Geointelligence – Empowering Geospatial with Intelligence

Sangeeta Deogawanka


Geospatial intelligence has been an indispensable tool in military operations for a long time. What is less known is its evolution as an interdisciplinary approach for commanders, humanitarian responders and homeland security planners to visualize events in a three-dimensional context.

The evolution of Geointelligence

As world events witnessed a shift towards international terrorism with impacts on regional conflicts, there arose a demand for detailed knowledge of the area of conflict.

The need for powerful visualization in real-time brought about a fundamental shift in the doctrine of war-fighting. Imagery intelligence thus became core to military operations, as much as strategic knowledge of the area, the culture, society and the environment.

What emerged was the convergence of geospatial, imaging and intelligence for a geo-driven decision making. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), responsible for “providing timely, relevant, and accurate imagery, geospatial information, and products to support national security” thus became the proponent of Geointelliegnce.

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As extreme climate patterns, natural disasters and disease incidence became important concerns, Geointelligence came into use for strategic planning and combat operations.

Today, Geointelligence has changed the way you respond to events, as an organization, first responder or department with security and military concerns. This has been well documented in the Bin Laden operations or the fight against spread of Ebola.

Geointelligence defined

Geointelligence is a discipline and an emerging profession that involves use of technology, critical information and analytical rigor for a decision advantage in domains of humanitarian response, business intelligence and strategic defense or security

The standardized definition from National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is as follows:

“the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess, and          visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth.                                         GEOINT consists of imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial information.” Title 10 U.S. Code §467

Blue circles with text in them to show that geointelligence is geo plus intelligence.

As the word suggests, Geointelligence = Geo + intelligence, where ‘Geo’ refers to the Geography or space attribute (physical, locational and human) and ‘intelligence’ is the unique tradecraft applied to the discipline. Intelligence is described as “information that has been analyzed and refined so that it is useful to policymakers in making decisions – specifically, decisions about potential threats to our national security”.

What is unique to Geointelligence

GEOINT moves beyond the realms of traditional GIS to incorporate the unique process of a specialized skill, termed ‘tradecraft’.

Tradecraft is the unique cognitive process, that applies location insights and activity based intelligence for a decision advantage. It makes use of culture based knowledge and techniques, standardized tools, analytical skills and various technological methods to anticipate events or actions.

Components of Geointelligence entering a funnel with an arrow showing the direction.
Components of Geointelligence

In other words, the ‘tradecraft’ component empowers the geographic visualization of the operating environment with other information, reasoning and analysis. It is a cognitive process that applies intelligence to spatial relationships and processes, to unlock the full potential of geospatial technology.

Thus, Geospatial intelligence integrates access and collaboration of various areas of expertise like signal intelligence, human intelligence, imagery intelligence, and so on.

Benefits of geointelligence

Geospatial technology alone cannot answer questions that call for additional knowledge and sense-making of multiple geographic entities and their relationships.

For instance, standalone maps and imagery of tsunami affected areas cannot support humanitarian response.

What is needed is information in real-time, analysis of the affected areas with respect to the local society (density of population), environment (proximity to water body, low lying areas), sensitive locations (nuclear installations), satellite imagery (real-time picture of affected sites), community structures (schools, halls), healthcare facilities, on-site responder agencies, crowdsourced information, social media inputs and so on.

Global Mapping of Emergency Stockpiles  [United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - OCHA]
Global Mapping of Emergency Stockpiles
[United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – OCHA]

The following benefits of Geointelligence have made it a specialized discipline and a professional calling:

  • Competitive advantage from insights (trade secrets of cosmetic product, decision about establishing new sea port, mission planning of a non-profit organization)
  • Improved productivity of core assets (swine flu health centers, defense installations, production facilities of chemical plant)
  • First responder support to humanitarian operations
  • Creation of a common architecture for multiple agencies to share geospatial information for mission statements
  • Ability to map human movements, across time, space and terrain for tactical planning
  • A powerful tool for civic planning, humanitarian missions, industrial surveillance, precision war, conflict resolution, homeland security
  • Logistics support for military operations, disaster response, civic emergencies, and so on.
  • Provide insights to help avert dangers, counter conflicts, predict opportunities or adapt to shifting conditions.
  • Intelligence analysis using data from other INTs (SIGINT, HUMINT, MASINT, IMINT,OSINT) for additional context to the problem under consideration.
  • Use of advanced sensor technology and multiple types of geospatial data to help visualize events. For instance, intelligence applied to a map of terrorist hideouts, data mined from geo-tagged tweets, satellite image of the terrain, drone surveillance and GPS tracking of cell phone devices in use; makes possible real-time mapping and analysis of terrorist movements across space and time.

Applications of geointelligence

Ebola outbreak response – Regional confirmed and probable cases 29.10.14 - GAR
Ebola outbreak response – Regional confirmed and probable cases 29.10.14 – GAR 
  • National Policymakers (National Security Council, Prime Minister’s Office of any government)
  • Military (Navy, S. Special Operations Command)
  • Defense (National Defense and the Canadian Armed Forces; DOD)
  • Intelligence Agencies (CIA, NSA)
  • Emergency response systems, First Responders (WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network – GAR)
  • Homeland Security (S. Department of Homeland Security, Australian National Security Service)
  • Law Enforcement (Calgary Police Service, Coast Guard operations)
  • Global Humanitarian Agencies (N.’s OCHA)
  • Human Geography Mapping (WWHGD)


Clark, A. J., Democratizing Geospatial Data for Disaster Response, June 12 2014, [web]

Doty, John M., Geospatial Intelligence: An Emerging Discipline in National Intelligence with an Important Security Assistance Role, The DISAM Journal, Spring 2005 [web]

Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT)Basic Doctrine, Publication 1-0 September 2006, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency [web]

Hannay, P., Baatard, G., GeoIntelligence: Data Mining Locational Social Media Content for Profiling and Information Gathering, Edith Cowan University Research Online, 2011 [web]

Special Acknowledgement:

Dr. Todd S. Bacastow, Professor of Practice for Geospatial Intelligence, The Pennsylvania State University MOOC


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Sangeeta Deogawanka