Is Esri part of the military-intelligence sector?

Is Esri, the Redlands-based GIS company, part of the military-intelligence sector?

The Esri booth at a recent GEOINT convention, next to major mil-intel contractors (MIC) such as SAIC. (Picture by Tim Shorrock.) 

Indeed it is, as Esri will be the first to tell you. In a post in February 2011 I noted that Esri founder and CEO Jack Dangermond touted Esri’s 20 year relationship with NGA:

“We have successfully collaborated with the NGA for more than two decades,” said Dangermond.

And here is their press release saying what they will present at GEOINT 2011 which includes the following statements:

ArcGIS technology from Esri turns intelligence data into geographic knowledge that informs decision making for a wide range of missions…”Esri’s geospatial technology is uniquely qualified to handle many forms of intelligence such as data from satellite imagery and information collected using handheld devices,” said Jack Dangermond, Esri president.

Esri considers geospatial intelligence and C4ISR in general to be a key component of its business. (C4ISR is mil-speak for Command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.) Perhaps a better question then is to what degree and in what ways is Esri part of the MIC sector?

Using open-source records at USASpending.gov we can see that Esri has received $736,856,696 in government contracts, since 2001. Eight of its top 10 awards were with the Department of Defense (the largest was $15M), for a total of $405.2M.

The $15M contract was awarded by the NGA in March 2002. Although the details are vague, the contract reveals it was for “A/E SVCS” or architectural and engineering services. This doesn’t tell us too much but as I noted in November of last year:

David Wesloh of the Office of Chief Information Officer, NGA’s principal investigator for the CRADA is also briefly quoted as saying that “There have been many examples of Esri rapidly responding to address a critical need identified by NGA in support of a crisis situation or production requirement.”

The timing of course is notable, just a few months after 9/11, when intelligence and military contracts were flying out the door.

Jane’s International Defence Review noted in its February 2004 issue:

The US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) plans to award a series of contracts, potentially running until January 2013, that will expand its existing Global Geospatial Intelligence program. Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) will supply databases from the Center for Innovative Geospatial Technology that were developed at the behest of Congress following the terrorist attacks of September 2001. The effort includes a database backing post-conflict reconstruction; automated synchronization of database systems ranging from low level to high level, to implement solutions for integration of the National Map; creation of a common data model; and operational enhancement of the PALENTERRA common operational picture capability.

The effort will also include Aero Production Software, provides NGA with access to and close collaboration with ESRI’s development of an innovative digital solution to ensure consistent support to global flight-safety requirements. Under a related contract, InterMap Technologies will supply the NGA with its Star 3I commercial airborne radar imagery products. Star 3I provides high-resolution radar images, Digital Surface Modes and radar-based map products. A third award goes to EarthData for its GeoSAR commercial airborne radar imagery products and ISTAR processing. GeoSAR acquires data in P-band, and in a combination of X-band and P-band.

PALENTERRA is the name of an integrated data visualization and interface that one top executive at NGA, Bert R. Beaulieu (Director of InnoVision) describes:

Palanterra allows users with varying levels of security clearance — such as state and local law enforcement agencies, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), U.S. NORTHCOM (the Department of Defense’s Northern Command), NGA, and Secret Service — to share a view of a given situation by way of a Secure Internet Protocol Network, known as SIPRNET, or via JWICS, the Joint Worldwide Intelligence and Communications System. On Palanterra’s virtual geospatial intelligence environment, authorized personnel anywhere in the world can see, in near-real time, spatial information about current situations as well as security events as they happen.

If you look at the screenshots of PALENTERRA you’ll be justified in thinking this looks a lot like the USGS National Map (as it was a few years ago) and you’ll also recognize it’s running on Esri ArcIMS. (They’ve scrubbed the web URL in the images but it doesn’t really matter; this is neither that secret nor advanced. It’s the imagery and data that matter.)

The new User Guide for the USGS National Map doesn’t mention PALENTERRA (the old one did) but their entry portal does confirm it’s still there.

So, we’ve seen that whether or not PALENTERRA was part of the specific $15m contract to Esri following 9/11, that Esri have worked with NGA on it. Furthermore, this technology is now deployed in the USGS, an ostensibly scientific civilian institution. So we have corporate–military–scientific/academic links without too much digging, and without even needing any classified documents.

I may be wrong but I suppose very few people are aware of these links. (Interpreting their meaning and relevance is an issue for another day.) What we demonstrate here is how easy it is to find these linkages.

3 responses to “Is Esri part of the military-intelligence sector?

  1. Pingback: America’s drift to war and the end of the Abrams Doctrine | Open Geography

  2. Jeremy, Jack Dangermond/ESRI has been an advisor to DMA/NIMA/NGA since the early 90’s. They wrote the DoD VPF format (vector product) for NGA. (derived from the original Shape format) NGA blessed the format and directed any contractors that built map production software to build to the VPF/ESRI standard. So, RemoteView (Exellis/Overwatch Systems), ERDAS (Intergraph), ENVI (Exellis), and SocetSet/SocetGXP (BAE Systems) all complied. ArcGIS has been the primary map production tool at NGA for the last 10 years. Probably 60-100 server implementations at 6-10 production sites. This number doesn’t include the rest of DoD and the civilian components of the Intelligence Community, i.e. CIA, NSA, DHS, Army, Navy, Air Force, NCTC, etc. As I recall, 40-50 of these sites. At about $50K per site, it’s easily over $3M just in ArcGIS license fees. But, that’s less than the license fees for the the 4,000 image exploitation desktops at NGA. Est. $20M/year. And, there’s proably another 30-40 Google Earth servers spread across NGA. Est. $8M/year.

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