIMA were the imagery exploitation, dissemination, and processing elements of the Defence Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, and the Defence Airborne Reconnaissance Office.
NIMA’s creation was clouded by the natural reluctance of cultures to merge and the fear that their respective missions – mapping in support of defence activities versus intelligence production, principally in support of national policymakers – would be subordinated, each to the other.
With the enactment of the National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 2004 on 24 November 2003, NIMA was renamed NGA to better reflect its primary mission in the area of GEOINT.
2005 BRAC and Impact on NGA
As a part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, all major Washington, D.C.-area NGA facilities, including those in Bethesda, Maryland; Reston, Virginia; and Washington, D.C., would be consolidated at a new facility at the Fort Belvoir proving grounds. This new facility, later known as NCE, houses several thousand people and is situated on the former Engineer Proving Ground site near Fort Belvoir. NGA facilities in St. Louis were not affected by the 2005 BRAC process.
The cost of the new centre, as of March 2009, was expected to be $2.4 billion. The centre’s campus is approximately 2,400,000 square feet (220,000 m2) and was completed in September 2011.
Next NGA West
NGA is currently constructing a new facility in St. Louis, Missouri, Next NGA West, at a cost of $1.7 billion. The facility is expected to hold 3,000 employees and open by 2025. St. Louis’ city legislature is currently reconsidering legislation to surround Next NGA West with a protection zone that would bar certain businesses, such as gas stations, hazardous material companies, and foreign government-supported enterprises, from building around the site for security purposes.
Executive Leadership Team
NGA is headed by a director, currently Navy Vice Adm. Frank D. Whitworth; the director is followed in precedence by the deputy director and chief of staff, currently Brett Markham. The holders of these three offices comprise NGA’s executive leadership team.
Chief of Staff
While NGA’s director and deputy director oversee the agency as a whole, the Chief of Staff is tasked with overseeing NGA’s executive support staff, administrative services, logistics, personnel security, human resources, employee training and development, corporate communications, and congressional engagement.
Directorates and Directorate Leaders
NGA is split into various directorates led by directors (D/XX) and associate deputy directors (ADD/XX) with “XX” standing in for each directorate’s two-letter designation. Known directorates and leadership figures include but are not limited to the:
- Analysis Directorate, containing the Director of Analytic Operations (D/AO) and Associate Deputy Director for Operational Engagement (ADD/AE) and led by a director, the Director of Analysis.
- Source Operations & Management Directorate (S or “Source” Directorate), led by the Director of the Source Operations & Management Directorate or Director of Source Operations.
- Enterprise Operations Directorate (E or “Enterprise” Directorate), led by the Director of the Enterprise Operations Directorate.
- IT Services Directorate.
- Plans and Programs Directorate.
- Research Directorate.
- Security and Installation Operations Directorate.
- Human Development Directorate (HD).
- Financial Management Directorate (FM).
- Unnamed “NGA contracting directorate”.
- Acquisitions Directorate.
- Unnamed “A Directorate” (possibly Acquisitions or Analysis).
- Unnamed “P Directorate” (possibly Plans and Programmes or former Analysis and Production Directorate (see below)).
An Analysis and Production Directorate (P or “Production” Directorate) existed in 2011, although NGA presently has a Directorate for Analysis which may be a replacement or separated portion of the Analysis and Production Directorate.
The deputy associate director of operations directly oversees NGA Operations Centre (itself led by a director and deputy director) the Office of NGA Defence, the Office of Expeditionary Operations, and NGA leadership at the three National Reconnaissance Office Aerospace Data facilities.
Other Internal Groups and Leaders
NGA contains NGA Support Teams (NST), which work with directorates, are detailed internationally, deploy with warfighters, or liaise with service branches. Multiple NGA Command NSTs also exist. NGA’s western operations, such as the construction of Next NGA West campus in St. Louis, Missouri, are headed by the NGA west executive (who can concurrently serve in other leadership roles). There is also an NGA Equality Executive. Other organisations present in NGA, which may or may not be components of directorates, include:
- NGA Operations Centre.
- Office of Expeditionary Operations.
- Office of NGA Defence (OND).
- Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), led by NGA’s Chief Information Officer.
- Office of the Inspector General (OIG), led by NGA’s Inspector General..
- Records Service Office.
- National Geospatial-Intelligence Committee (GEOCOM), containing subcommittees.
- National Geospatial-Intelligence College (NGC), led by a director.
- GEOINT Enterprise Office, led by a director and organised into branches.
- Office of Geomatics.
- Aeronautical Navigation Office.
- Office of Corporate Assessment and Programme Evaluation (CAPE).
- Office of Corporate Communications, led by a director.
- Office of Strategic Operations-Performance.
- NGA Cyber Security Operations Cell (CSOC), led by a director and organised into teams.
- NGA Police.
- NGA History Department.
- Office of Maritime Safety.
- Bathymetry branch, led by a chief.
- Office of Contract Services.
- Office of Future Warfare Systems (MRF).
- Office of Diversity Management and Equal Employment Opportunity, led by a director.
- Custom Media Team (XCMS), containing the Tailored Media support team and CMGS (Custom Media Generation System) team.
- GPS Division.
- Historical Imagery Division/Historical Imagery team.
- Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) Team, community led by NGA containing screened non-NGA users/institutions.
- Office of Ventures and Innovation.
- NGA Research, led by a director.
- Enterprise Innovation Office (EIO).
