Americans, and most others, are well aware of our nation’s two biggest intelligence agencies; the FBI and CIA. There are many other “letter agencies” as well, the NSA is a large one that most have heard of.
Understanding the between all of these can be tricky, especially since some of their operations are confidential to the highest degree.
CIA – The Central Intelligence Agency focuses mainly on gathering information. They work internationally, looking for any information which may affect American security. Make no mistake, they have the means to act on information if the risk warrants it. The CIA often works closely with international allies, especially during times of war.
FBI – Think of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a national law enforcement agency. Like the CIA, they gather intelligence and address threats but within the United States. The FBI assists local law enforcement with high-profile case. Their sophisticated labs help smaller agencies across the country analyze material. Major murder cases, crimes across state borders, and kidnappings are all handled by the FBI. Inside America, they have jurisdiction over intelligence. If the CIA wants to know about people within our borders, they must go through the FBI to get it.
NSA – Probably the least understood, the National Security Agency is actually part of the Central Security Service (CSS). They are charged with decryption. Employees handle decryption of foreign intelligence and process data for our government. The NSA also generates encryption keys to keep American information secure. Most American computer intelligence, decryption, and computer technology falls to them. The earliest computers were developed in NSA offices. In addition, they work with U.S. Armed Forces to secure military information.
These agencies, while not always understood, are fairly well known. Recent reports are bringing to light information about another intelligence agency that has existed since World War II; and almost nobody has even heard of it.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) began as the National Photographic Interpretation Center and its focus was cartography; the process or skill of making maps.
In 2003, unbeknownst to pretty much everyone, the agency underwent a change of name and purpose. They became the NGA and still actually create maps but in a much more sophisticated way.
Employing at least 15,000 people, the cutting-edge agency is engaged in surveillance through satellites, drones, and other unmanned systems. They are capable of making 3-D maps of terrain and buildings, analyzing what the buildings are composed of, and gathering photos and videos for .
They work closely with the Air Force to collect the data and then analyze it. An example of their skills, they were part of the preparations for SEAL Team Six’s raid on Osama Bin-Laden’s compound.
Their intelligence was critical, supplying the SEALs with information that gave them the upper hand in the assault. Their measurements and analysis were so complete and precise that they knew “how many people lived in the compound, their gender, and even their heights.”
Even more astonishingly, calculations from the NGA provided a precise location for the Black Hawk pilots to land.
Yet, even the newly elected Barack Obama was unaware of the agency. A video shows Obama in 2009 meeting an employee from NGA and not being aware of their name.
An integral part of the agency’s transition, a new director arrived just 2 days after the 9/11 tragedy. Lieutenant General James Clapper, former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and current Director of National Intelligence, remembers the drastic changes that have occurred since he started.
“I arrived at change. I also intended to fully involve the workforce in focus groups and similar methods of input discussion. The events of 9/11 changed all that. It became clear to me and to the other senior leaders of NIMA that we did not have the luxury of implementing change over a prolonged period of time. We were at war and we needed to act immediately. So, we held a long weekend off-site at which we dramatically altered the organization and outlook of the Agency. In hindsight, this was exactly the right thing to do. Our nation, and our Agency, was fully engaged in a war and we had no choice but to focus on doing the best we could.” —then called the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, or NIMA… Naturally, I had known about my assignment for several weeks and had done a lot of work…to prepare myself. I intended to use the NIMA Commission Report…as a blueprint for
Remembering the heartbreaking time as civilians, the strife within our intelligence and security agencies must have been intense. Refocused, the NGA started down the path towards its current form.
Their main headquarters sits in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. The massive structure dwarfs the CIA headquarters and even the Capitol building. They have additional bases in Missouri and St. Louis at Scott Air Force Base.
In 2016, 99 acres of land was purchased by the agency in St. Louis. Already housing the 3,000 employees in that city, the buildings cost $1.75 billion and will accommodate the increasing workforce.
While the NSA deals mostly with voice and computer decryption and encryption, the NGA focuses on images. Drone technology has put an increase in their workload but also given them great advantages.
The NGA, working with the Air Force, gathers footage from drones, radars, and satellites. Analyzation of all this data is their main job. They have been key when dealing with such tasks as scrutinizing images of Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Historically, the NGA has not used its extensive and sophisticated network to spy on Americans. This has allowed them to avoid some of the scandals endured by their counterparts. Some believe that policy might change under the new administration.
Current security crises would certainly be helped with the type of information that NGA is capable of providing. Using drones and satellites would allow surveillance of suspicious Muslims groups, mosques to track worshippers, even violent groups like wouldn’t be able to hide.
President Trump has mentioned using federal forces in places like Chicago, giving aid to citizens faced with unrelenting violence; imagine what 24/7 supervision by drones could do for that important campaign.
Does the new president even know about the agency? That still remains to be seen. As we are discovering this agencies profound capabilities, it seems a waste to not use them here at home as well. Big Brother opponents would be livid, but the advantages to national security are undeniable.
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