Category Archives: GEOINT

NGA has plan for total “Map of the World”


John Goolgasian, NGA

According to the NGA, one of the most popular sessions at the recent GEOINT 2013* (held over from 2013) conference was one which offered a total “Map of the World:”

But what is it?

Map of the World is the foundation for intelligence integration, said NGA Director Letitia A. Long in her keynote address at the four-day event.

The clue lies in this statement:

Twelve different data views will make up Map of the World and nine of them are online now, including maritime and aeronautical.

This, along with Goolgasian’s involvement, indicates that it is probably related to, or draws from, the work of the World-Wide Human Geography Database Working Group (WWHGD). I’ve written about Goolgasian on this blog before.

The WWHGD is a government-private contractor (Booz Allen Hamilton are the provided contact points and presumably run it) group that is seeking to:

The WWHGD Working Group is designed to build voluntary partnerships around human geography data and mapping focused on the general principle of making appropriate information available at the appropriate scales to promote human security. This involves a voluntary “whole-of-governments” national and international approach to create a human geography data framework that can leverage ongoing efforts around the world to identify, capture, build, share, and disseminate the best available structured and unstructured foundation data.

Here are the data they’re looking at in these layers:

The inclusion of things like land ownership maps directly on to the arguments of Geoffrey Demerest, who was a key player in the Bowman Expeditions. You can judge for yourselves about the set of information here. Personally I think it’s way too rigid and a-historical (what about a history of foreign intervention in an area, or standards of living and well-being?).

But even beyond that it reflects a belief in the efficacy of totalizing indexes. We heard something about this at the AAG, and Brad Evans and Julian Reid have a discussion about it in their new book Resilient Life.

The article continues:

“Through a single point on the Earth, the Map of the World will present an integrated view of collection assets from across the community, mapping information for military operations, GEOINT observations, and NGA analytic products, data and models,” said Goolgasian.

Worth keeping an eye on.

Contractor receives $400K federal funds for automatic license plate reading

According to reporting by Bloomsberg News the IRS, the Forest Service and the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command have awarded a contractor over $400,000 in contracts for its automated licence plate recognition (ALPR) system since 2009.

It’s not clear if the contracts to Vigilant Solutions are ongoing, given the context that Homeland Security dropped similar plans in February of this year following widespread opposition form civil liberties groups.

“Especially with the IRS, I don’t know why these agencies are getting access to this kind of information,” said Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based privacy-rights group. “These systems treat every single person in an area as if they’re under investigation for a crime — that is not the way our criminal justice system was set up or the way things work in a democratic society.”

Other countries (including the UK) have long had such systems in place.

If you go to the Vigilant website they have a long complaining blog post about the lies and distortions by civil liberties groups:

License plate readers are under siege nationwide, thanks to a well-funded, well-coordinated campaign launched by civil liberties groups seeking to take advantage of the growing national debate over surveillance. 

Unfortunately, the campaign led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has deliberately clouded and even omitted those facts.

According to this article, Vigilant actually successfully used the First Amendment to overturn an anti license-plate recognition law in Utah:

Vigilant Solutions and DRN [Digital Recognition Network] sued the state of Utah on constitutional grounds, arguing that the law infringed on the First Amendment right to take photographs of public images in public places, a right that everyone in Utah shares.

The law was overturned, but Vigilant com,plains that state agencies were then barred from using any of the data collected, impacting their profits. They also complain about data retention limits.

What’s also interesting about companies such as this is that they illustrate the argument for understanding policing and military together (see this blog post by Derek Gregory for example).

