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DNI Clapper's As Delivered Remarks at the 2015 GEOINT Symposium

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Remarks as delivered by

The Honorable James R. Clapper
Director of National Intelligence

GEOINT Symposium
Thursday, June 25, 2015
10:00 a.m.

Washington, DC, Convention Center

For lots of reasons, it’s great to be back here with the geospatial community. Every year, this community does more-and-more things we were only talking about when I left NGA in 2006. The USGIF has really taken off, and I want to salute the Board of Directors, Jeff Harris, and Keith Masback and his team. Having something to do with the early origins of the foundation, I’m very proud. So, thanks very much for the opportunity to say a few words again. This is my eleventh GEOINT Symposium, going back to the first one in 2003. I typically open by talking about the ways the geospatial intelligence community is leading intelligence and how you feel like family to me, and I recite my lines about how great it is to get away from Washington.

This year I’ll reiterate, this geospatial intelligence family is leading intelligence – silent joke there.

But being at GEOINT does really feel like attending a homecoming, or a family reunion. I appreciate being surrounded by people who actually know the difference between a map and a chart, who can discuss the intricacies of the visible and invisible spectrum of light, who know what “activity based intelligence” means, and who get excited at the possibility that one day they’ll have the capability to sit and stare at a single spot for hours on end.

When I was a kid, that was punishment.

I love being here, and it’s great to see how our little symposium from 2003 is all grown up. So, I want to talk a bit this morning about the symposium, about GEOINT as a discipline, about NGA, and about intelligence integration, and about the IC’s work on transparency initiatives and how NGA and GEOINT professionals are leading that.

But before I jump into any of that, I thought I’d share with you something that recently happened to me. It’s kind of personal and a little painful, but I’ll share it nonetheless. A couple months ago, I got a jury summons from Fairfax County, Virginia, asking me to do my civic duty. I brought it in to my staff, and they answered the summons by calling the county courthouse. They finally got ahold of an actual person, a very sweet lady in the county clerk’s office, and my assistant laid out the situation.

She told the lady with the clerk’s office that I was a Senate-confirmed, Presidential-cabinet-level official who would have to drag my security detail into court with me. She said, I’m responsible for our national intell budget of, well $50 Billion and going south, and for integrating the efforts of our nation’s 17 intelligence agencies and elements. And, she said, I’m the President’s senior intelligence advisor and personally brief him on intelligence matters several times a week. In other words, I was busy.

The lady thought about it for a moment, but she wasn’t having any of that. She said that none of those sounded like legitimate reasons for skipping jury duty.

But she noted that I’d just celebrated my 74th birthday in March, and she said that many “older people” have a hard time sitting through jury duty.  So Fairfax County has an automatic exemption for anyone over the age of 70.

She asked my assistant, Stephanie Sherline: would you like to use the “over 70” exemption? Now, I would like to think that she paused, at least a little bit, before saying, “Yes, we’ll take the geezer exemption.”Since I’ve been around a long time, as loath as I am to do this, I need to correct Robert Cardillo said Tuesday in his speech, that I was weight-lifting buddies with Socrates.  Actually, that’s not true. Socrates didn’t lift. He was into cardio.  And the reason I know that is because I saw him in the locker room all the time.

So with that all cleared up, let me talk a little bit about the evolution of the GEOINT Symposium. I became director of NIMA two days after 9/11 and helped to usher in what was a lot more than a name change to NGA in November 2003.

If I remember right, we held the 2003 and 2004 symposia in New Orleans. Then, in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and so we had to move GEOINT to San Antonio. The next year, 2006, is the only year I didn’t have a speaking role in the GEOINT Symposium. Maybe my invitation got lost in the mail. It probably had nothing to do with getting canned as NGA director. I’m kidding. It had everything to do with that. I’m sure that I was radioactive at the time.

Reflecting on that experience, I’ve got two pieces of career advice for all the young intelligence officers out there, and of course all of you are all young to me. First, always do what’s right, and speak truth to power, even if it’s not going to be popular. And second, don’t give up if things don’t go your way.

After my premature departure from NGA and a short break, I was fortunate to serve over three years as Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, and this August will mark five years as DNI – and I can tell you, it feels like it.

And I plan to be around as DNI for another 82 weeks – 571 days – but who’s counting?

