Category Archives: GIS

Lyzi Diamond on what to learn first about mapping

Great post by Lyzi Diamond on what to learn first about mapping. I was going to quote chunks of it, but do yourselves a favor and just read it.

Oh, OK here’s an extract:

In school, typically, we learn a basic formula: “When you’re faced with this problem, use this tool to solve it.” The real world is simply not like that. So much work goes into a) assessing the problem, b) determining which solution out of the possible range of solutions is best in this particular situation, c) deciding which tool is best to execute on that solution in that particular situation, and d) doing it over again because you fucked something up. I never learned about that reality in school, and I think that was a stunting factor.

But we’re a much more technically-literate society these days, so just learning the software isn’t enough. You have to understand both the theoretical principles around the tasks you’re executing on as well as the technology that’s underlying the software. For any tool you execute in ArcGIS, there is both a geometric/spatial problem that’s being solved (in a theoretical sense) as well as a database task that’s being executed (in a technical sense). Understanding both of those things is what will make you successful in the field.

It might be interesting to put together a sample syllabus/class along these lines, throwing in the “zombie GIS” approach I wrote about recently. Here’s what I put in my own syllabus:

Course Learning Outcomes
By the end of this course you will be both able to (1) identify candidate technologies for your problem; (2) identify and secure appropriate data; (3) successfully develop a solution using appropriate GIS and mapping technologies; and (4) critique and assess maps & GIS products, including your own. Additionally, the class will emphasize a key skill: (5) finding solutions to problems. By the end of the semester you should be able to not only comprehend GIS but solve problems of GIS applications and evaluate and recommend specific solutions to real-world problems.

A little ambitious perhaps!

Eades: Azócar Fernández, Pablo Iván and Manfred Buchroithner 2014 Paradigms in Cartography: An Epistemological Review of the 20th and 21st Centuries, reviewed by Gwilym Eades

Azócar Fernández, Pablo Iván and Manfred Buchroithner 2014 Paradigms in Cartography: An Epistemological Review of the 20th and 21st Centuries, reviewed by Gwilym Eades.

Gwilym Eades on a new book examining paradigmatic shifts in cartography. He points out that while the book is welcomed, its lack of due attention to technologies, and thus new regimes of knowledge production, yields only a partial understanding. As John Krygier and I pointed out a few years ago, we can speak of a “one-two punch” of concepts and techno-capabilities here.

I would be interested in developing a “metaphysics of GIS” in this sense; a genealogy of its practices and ways of framing the world. What does it take as objects for example?

GeoIQ, Esri and NGA

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which is a DoD combat-support mapping and geospatial imagery intelligence agency, recently provided a short update (pdf) on GeoIQ, which was bought by Esri last year. GeoIQ has also received funding from the CIA’s venture-capital company, In-Q-Tel.

Even in an environment bursting with practitioners,  many at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency recognize the need for  geographical analysis tools that can be accessed and enhanced by users across the customer base. 

GeoIQ was one platform that particularly stood out to NGA and In-Q-Tel,  because it allows users to collect massive amounts of information and analyze it through geospatial analysis, said Jay Brennan, deputy program manager for the NGA IQT Program.

“I think a product like GeoIQ fits nicely with the (NGA) director’s desire to get GEOINT into the hands of users,” said Brennan. “It does a good job of making it easier for the non- (Geographic Information System) person to create their own maps, bring in their own data and do some first-level analysis. This frees up NGA analysts to do second-order or third-order analyses.”

In-Q-Tel is a private, independent organization that identifies and partners with companies that produce technologies of interest to the U.S. intelligence community. Since 2003, In-Q-Tel has received more than $17 million in funding from NGA. On average, for every $1 NGA spends, In-Q-Tel leverages an additional $37 from venture capital firms and the larger U.S. intelligence community, allowing NGA to maximize the impact of its investment.
In-Q-Tel made its first investment in GeoIQ in May 2007. Since then, the technology has found a place in the Integrated Work Group-Readiness, Response and Recovery (IWG-R3), where it is used within NGA and by many of its outside customers, such as first responders in the field.

