When American’s think of spy agencies, the typical agencies that come to mind are the CIA and the NSA. Yet very few of us have ever heard of one of the most important spy groups in America, otherwise known as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
Even Barack Obama was reported to have not recognized the name five months into his presidency. While shaking hands with random customers in Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Washington back in 2009, he came up to one customer and asked what he did. In response, the man stated, “I work at NGA, National-Geospatial Intelligence Agency.” Obama stared blankly at the man.
“So explain to me exactly what this National Geospatial…..” however, when he tried to finish saying the name, he was unable to. And even though that took place around eight years ago, the general public remains almost entirely in the dark about what the agency does.
So, what exactly is the NGA? As an intelligence agency, they gather data from a number of sources. Much of this surveillance footage that has been gathered has been taken by unmanned aerial vehicles. Their very function is to gather image data and to then analyze the billions upon billions of images captured by their drones. As it stands, the NGA has remained mostly overseas and has avoided being involved in any domestic spying scandals like the CIA and NSA. But, according to Foreign Policy, they believe this may change during the Trump presidency.
Before 2003, the agency had been used mostly for cartography, however, they were repurposed for satellite surveillance. Now, they are a central force used to obtain intelligence and were involved in the replication of Bin Laden’s compound replication. They have a main headquarters in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, and then two other facilities in Missouri and St.Louis at Scott Air Force Base.
Lt. Gen. James Clapper explained how the agency had transformed by saying,
“The events of 9/11 changed all that. It became clear to me and to the other senior leaders of NIMA that we did not have the luxury of implementing change over a prolonged period of time. We were at war and we needed to act immediately. So, we held a long weekend offsite at which we dramatically altered the organization and outlook of the Agency. In hindsight, this was exactly the right thing to do. Our nation and our Agency was fully engaged in a war and we had no choice but to focus on doing the best we could.”
So, why exactly are people becoming more concerned with the agency? One reason is due to the fact that President Donald Trump has voiced intentions to increase the intelligence budget, specifically allocating funds to the NGA. If granted such a massive increase in budgets ($70.3 billion to $541 billion), many people believe they will also receive an expansion in authority.