Anyway, we started this symposium in 2003. In 2004, the National Geospatial Intelligence Foundation took over, and it has grown this into what it is today: our nation’s largest gathering of intelligence professionals, a terrific celebration of geospatial intelligence, and a great opportunity to exchange tradecraft and work on intelligence integration – which is my thing – within the practice of GEOINT, with the government and industry, with partners, both foreign and domestic; and a manifestation of that foreign dimension, we just saw with Stu Peach’s lifetime award. [Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff for the U.K. Royal Air Force (RAF)]

So I want to thank the foundation for bringing together government, industry, academia, our Allies, state and local officials, and many others involved in national security during this week; a huge thank you as well to all the corporate participants, for sure, without whom this event simply wouldn’t happen. I think the corporate support and the attendance here, the number of exhibitors, is a great testament to the value of this symposium and the value industry attaches to it.

While I’m doing shout-outs, I want to recognize Sue Gordon, now NGA’s deputy director. Among her other great accomplishments, she’s largely responsible for designing and implementing In-Q-Tel, and that’s a legacy that continues paying dividends for the IC, and will for decades to come. She’s also a bit of a trailblazer with off-ramping and on-ramping her career. She left the IC for seven years to focus on her kids and came back, without missing a beat, to reach ever-increasing levels of responsibility in the intelligence community. So, Sue has, I think, an inspirational history as a Mom and as a senior leader in the IC.

Of course, I also need to more seriously recognize Robert. I like to think of him as a protégé, just as I consider [former NGA Director] Tish Long as a protégé. Robert, as many of you know, has followed a unique path to become NGA director, starting out as a GS-7 imagery analyst in 1983. So he was into GEOINT before it was cool. He was into GEOINT before we called it “GEOINT.” And it’s nice to have a “GEOINT hipster” in the director’s chair at NGA.

Last summer, Robert came back to NGA after four years at ODNI. He was my deputy director for intelligence integration and the primary briefer to the President. Seeing the great integration work happening at NGA, I know Robert has brought his experience as DDNI to bear. So Robert, wherever you are; [points] there you are; thank you.

While I’m on the subject of NGA stealing my top talent, I need to give another shout out to Peter Highnam. Just last week, we announced that Peter is leaving his post as IARPA director to take the helm at NGA’s Innovision. Peter was IARPA’s first ‘office director for incisive analysis in 2009, and in 2012, he took the reins as IARPA director, succeeding Lisa Porter. He’s maintained a high standard for research, in both positions, and during his time at IARPA, they’ve signed more than 70 agreements with IC agencies to transition technologies into operations. He’ll be a great fit and a great leader for Innovision. So congratulations to Peter and to NGA.

For those out there considering a joint duty tour, forgive the commercial, please look at Peter and Robert as terrific examples of how a stop by ODNI can lead your career to bigger and better things.

In April, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the launch of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The highlight of that week was a visit from the President. He took the time to give a speech to our workforce, as well as to the assembled IC leadership. And really he was speaking to the entire Community when he said, the IC’s work is vital for him to make good decisions, and he simply could not do his job without our insights and analysis.

Then, he took the opportunity to critique my work as his principal intelligence advisor. Hang on, I think we’ll play a clip of that discourse

[President Obama video clip played on screen behind DNI]

I am here to help mark the 10th anniversary of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  And I’m here for a simple reason:  Jim asked me to come.    You see, as you might say with the IC, Jim is one of my best HUMINT sources.  He is well-placed.  His reporting is known to be reliable.  So I accepted his invitation with a high degree of confidence.

I want to thank you, Jim, and your entire team, and leaders from across the IC, for all of you taking the time to welcoming me here today.  I’m not going to give a long speech, but I do have three basic messages that I wanted to convey. The first is that I don’t know how astute a consumer of information I am, but I can tell you I sure do rely on it.  And those who come and brief me every single morning do an extraordinary job.

I will say that the only flaw, generally, in what’s called the PDB that I receive is that when Jim provides it, some of you may have heard, he leaves paperclips all over my office.  They’re in the couch, they’re on the floor. He’s shuffling paper. And so because I knew I was coming over here, one of the things I did was return them all.  And so this will be available to you.  The DNI’s budget is always a little tight; we can start recycling these.  That’s going to be critical.

Thank you. So the story on the paperclips, and it’s NGA that led to this, because a lot of times, I’ll bring in maps, imagery, and that sort of thing to amplify our briefing – what Robert was doing, and now Mike Dempsey. I go in there with an amplifying chart or image or map or something graphic – and many, many times that’s produced by NGA. I would clip them together, particularly if I had two or three sets that I had to distribute to, not only the President and Vice President, but to the other Ovalites, and invariably I would drop the paperclips, as the President alluded. So one day I did my thing, and I was about to walk out the door, and the President stopped me, and very ostentatiously got out of his seat and picked up two paperclips that I’d dropped on the floor, and very ceremoniously presented me with the paperclips. So that’s the background of that story there. 