GeoIQ has been employed during the recovery efforts following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, in the wake of hurricanes, and after other natural disasters, said Nathaniel Wolpert, an IWG-R3 geospatial intelligence analyst.

IWG-R3 uses GeoIQ to geospatially visualize and determine areas that are flooded or in need of supplies, and to understand the overall situation on the ground, said Wolpert.

NGA maintains a contract with GeoIQ, which was acquired by California-based Esri in July 2012, to source additional capabilities and tools based on the technology. NGA has provided feedback throughout its development and the company has been and continues to be very responsive, said Wolpert.
“It’s a powerful tool that we want to keep using and make more robust in the future,” said Wolpert.

Just-in-time GIS

It’s increasingly apparent that we are now in an era of “just-in-time GIS” and “just enough” GIS, rather than “always already” Big GIS (eg., Esri AcrGIS).

Meaning: TileMill, MapBox, GeoCommons, Fulcrumapp, Epicollect, Google fusion tables, Google Earth, R, GeoJSON, CartoCSS, OpenStreetMap…

Geopiracy and the Bowman Expeditions

Geopiracy: Oaxaca, Militant Empiricism, and Geographical Thought. 2013. By Joel Wainwright. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Joel Wainwright’s new book is an indispensable contribution to the Bowman Expeditions controversy.

Geopiracy is an intervention in the “Bowman Expeditions” and the controversy that has arisen around them since 2009. It appears in a new imprint from Palgrave Macmillan designed to provide an outlet for pieces that are longer than an article but shorter than a monograph–according to the publisher targeting texts of about 20-25,000 words. Geopiracy is fewer than 100 pages of text, but it acts like a glove to the face of geography, issuing a challenge.

Wainwright divides his book into 6 short chapters. He begins by discussing the initial objections to the Expeditions and reproducing selections of the letters from Oaxaca and the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) that were issued in January 2009. Although these letters are available online, it is useful to have large portions of them available here. The letters accuse the Bowman Expedition to Oaxaca and their project leader Peter Herlihy, the American Geographical Society (AGS) and the Foreign Military Study Office (FMSO) of the US Army of “geopiracy.” Wainwright glosses this later in the book:

the Bowman geographers were able to proceed expeditiously to [Oaxaca], conduct fieldwork, collect data, and capture this object in a GIS for the US Army (p. 72).

Wainwright states that these letters inspired his book. As he puts it, the question today is “how are we to rethink the question of representing space and place after the postcolonial critique?” (p. 71). This is our “ethical” question today.

Two sets of responses from geographers are discussed in the next two chapters, first from the “accused” geographers (Jerry Dobson, faculty at Kansas University and AGS Director, and Peter Herlihy also at KU). Again Wainwright provides large portions from their articles, including public presentations at conferences, which would not otherwise be available (Wainwright appears to have recorded these and it would be nice to also have them available online). He accepts that Dobson and Herlihy disclosed US Army funding of their research on the web (p. 11). If that were all the controversy were about, the book could end there, but of course it’s not just a question of disclosing military funds, but of accepting them in the first place.

Wainwright  Chapter 3 sets up the geographic discipline’s response, namely an AAG committee to revisit the organization’s ethics statement. Here Wainwright is frankly critical of the then-AAG president, John Agnew, a political geographer at UCLA and his refusal to take on the issue more fully. Wainwright is especially disturbed by Agnew’s comments (which he goes so far as to call an “attack”) about Joe Bryan, Wainwright’s co-author on several pieces about the Bowman Expeditions.

This is the most personal section of the book, and it will be easy for Wainwright’s critics to claim that this is nothing more than a personal riposte to Agnew. (Full disclosure: I have met Agnew a number of times, and admire his writings on political geography.) Wainwright clarifies that “his intent is not to analyze the psyche of Professor Agnew but to read these texts and draw out their lessons for polemos” (p. 29). On the whole, Wainwright succeeds in this. Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that in Wainwright’s telling, Agnew does not come out well from the episode.

