NGA contract highlights growing importance of the next generation of all-source tradecraft and tools.
By Karen E. Thuermer GIF Correspondent
in the war on terror and Iraq, and open-source data harvesting There’s a sea change underway within the intelligence commuand analysis, which has provided intelligence on transactions and nity, based on an innovative approach called activity based intelliactivities. gence (ABI). For Jeff DeTroye, chair of the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency defines ABI as “a disFoundation’s ABI Working Group and vice president, special procipline of intelligence where the analysis and subsequent collection grams, Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI), ABI is a radically different way are focused on the activity and transactions associated with an entity, to address intelligence problems that the classic target-based proa population or an area of interest.” cesses cannot solve. In a major sign of the growing significance of ABI, NGA recently While the concept of evaluating activities or transactions for awarded BAE Systems a multi-year, $60 million contract to provide intelligence value has been around for years, he said, until recently it ABI systems, tools and support for mission priorities. could only be applied to tightly constrained problems due to technoABI represents the next generation of all-source intelligence tralogical limitations concerning access to data. decraft and tools. Employing principles first introduced in geospatial “Advances in data communications, the advent of cloud technolintelligence and multi-INT methodology, ABI focuses on comprehenogies, improvements in compute power and breakthroughs in data sively indexing data by its geographic and temporal elements to make gathering have all combined to make ABI applicable to more of the the data efficiently discoverable across a range of intelligence sources. intelligence problems facing the U.S. today,” DeTroye said. “This allows analysts to discover new connections not yet cap“In its full implementation, ABI will be able to collect and process tured in products and reporting, and rigorously evaluate their hypothdata from a very wide area (physical or cyberspace), detect patterns of eses before making an assessment,” remarked John Marion, director activities or transactions that were not being specifically looked for, of the Persistent Surveillance Division, Logos Technologies. determine if they are of interest, if necessary quickly ABI is a discipline in which analysis and collection bring additional collection assets to the problem to are focused on the activity and transactions associgather more data, and then provide recommendations ated within an area of interest, explained Scott White, to the decision processes for action—all on timescales vice president of intelligence programs for Northrop dramatically shorter than what could be achieved just Grumman. a few years ago,” he said. “An activity is a recognizable movement or change conducted by an entity that is an indicator or has a specific meaning when viewed within a relevant context,” Counterterrorism Roots he outlined. “A transaction is a recognized movement or change conducted by an entity that indicates an While ABI is the outgrowth of a realization that exchange of information or material has taken place.” tools and techniques that applied to former problems Jeff DeTroye White added that ABI has been used successfully in were not adequate after the 2001 terrorist attacks, small pockets throughout the intelligence community this methodology or tradecraft for intelligence analfor decades. Examples include the Ocean Surveillance Information ysis became even more mainstream and accepted in 2010 after the System used to monitor Soviet submarines, full motion video used Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence released the 20 | GIF 11.3