Broadcast Television Tools to Help Intelligence Analysts Wade through Data

By Jean, Grace V. | National Defense, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Broadcast Television Tools to Help Intelligence Analysts Wade through Data


Jean, Grace V., National Defense


The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is preparing to deploy a suite of tools that will help war commanders sift through live and recorded video quickly to pinpoint key clips and highlight information with the ease of sports broadcasters.

The system is part of a broader agency effort to establish an intelligence network that will allow analysts in operations centers and troops on the battlefield to find pertinent archival video and associated information no matter who collected the data or where it might be stored.

"The comparison we like to make is to ESPN, or CNN, or MSNBC," said Charlie Morrison, director of business development at Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions. The company is the prime contractor for the system.

Former intelligence officers say the video analysis tool would be a drastic improvement over the current process, which is an antiquated "hunt-and-correlate" method that takes too long and often leaves analysts drowning in data.

The Defense Department flies hundreds of sensors over war zones to collect surveillance video. NGA, which has responsibility for archiving the imagery coming off Air Force Predators and other aircraft, wants to improve how it provides that data to ground troops. Intelligence analysts characterize their daily task of wading through hours of footage as searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. It can take up to a week to find a specific event embedded in 20 million minutes of video. Once that data is located, they encounter additional hurdles to send it forward to troops on the ground.

The suite of commercial-based analysis tools, part of the NGA's National System for Geospatial-Intelligence Video Services, will compress the time it takes to go through the process, officials said.

"What this will do is take the video that you have and make it more accessible, more discoverable and more useable," said Joseph A. Smith, a retired military intelligence officer who is now the technical executive for the sensor assimilation division in NGA's acquisition directorate.

The system was originally funded by U.S. Joint Forces Command under a rapid prototype program called Valiant Angel. As the requirements shifted to encompass the larger intelligence community, the contract fell under the auspices of NGA.

The advanced video intelligence system manages, processes and disseminates full-motion imagery and automatically correlates related data and displays it all on a single screen.

"You have the raw video, and outside of the frame you have correlation with other things," such as intelligence reports, text chats, annotations, maps and other mission-related products, said Morrison. It is modeled after broadcast television news and sports channels, where scores, athlete statistics, breaking news, stocks and other information scroll along the bottom of the screen, or appear in graphics boxes adjacent to the main video, he said.

"When [analysts] are looking at a building, we're going to tell them what that building is, what was the last report on that building and whether there are any suspects in there," Morrison explained. "It reduces the amount of time that they have to correlate the data themselves, so the decisions they make are quicker and more accurate and effective."

Surveillance videos by themselves give a "soda straw" view of the world. Analysts often lack context in which to place the footage.

"They stare at pixels hoping to extract information," said Jon Armstrong of Lockheed Martin's full motion video solutions team.

To piece together the context they need for the video, analysts resort to hopping from database to database, assembling and linking the data piecemeal. "By the time they figure out what they were looking at ... the opportunity has passed," he said.

Officials believe the new system will give intelligence analysts a leg up against enemies. …

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