Wainwright contrasts the AAG’s rather hopeless response to the controversy with the way anthropology handled the Human Terrain System controversy in their discipline. They too re-did their ethical statement, but made it much more muscular and definitive, stating flatly that if work “occurs in the context of war, integrated into the goals of counterinsurgency, and in a potentially coercive environment […] it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology” (pp. 32-3, ellipsis and emphasis in original). As Wainwright notes, Oaxaca was precisely in wartime conditions when the Expedition visited, meaning it cannot count as scholarly anthropology.

Why did anthropology do so much more, and more thoughtfully, when confronted with its dilemma? Wainwright offers two reasons: self-interest (ie if there are no subjects willing to talk to anthropologists they can’t do their work) and disciplinary politics. Anthropologists have long engaged with the legacy of the discipline’s “imperial roots” (p. 33) and the field has become politicized (Wainwright means this as a good thing). Quoting David Price, an anthropologist who has written extensively about HTS, it is war that “gives anthropology ethics” (p. 34). (This is partly what Wainwright means by polemos, quoted above, a term he deploys from Heidegger.)

Yet has not geography, cartography and GIS been developed to pursue war? Indeed. (As I’ve noted elsewhere, GIS company Esri has taken more than $3/4 billion in government funding, more than half of it from the Department of defense.) Another answer occurs. Anthropologists are trained to approach their work in a more holistic, cross-cultural, and contextual manner, which allows the consequences and linkages of actions to be brought forth. Thus it might not appear to be a big deal for an expedition to receive military funding (“and anyway we declared it on the first slide”) but it has, as we continue to see, consequences.

In other words, there are linkages between knowledge and power. This contrasts with (some of) the geography discipline’s belief in the efficacy of pure knowledge (the classic position of the modern good liberal; just get the right knowledge, or the right people in the room, and the solution will happen. In Wainwright’s view, this is Dobson and Herlihy’s fatal error.) This belief produces what Wainwright calls “militant empiricism” or the tendency to collect data–in the context of a declining US empire–for counterinsurgency and human terrain mapping (see Table 1, p. 58).

While counterinsurgency may have had its heyday, and its primary architect, General Petraeus, has resigned in embarrassment from his position as CIA director, it is true that shall we say GEOINT more generally is still ascendant. Comprising what historian Alfred McCoy calls the “triple canopy” (both the name of a defense contractor, and the idea of a complete ground-to-space vertical security and surveillance capability) the need for both physical and cultural data on populations is paramount (eg for drones to perform “signature strikes” based on “patterns of life” or “activity-based intelligence [ABI]).

It is no surprise however that in Chapter 4 Wainwright finds that the Bowman Expeditions have produced very little of scholarly value (despite taking in what he estimates is some $2.5 million in funding, see p. 54). He argues that the reason for this is not intellectual shortcomings but because of the very involvement of the military.

Here we get to the core of the issue, in my opinion. The involvement of the military is not problematic because Wainwright and his readers may be anti-military, but because 1) the military’s interests shape the research; not a fatal point as no doubt the NSF’s interests shape the grants it gets, as he seems to admit (p. 75), and 2) all labor is social (Marx) and this means “sharing and criticizing ideas openly” (p. 54) which is a huge difference between GEOINT and other funding agencies.

Why is this? On the one hand is an enterprise which seeks to lock down and “secure” knowledge, and on the other is an intellectual tradition of critique which seeks to problematize. This latter issue is the subject of Wainwright’s fifth chapter, which takes up the work more generally of Spivak and Ismail on postcolonial fieldwork. In my 2010 book Mapping, I visualized it this way:

Figure 12.1

It’s a set of differences between attempts to secure formal knowledges (eg., in GIS “ontologies” and make them do certain kinds of work, often for the state). Wainwright has a bit of fun with one of Dobson’s proposals for a a big macroscope for fieldwork, which has the effect of distancing subject and object (cf. Butler’s observation that “subject” has dual connotations; we are both subjects and we subject others to ourselves, subjects are constituted, not a priori). As she points out (in eg., Gender Trouble), following Foucault, it is necessary to trace a genealogy, in this case of mapping, GIS and GEOINT, precisely as technologies that constitute their subjects, rather than to “posit” a fieldwork site “from where we derive data” (p. 76).