Anyway, that jar I have on my desk, and I haven’t taken one paperclip out of it.

It’s always good for your boss to give you constructive feedback.

The President didn’t just crack prop-comedy jokes at my expense with his speech in April. He had some serious things to say too. His theme for that speech, something he said several times and a message he asked me to pass on to the entire IC, was this: “You can take pride in your service.” So I’m here today to pass that message on, to reinforce and underline what he said, to the geospatial intelligence community, “You can take pride in your service.”

GEOINT is a tremendous force for good in our world, with positive impacts felt way beyond the dimensions of the intelligence mission. Earlier, I remarked on how Hurricane Katrina forced us to move GEOINT 2005 from New Orleans to San Antonio. I’ve spent some time recently looking back at our IC response to Katrina, and I realized how much of a watershed moment that was for the IC, and particularly for NGA, where I was director a decade ago.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, Admiral Thad Allen, then Commandant of the Coast Guard, reached out to NGA for help in figuring out what precisely the storm had done to New Orleans, to the state of Louisiana and the state of Mississippi, how it had decimated so much property and how it rerouted the waterways and blocked the ports; in general, helping him with situational awareness to manage the response to this disaster.

The Coast Guard and NGA ended up working closely together. And in the process I got to know Thad Allen pretty well. Now, I consider him now both a close, personal friend and a personal hero, and I appreciate the personal “shout out” from him here yesterday. A few months ago, my wife Sue and I had dinner with Thad and his wife, Pam. As old war horses are wont to do, we reminisced. I found that … among the few mementos that Thad and Pam display is a topographical, 3-dimensional map of New Orleans given to him by NGA when he retired.

He recalled the superb work NGA did after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, as well as in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. That was all work that mattered, that made a difference to our citizens in this country directly, and the people who were on the ground remember it.

Immediately after Katrina, the cooperation between NGA and the Coast Guard saved lives, and set the city and region on the path to recovery. NGA made a tangible difference in the daily lives of the Americans in that region. So, I want to tell everyone here who was involved with Katrina recovery operations, as the President said, “You can take pride in your service.” I know I do.

I spoke at the Coast Guard Foundation dinner a couple weeks ago, and more-and-more we’re trying to do that, talking to non-IC audiences about the IC. My dad was in the SIGINT business in WWII, and I grew up on intelligence sites and antenna farms all over the world, as a consequence of traveling around the world with him. So for me this kind of transparency we’re now engaged in feels genetically antithetical. But that’s been one of the major takeaways for me from the past three years: Yes we have to protect our secrets, our sources and methods, but we have to be more transparent about the things we can talk about, and there’s more we can talk about.

We’re trying to live up to that. It’s why we as a Community have declassified more than 5,000 pages of documents on our Tumblr site: “IC on the Record.” This past December, our site was highlighted by Tumblr as one of their few “Big in 2014” sites. Two years ago, I didn’t know what a Tumblr was.

We stood up an IC Transparency Working Group, with members from all 17 IC elements, working to transform the IC’s “Principles of Transparency,” which we’ve published, into action. And this January, we issued a comprehensive report, answering the challenges the President publicly gave to us in January, 2014. We also supported the USA Freedom Act, which has been enacted and which authorizes increased aggregate reporting of how the IC exercises some of its authorities.

To be sure, we have to protect our tradecraft and our sources and methods of collecting intelligence but we’re working– as an Intell Community – to show that we’re worthy of America’s trust, and that we’re worthwhile. That’s another reason, “You can take pride in your service.”

In our increasingly transparent world of intell work, GEOINT has a distinct advantage. It’s the most naturally transparent of all the intelligence disciplines. We’ve been able to talk publicly about GEOINT because of NGA support to disaster relief and to the Sochi Olympics, to Super Bowls and many other key events.

NGA also had a huge and largely unsung impact on the control and containment of Ebola in West Africa, by providing open data on human geography to the countries and NGOs that were involved and, for the first time ever, setting up a publicly-available website for disaster support. And NGA and the IC put the lessons we learned with Ebola into action after the Nepal earthquake, producing damage assessments, reporting on the operating status of airfields, providing estimates on internally displaced people and displaying studies of transportation routes. NGA saved lives and set a community – this time, on the other side of the world – on the road to recovery. And that’s another instance of just how you can take great pride in your service.