DNI Clapper: press coverage “inaccurate”

DNI Clapper labeled press coverage of the Snowden affair as “inaccurate, misleading and incomplete” at the GEOINT 2013* meeting today:

He also repeated his position that Snowden is not a whistleblower:

Our new paper on intelligence now online

cover

Very excited to announce our paper “The New Political Economy of Geographical Intelligence” is now online at the publisher’s website for the Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

The publishers have provided a link for free access to the first 50 people (click here for free access)! (Edit: these have unfortunately all been claimed)

The regular link which will remain after those free accesses are used up is this one http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00045608.2013.843436

Abstract

A troubling new political economy of geographical intelligence has emerged in the United States over the last two decades. The contours of this new political economy are difficult to identify due to official policies keeping much relevant information secret. The U.S. intelligence community increasingly relies on private corporations, working as contractors, to undertake intelligence work, including geographical intelligence (formally known as GEOINT). In this article we first describe the geography intelligence “contracting nexus” consisting of tens of thousands of companies (including those in the geographical information systems and mapping sector), universities and nonprofits receiving Department of Defense and intelligence agency funding. Second, we discuss the “knowledge nexus” to conceptualize how geographical knowledge figures in current U.S. intelligence efforts, themselves part of the U.S. war on terror and counterinsurgency (COIN). To analyze the contracting nexus we compiled and examined extensive data on military and intelligence contracts, especially those contracts awarded by the country’s premier geographical intelligence agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), for satellite data. To analyze the knowledge nexus we examined recent changes in the type of geographical knowledges enrolled in and produced by the U.S. intelligence community. We note a shift from an emphasis on
areal and cultural expertise to a focus on calculative predictive spatial analysis in geographical intelligence. Due to a lack of public oversight and accountability, the new political economy of geographical intelligence is not
easy to research, yet there are reasons to be troubled by it and the violent surveillant state it supports.

Key Words:
geographical intelligence, geographical knowledge, GEOINT, government contracting, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Annals paper on Geographical Intelligence

I’m very excited to say that our (myself, Sue Roberts and Ate Poorthuis) paper for the Annals of the Association of American Geographers is now at the proofs stage. The first page is below. I believe it will be out in an early 2014 issue.

Pages from Proofs

PDF of first page

Who are Booz Allen Hamilton?

Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old at the center of the NSA revelations, worked at a company called Booz Allen Hamilton (“Booz Allen”), just before leaving for Hong Kong. Who are they?

Booz Allen are a major, major, intelligence contractor. Put another way, they’ve taken at least $31 billion from the government (at least $19.6B from the Department of Defense; the 25th largest defense contractor). Their market cap is $2.51B. According to their financials, they earn more than 98% of their revenue from the government.

Here are a few links to stories about them of relevance. Wikipedia will give the general background, but I want here to highlight a couple of other sources you might overlook.

The Guardian has a nice run-down on them, pointing out links to DNI Clapper, Mike McConnell (Bush administration DNI) and James Woolsey.

The investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, author of Spies for Hire, has done the most reporting on them. It doesn’t take much when looking at them to find significant links to academic geography, GIS and GEOINT.

2007: Booz Allen Hamilton, Mike McConnell. Shorrock on Democracy Now.

2010: The corporate intelligence community. A photo tour (Shorrock). Northern Virginia, the epicenter of intel contracting.

Joan Dempsey, seen here at one of the many GEOINT conferences for which she has been MC. Dempsey is an Executive Vice President of Booz Allen, and a Board member of the USGIF, the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.

The USGIF is  the organization behind the annual GEOINT conferences. Although a non-profit it reported assets of around $5.1m in FY2011. It is mostly run by defense contractors, academics with intel and GEOINT interests (eg., the Chair of the GMU Geography department, Dr. Peggy Agouris) or other interested GIS experts (including Mike Goodchild, heh-hem and Jack Dangermond, CEO of Esri). Even the intel journalist Matthew Aid, who usually takes a fairly mainstream view of the IC, recently remarked that the USGIF had entered into a “sweetheart” contract with the NGA.

