Intelligence: November 6, 2003


Responding to continuous complaints from the troops of insufficient support, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) is organizing a force of 200-300 imagery analysts (photo interpreters) to serve with combat units. During the Iraqi campaign, there were 90 NIMA imagery analysts assigned to combat units over there. In the past, most of the overhead photos were provided by satellites or strategic recon aircraft like the SR-71 or U-2, and all the imagery analysis could be done back in the US (mainly in the DC area). But now combat units have their own UAVs and commercial photo satellites provide the military (or anyone willing to pay the low fees) all the photos they want. Iamgery analysts are needed all over the world. Getting NIMA analysts to the troops is even more critical since the U.S. government consolidated nearly all of its imagery analysts into NIMA six years ago. This was unpopular with the senior analysts, and many retired. As a result, the average imagery analyst now has 11 years of experience, compared to 13 years before the consolidation. Moreover, some 40 percent of imagery analysts have less than two years experience. It's worse than it seems, as now the more experienced analysts have to devote more time training and supervising, rather than doing analysis. To further complicate matters, as NIMA works to introduce more automated analysis systems, which ties up more time among the most experienced analysts. In the long run, the automated (computer) analysis will make it easier for the human analysts to get more done, more quickly and more accurately. The consolidation, as unpopular as it was among analysts, was necessary because each of the intelligence agencies and military services had developed different terms and standards for their analysis, making it difficult to share information and cooperate. That's not a problem now, but getting enough qualified analysts is. 


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