Wainwright ends with a summary of his argument, in eight “theses.” These recapitulate and bring together his argument in the earlier chapters. For Wainwright, geography is–but does not have to remain–a reactionary discipline, adopting the empiricist epistemology “in the spirit of Isaiah Bowman” and “keeping our conscience clear” by putting “critical” before geography, and GIS (p. 87). In this way, Wainwright delivers a kind of parallel critique, not just of the Bowman Expeditions themselves, but of geography (Agnew, the AAG) and especially geographies which all too often employ insincere critique.Here Wainwright runs the danger of alienating all sides, although one might also read it as a call for a renewed spirit of inquiry (most detailed in Chapter 5 on postcolonialist geography). Wainwright does not profess to know what that renewed geography looks like; although we are warned away from weaponizing of geography (p. 88) in the service of the military. He reverses the usual dictum that “war is God’s way of teaching geography” to say that “war is a geographer’s excuse for ‘playing God'” (p. 89), a game we should refuse.

Wainwright’s book is not perfect. It is not aimed at the casual reader, but is a kind of cross between say David Price’s Weaponizing Anthropology (2011) and Polt and Fried’s Companion to Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics (2000). There is also an element of court documents (with accusations and “defense”). It will not settle any debates (indeed problematizing, as here, may require ongoing inquiry). But it is a passionate call for a new geography that refuses militant empiricism. It offers little on methodology except what you could forge from the discussions on subject-object or calls to study not just the dispossessed but “those who can call the cops” in Bernie Neitschmann’s phrase (p. 91), ie., those doing the geopiracy. But it’s a brave little book of a type we are not used to in geography, taking on issues that are usually avoided (will it be reviewed in the Geographical Review?) and showing that the issues are not just academic “controversies.”

Questions for John Brennan

David Cole, a professor of law at Georgetown, poses twelve essential questions for Obama’s nominee for Director of the CIA, John Brennan.

There are a number of great questions here, including a question about the “legal authorities” behind the classified drone program–a topic recently pursued by Senator Wyden (about the only Senator willing to question the administration’s military/intelligence programs). But the one that I’d most like to see an answer to is this one:

5. It has been reported that, in addition to “personality strikes” against particular known individuals, the administration also uses “signature strikes” against unidentified individuals who show patterns of behavior characteristic of a particular militant or terrorist group. In what situations, beyond a traditional battlefield, is it appropriate to use such strikes? What constitutes a sufficient “signature” to warrant a strike?

In other words, what are the specific “patterns of life” that constitute a perceived threat? And how are these patterns surveilled and made knowledgeable? If we had answers to those questions we would advance our understanding of how geographical technologies and concepts were being used or misused.

In this context, check out this poll by Pew Global on attitudes towards the US drone program around the world:

America’s drift to war and the end of the Abrams Doctrine

(NB. This is a long post, but it contains a first sketch of some material I am working on for a paper on the new political economy of geographical intelligence.)

Rachel Maddow’s new book Drift makes a subtle and highly important argument, that, if true, goes a long way to explaining America’s current foreign policy.

The overall thrust of the book is that the US now finds it easier and more likely to prosecute war. This involves not just military action abroad, but also a huge security state at home, massive budget commitments, and the construction of thousands of secret facilities across the country. It also means the employment of private corporations in as much as half the war effort; contractors operating drones to perform strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, collecting intelligence (human and satellite) and selling it to the government.

Maddow takes this situation and sets out to explain it. This is where her argument draws together a number of points in an original way. Although writers such as Tim Shorrock and others have noted the explosion of spending since 9/11, Maddow takes a more structural approach by noting the following three developments. And she starts prior to 9/11.

1. After Vietnam became deeply unpopular in America, military leaders moved to ensure that any future wars would necessarily involve not just the military as an arm of the country, but the country in fact. The way they did this was by requiring wars to include the Reserves and National Guard as active-duty military, in what was called the Total Force Policy, but often known informally as the Abrams Doctrine.

Ironically, according to Maddow, Creighton Abrams (a former commander in Vietnam and after whom this policy is known) did not have as his goal the reduction in willingness to fight nor any policy effects. His concern was to increase the readiness of the American military and transform the Guard and the Reserves into a more professional force. And in many ways this was a return to the vision of the original founding fathers. The Second Amendment of course talks of the need for a “well regulated militia”–this was because the US government didn’t see itself as maintaining a large standing army.