For those in industry, I’m talking to you as well. Whether you provide support to the govvies or military intell officers or provide commercial imagery, you too can take great pride in your service to the country.

Commercial imagery is increasingly important to what we do. NGA, with Robert at the helm, is taking transparency to the next level with ideas like the GEOINT Pathfinder initiative to align with a more open-source philosophy, by attempting to answer difficult intelligence questions with unclassified, commercial data. Because it’s unclassified, we can broadly share commercial imagery, whether we’re making a public diplomacy case against Russia for obfuscating what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 or helping West Africa coordinate Ebola response.

We as an IC rely far more on commercial imagery than we did when I became director of the NIMA. That brings me to a concern that I’ll share here with you today, which is that I don’t want to see commercial imagery – with NGA as its champion competing with our NTM capabilities with the NRO as their champion.

NRO is responsible for developing our NTM architecture and needs to play a leading, responsible role in designing future GEOINT architectures that are truly an integration of the NTM systems that we must build and the commercial systems that we must leverage. That’s a challenging task because of the rapidly evolving threat environment and the equally dynamic commercial GEOINT market. But it will be important for the future of our own IC capabilities.

I know NGA and the GEOINT community are good at looking out to future capabilities, because I’ve watched the leadership this community has taken, for example, with IC ITE, the IC IT Enterprise; including NGA’s push to develop the GEOINT Services platform to reside on IC ITE.

I first publicly mentioned the idea of integrating the IC’s IT Enterprise at GEOINT in October of 2011. So I’m happy to come back to GEOINT this year to announce that I think IC ITE is real. It’s taken us a couple years or so to really lay a foundation. And over the last year, we’ve been in an adoption mode. We’ve built physical foundations. We have the common desktops rolling out, 28,000 by last count, with more to come, hopefully 50,000 by this year’s end. We have a working government cloud and a commercial cloud, and we have hundreds-of-millions of records in the cloud from the Big Six agencies and others.

We’ve built policy foundations for sharing between agencies and particularly with second-party integration. We’ve built budget and procurement foundations with licenses and common services. We’ve built security foundations for tagging data and tagging people. And we have the IC Security Coordination Center watching over our cyber defense.

I think that’s tangible progress. That’s not to say we don’t have more to do. A lot of people in this room are responsible for that progress:  for getting the foundation in place, for a more efficient, more secure, and more integrated Intell Community. So I personally want to say, “thanks” and to repeat the message, “You can take great pride in your service.” Because of your work, we are more effective with our IC missions now.

If we’re discussing mission effectiveness, the best feedback is from our customers. I can personally attest that the President, as he indicated, knows what GEOINT does for him. He truly appreciates the work the IC does for him and the positive impact we have on national security. But you don’t have to take my word for it. I’ve got one more clip from his April commentary. So we can all hear Intelligence Customer Number One’s thoughts on who we are and how we’re doing.

[President Obama video clip played on screen behind DNI]

The one thing I know about people in the IC is, they don’t seek the limelight.  That means, sometimes, that the world doesn’t always see your successes, the threats that you prevent or the terrorist attacks you thwart, or the lives that you save. But I don’t want you or folks across the intelligence community to ever forget the difference that you make every day. 

Because of you, we’ve had the intelligence to take out al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden.  Because of you, we’ve had the intelligence, quickly, that showed Syria had used chemical weapons, and then had the ability to monitor its removal.  Because of you, we had the intelligence, despite Russia’s obfuscations, to tell the world the truth about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine.  Because of you, we had the intelligence support that helped enable our recent nuclear framework with Iran.  And you’re going to be critical to our efforts to forge a comprehensive deal to prevent Iran from ever getting a nuclear weapon.

So you help keep us safe, but you also help protect our freedoms by doing it the right way.  And the American people and people around the world may never know the full extent of your success.  There may be those outside who question or challenge what we do -- and we welcome those questions and those challenges because that makes us better.  It can be frustrating sometimes, but that’s part of the function of our democracy.

But I know what you do.  We’re more secure because of your service.  We’re more secure because of your patriotism and your professionalism.  And I’m grateful for that.  And the American people are grateful, as well -- to you and your families who sacrifice alongside you.
That’s the impact your work has on those critical missions the President mentioned, and every day with missions we can’t talk about publicly. So I want to close out with the phrase he used throughout that speech: “You can take great pride in your service.”

Personally, I couldn’t be prouder of our Intell Community, and most-especially of the geospatial intelligence community. Thank you all for your service and for what you accomplish for our nation every day.

Thanks, very much.

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