- Office of Strategic Operations.
- Office of Geography.
- NGA Outpost Valley (NOV), office of NGA in Silicon Valley.
- Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs.
- Personnel Security Division, led by a chief.
- Meteorological Operations Centre.
- Office of General Counsel (OGC).
- Records and Declassification Programme Office.
- FOIA/Privacy Act Programme Office.
Additionally, military Service GEOINT Offices (SGOs) liaise with NGA, but belong to their respective military service branches and represent their geospatial intelligence needs. The Canadian Armed Forces deploys a liaison team to NGA; that team’s operations officer also acts as NGA’s Commonwealth liaison.
NGA is a member of the National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG) and the larger Allied System for Geospatial Intelligence (ASG), which includes close allies Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. The US and those four nations also form the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
NGA employs professionals in aeronautical analysis, cartography, geospatial analysis, imagery analysis, marine analysis, the physical sciences, geodesy, computer and telecommunication engineering, and photogrammetry, as well as those in the national security and law enforcement fields.
The directors of NGA, and it predecessor NIMA, have been both civilian and military, with the military officers being the rank range of OF-7/OF-8 (as of June 2022: one Rear Admiral, one Army Lieutenant General, and three Vice Admiral’s). James Clapper was director from 2001-2006 and, although General Clapper preferred the use of his military rank, he was in fact a member of the Defence Intelligence Senior Executive Service (DISES) during his term as Director of NGA, as he had retired from active duty as the director of Defence Intelligence Agency in 1995. Clapper was the first civilian to head NIMA/NGA.
Civilian, Department of Defence, and Intelligence Community Activities
- Osama bin Laden compound raid: NGA was integral in helping the Department of Defence and the U.S. Intelligence Community pinpoint the compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan where Osama bin Laden hid for several years and to plan the raid that killed him.
- 9/11 aftermath: After the 11 September 2001 attacks, NIMA partnered with the US Geological Survey to survey the World Trade Centre site and determine the extent of the destruction.
- Keyhole investment: NGA contributed approximately 25% of In-Q-Tel’s funding of Keyhole Inc, whose Earth-viewing software became Google Earth.
- Hurricane Katrina: NGA supported Hurricane Katrina relief efforts by providing geospatial information about the affected areas based on imagery from commercial and US government satellites, and from airborne platforms, to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government agencies. NGA’s Earth website is a central source of these efforts.
- Microsoft partnership: Microsoft Corp. and NGA have signed a letter of understanding to advance the design and delivery of geospatial information applications to customers. NGA will continue to use the Microsoft Virtual Earth platform (as it did for Katrina relief) to provide geospatial support for humanitarian, peacekeeping, and national-security efforts. Virtual Earth is a set of online mapping and search services that deliver imagery through an API.
- Google and GeoEye: In 2008 NGA partnered with Google and GeoEye. Google would be allowed to use GeoEye spy satellite imagery with reduced resolution for Google Earth.
- Open source software on GitHub: April 2014 NGA became the first intelligence agency to open-source software on GitHub. NGA Director Letitia Long talks about NGA’s GitHub initiative and the first offering, GeoQ, at the GEOINT Symposium. Her comments start at 40 minutes and 40 seconds from her GEOINT 2014 conference speech. NGA open sources software packages under their GitHub organizational account.
- After the 2019 creation of the United States Space Force, NGA began working with the USSF “to provide geospatial intelligence to support and identify future needs of the service,” establishing a new support team (NST) embedded at USSF headquarters.
NIMA/NGA has been involved in several controversies.
- India tested a nuclear weapon in 1998 that reportedly took the United States by surprise. Due to budget cuts in defence spending after the end of the Cold War (refer to Peace dividend), the Intelligence Community was forced to re-evaluate the allocation of its limited resources.
- In 1999, NIMA reportedly provided NATO war-planners with incorrect maps which did not reflect that the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade had moved locations, which some have argued was the cause of the accidental NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The Central Intelligence Agency countered this criticism by saying this overstates the importance of the map itself in the analytic process. Maps of urban areas will be out-of-date the day after they are published, but what is important is having accurate databases.
- On 17 January 2013, USS Guardian, a mine countermeasures ship, was grounded on the Tubbataha Reef in the southern Philippines. While it was determined that the NGA had provided an inaccurate chart that was off by as much as 8 nautical miles (15 km; 9.2 miles), the Navy primarily faulted the ship’s crew, specifically the commanding officer, the executive officer and two junior officers that were standing watch at the time of the grounding, as they had failed to adhere to prudent, safe, and sound navigation principles. The crew relied solely on the inaccurate Digital Nautical Chart (DNC) during the planning and execution of the navigation plan and failed to appropriately cross-reference additional charts and utilize visual cues.
- From 2013 to 2018, NGA designated the latitude and longitude coordinates of a private residence as a default location for Pretoria, South Africa, causing the digital-mapping website MaxMind to set it as the location of over one million IP addresses, which in turn caused people searching for missing phones and other electronics (as well as other people trying to track down IP addresses in Pretoria and police officers attempting to track criminals) to show up at the residence. The issue was eventually resolved following a private investigation and a request to both NGA and MaxMind that the default location be changed.
In 2011, upon consolidating most Washington DC metro area NGA employees to NCE, the Belvoir Federal Credit Union (BFCU) became the on-site credit union serving NCE-based personnel. In 2016, BFCU merged with Pentagon Federal Credit Union.
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