2. The first Gulf War was the last time the Abrams Doctrine ever really worked to “anchor” the move to war, as Maddow puts it. In January 1991 Congress took a vote on whether to offer its support to President Bush, who had secured a United Nations deadline of January 15 for Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait or face military opposition. According to the Constitution, Congress has the sole power to declare war, not the Executive. But it had not done so since WWII. This vote was not a declaration of war, but it did involve genuine debate and at least in the Senate was close (52-47).

For the US Congress however, this was distant from a war declaration, and the Executive had been advancing the argument that that office could (as Commander-in-Chief of the military) deploy troops and fight wars with or without Congress as far back as the Reagan administration. Although the Gulf War involved hundreds of thousand of war-fighters it was perhaps the last time there was a real debate in the country about going to war.

3. Although contracting and outsourcing is often thought of as something that blossomed after 9/11 when immediate needs could not be met by existing military resources (soldiers but also materiel and intelligence), Maddow points to something rather different and intriguing that I don’t recall seeing put this way before. By the mid-1990s the huge number of deployed troops (including the Guard and Reservists) had the knock-on effect of creating a budget crisis (and a morale issue). That is, family separation. With so many troops deployed and active, for example in the first Gulf War, it was necessary to pay benefits, employer reimbursements and even day care to the reservists. (Maddow states that over 250,000 were called up in the Gulf War.) “It was the toddlers who did it” (pushed toward outsourcing and contractors) as she puts it. Some 80 percent of preschoolers with a parent in the military needed day-care.

Up to this time outsourcing was still regarded with distaste. But it was also assumed that the private sector could do things more cheaply. What about personnel who didn’t have the need for day-care (or other benefits) from the government? Or, what about contracting out day-care itself? Or both? Maddow points to a number of reports (such as the 1996 Defense Science Board Task Force on Outsourcing and Privatization), stocked as they were with former corporate executives who saw huge cost-savings in going private. (Here we see the first mention of now-familiar contractors such as Boeing, GE, Perot Systems and Military Personnel Resources, Inc. or MPRI.) The 1996 Task Force for example cited figures of $7 to $12 billion annually in cost savings to the military (which could then spend this money on weapons procurement). “The private sector…is more likely than government organizations to provide cost-effective support to the Nation’s military forces” concluded the report. It’s hard to imagine a similar sentence being written today without being instantly dismissed as self-serving.

Maddow notes that at the end of the first Bush administration, Dick Cheney and his DOD colleagues operationalized the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP). The first private contractor was in 1992 (to [Kellogg] Brown & Root Services, a subsidiary of Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s company). The $4 million KBR “cost-plus” contract was  to provide logistics support for deployed US forces (see Shorrock, p. 99). In 1995 KBR earned a contract worth $546 million to provide “logistical” support in Bosnia (Singer, p. 143).

The next LOGCAP contract went to DynCorp, a private military contractor headquartered in Falls Church, northern Virginia. (DynCorp employees have reportedly been involved in child sex trafficking in the Balkans, and a former employee Kathryn Bolkovac won a UK tribunal case for unfair dismissal after being a whistleblower [the movie The Whistleblower starring Rachel Wiesz was based on these events]. DynCorp was also mentioned in a 2009 WikiLeaks cable for allegedly hiring “dancing boys” to perform for them in Afghanistan, see Guardian coverage here.)

Maddow makes the case that this outsourcing began for real during the Balkan war. At the same time, it also gave birth to cost overruns. The Balkan origin has been made previously, notably in Shorrock’s Spies for Hire, and Singer’s Corporate Warriors (she misses a beat here by not drawing on Shorrock). Shorrock notes for example that MPRI was “hired to train the Croatian army and later signed a contract to train the Bosnian armed forces” in 1995 (p. 101-2). This is very likely. As I wrote in an article in 1996 about the Dayton Peace Accords, already major contractors were being involved in negotiating the peace. 24 hour mapping support was provided by the Army Corps of Engineers’ Topographic Engineering Center (TEC, now the Army Geospatial Center, AGC) with 3D visualizations from Cambridge Research Associates and the Camber Corporation (Crampton, 1996). Such was the computing power available that the computer room was dubbed “The Nintendo Room” containing two $400,000 computers running CRA’s “Powerscene” program. Camber used Esri ARC/INFO to digitize the lines and borders as they were proposed. Although headquartered in Huntsville, AL (home to Intergraph) it had a division in N. Virginia on base at Fort Belvoir, then the HQ of Army TEC.