Update. The Wall Street Journal has a new piece on Booz Allen including the following nugget: “25,000 people, 76% of whom have government security clearances allowing them to handle sensitive national security information.” This includes 27% at one of the toppest of top levels, Top Secret//SCI. It’s worth studying official figures on security clearances, given here, which indicate 1.4 million people hold a “Top Secret” clearance. Looked at one way, that’s 1.4 million chances of a leak. Just in case you were wondering how a 29-year-old defense contractor got hold of such sensitive documents.

New information on Prism

I didn’t say much about Prism in my post yesterday as it didn’t seem quite as clear as the Verizon court order. (Compare the two here.) Additionally, the complete slideset was not posed by the Guardian, unlike the Verizon court order. We now have some additional information. (Update: The Guardian has now published a single additional slide.)

First, the program obviously exists. See this job ad requiring expertise in it, and this datasheet from Cryptome indicating its use since 2003; and this senior intel officer’s online resume at LinkedIn mentioning Prism expertise.Capture

I did think it odd that it was only funded at $20m. My guess right now based on additional reporting by Declan McCullagh, Chief Political Correspondent at CNET, is that it is software that facilitates data extraction/interface with the named companies. Additionally, Marc Ambinder, who I mentioned in my post, says “PRISM is a kick-ass GUI that allows an analyst to look at, collate, monitor, and cross-check different data types provided to the NSA from internet companies located inside the United States.”

It obviously works within the law, but if we accept tech company pronouncements, does not provide the sort of continuous “direct access” to company servers that has been discussed. The “fact of” Prisms’ existence is not classified, but what it does, is. McCullagh’s argument that “Prism is an unclassified web tool” is completely misleading.

Nevertheless, these are really a technical clarifications. The main points remain, I think:

1. Tech companies work with the government/NSA within the law to provide user data. We should still be concerned , even if this is just one small part of US surveillance. Most immediately, we need to rethink the law, especially FISA and the Patriot Act. Do not pay attention to tech company pronouncements that they operate within the law. No one said otherwise. But that’s the problem.

2. The government can obtain access to user records from these companies. Saying that it is overseen by the FISA Court is irrelevant–who’s going to appeal? The Court’s deliberations are secret. And if you did appeal, good luck: the Supreme Court recently refused to hear an appeal by Amnesty International because they “lack standing” ie don’t know for a fact that they were affected by the law. And as McCullagh concedes “How much oversight and review the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court actually provides is less than clear.”

3. The amount of data collected is still considerable. Consider this scenario laid out by Ambinder:

Under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, the NSA and the attorney general apply for an order allowing them to access a slice of the stuff that a company like Facebook keeps on its servers. Maybe this order is for all Facebook accounts opened up in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Maybe there are 50 of them. Facebook gets this order.

Now, these accounts are being updated in real-time. So Facebook somehow creates a mirror of the slice of stuff that only the NSA can access. The selected/court-ordered accounts are updated in real-time on both the Facebook server and the mirrored server. PRISM is the tool that puts this all together. Facebook has no idea what the NSA is doing with the data, and the NSA doesn’t tell them.

The companies came online at different points, according to the documents we’ve seen, maybe because some of them were reluctant to provide their data and others had to find a way to standardize their data in a way that PRISM could understand. Alternatively, perhaps PRISM updates itself regularly and is able to accept more and more types of inputs.

What makes PRISM interesting to us is that it seems to be the ONLY system that the NSA uses to collect/analyze non-telephonic non-analog data stored on American servers but updated and controlled and “owned” by users overseas. It is a domestic collection platform USED for foreign intelligence collection. It is of course hard to view a Facebook account in isolation and not incidentally come into contact with an account that is owned by an American. I assume that a bunch of us have Pakistani Facebook friends. If the NSA is collecting on that account, and I were to initiate a Facebook chat, the NSA would suck up my chat. Supposedly, the PRISM system would flag this as an incidental overcollect and delete it from the analyst’s workspace. Because the internet is a really complicated series of tubes, though, this doesn’t always happen. And so the analyst must sometimes “physically” segregate the U.S. person’s data.