It would be worth making a graph of DOD contracting from the “few hundred million” dollars worth in 1992 (cited by Maddow) to today. It’s hard to calculate this because of the many types of grants, contracts, loans, benefits and so on, but (a government data website) gives the figure of $4.996 trillion spend on contracts, 2000-2012, and another $5.9 trillion in grants. Of this, the DOD accounts for $3.423 trillion in contracts over the same time period (not all contracts go to private contractors of course; many may go to state or local government, police, etc.

Nevertheless, the DOD’s top five biggest contractors 2000-2012 are:

1. Lockheed Martin Corporation $286,928,039,158
2. The Boeing Company $209,549,224,764
3. General Dynamics Corporation $146,308,202,903
4. Northrop Grumman Corporation $122,747,072,546
5. Raytheon Company $120,484,497,965

Also, KBR was awarded $43 billion, the University of Kentucky $16.7 million, and Esri $420 million by the DOD (Esri also receives nearly as much from other government agencies, as I’ve documented previously).

(See here for all DOD contractors. The full spreadsheet of the number of DOD contractors goes to 50,001 exactly.)

The bulk of this was aircraft and fuel, but you can also see health care and $81 billion on “logistics” in the top five services purchased:

1. Aircraft, Fixed Wing $194,592,888,801
2. Liquid Propellants -Petroleum Base $101,272,449,085
3. Engineering and Technical Services $92,295,401,642
4. General Health Care Services $87,508,556,276
5. Logistics Support Services $81,505,205,740

Maddow’s book concludes by linking these sorts of developments with the new military doctrine of counterinsurgency (COIN). This is an important, even critical step to note. Why? Because the basis of COIN is that you have to know your enemy, and you have to know how your enemy differs from your friend. Particularly in the context of nation-building (rather than just warfighting) what was needed was knowledge (intelligence and information), especially geographical knowledge.

In the longer paper, we will go on to document what that knowledge consists of, where it came from, and how it’s being used.

Crampton, J.W. 1996. Bordering on Bosnia. GeoJournal, 39(4), 353-361.

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 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.

Brian Berry: [GIS] was “held at bay” by “Marxist geographers” & “critical social theorists”

Brian Berry, one of the key figures in geography’s quantitative revolution, makes a pugilistic claim in the latest ArcNews:

What we used to call computer graphics was held at bay by manual cartography aided and abetted by hardware limitations during the 1960s and 1970s, when the spatial analytic paradigm reshaped human geography, and by the ideological predispositions of Marxist geographers and critical social theorists in the 1980s and early 1990s.

And of course he’s quite…. right. But there’s such a thing as the whole truth, which is conspicuous by its absence here.

NYT on spatial humanities & Anne Knowles

The New York Times has a story up on what they are calling “spatial humanities” which focuses on the work of my friend and colleague Anne Kelly Knowles. An excerpt:

Mapping spatial information reveals part of human history that otherwise we couldn’t possibly know,” saidAnne Kelly Knowles, a geographer at Middlebury College in Vermont. “It enables you to see patterns and information that are literally invisible.” It adds layers of information to a map that can be added or taken off at will in various combinations; the same location can also be viewed back and forth over time at the click of a mouse.

Another person is quoted as saying “the humanities had become too abstract and neglected physical space. The value of what scholars are calling “the spatial turn,” he added, is that “it allows you to ask new questions: Why is it that something developed here and not somewhere else, what is it about the context of this place?”

I would have called Anne’s work “historical GIS” but “spatial humanities” certainly connects and emphasizes the possibilities of GIS for human geography. I think this is the first time I’ve seen the phrase “spatial turn” in a regular NYT article as well.