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We attended USGIF’s GEOINT Symposium so you don’t have to (but you should – it’s great). NeedleStack producers Aubrey and Shannon break down the geospatial intelligence conference (and its many, many acronyms) and the presence of OSINT on the floor, in keynotes and the Innovation Hub. If you’re an open-source researcher, tune in to understand what’s out there and how to leverage this adjacent INT.

Key takeaways

  • What skills are needed in geospatial intelligence organizations and how OSINT skills can translate
  • Layering GEOINT and OSINT to synthesize and communicate intelligence
  • The wide world of use cases for GEOINT
[00:00:01.450] - SHANNON

My main takeaway from the show was that if you are in a specific int, you kind of get your niche. Just understanding the availability of other types of information and technology and applications of how that information can be used is the real benefit. It just helps you understand how to communicate with your colleagues better, enhance and corroborate and confirm your intelligence. Going to have to look outside of the OSINT sphere at some point to do that's.


[00:00:44.030] - AUBREY

Hello, I'm Aubrey Byron, producer on Needlestack and your host for Today.


[00:00:48.830] - SHANNON

And I'm Shannon Reagan, co producer on Needlestack and co host today.


[00:00:54.370] - AUBREY

Today we are talking about GEOINT 2023, the symposium in St. Louis that we just got done attending for three days. We just wanted to give a little bit of recap and our thoughts and some new things we learned.


[00:01:09.870] - SHANNON

So this event is run by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. I know most of our listeners of the podcast are of the OSINT sphere, but ocent can be used in conjunction with any of the other INTs. That's what we've been doing these series of episodes on recently, specifically focusing on geo int. So it's just a lot of good conversations at the conference, good presentations, tons of vendors in the space. We learned a lot. And yeah, let's jump in.


[00:01:42.030] - AUBREY

Yeah, I mean, there were lots of great talks and panels, but I have to say one of the best parts about the conference was just walking around the expo room getting demos from various companies.


[00:01:53.430] - SHANNON

Yeah, who knew you would miss the expo floor?


[00:01:57.830] - AUBREY

Yeah, people are doing really cool things out there, and it's neat to get to see.


[00:02:04.070] - SHANNON

I feel like I got better at being a guest, like a random person coming up to your booth, because I did want to preface most of the time saying, I'm not in the geospatial space. I'm more in the ocent sphere. What is it that you do? What brings you here? Obviously, our company authenticate, like, a lot of our customers use GEOINT as well as OSINT and many of the other INTs. So that's kind of our role there was to understand the intersection of all of these. But the answers that I got out of what do you do? Just showed the wide, wide world of this. I think the most interesting one I got was from Astra. I think I'm pronouncing that correctly. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but they do imaging or like satellite radar imaging of water soil levels to detect, like, leaks and for uses in dams and mining and water treatment and sewer facility. And it's just like, never knew you could do that from space. Look into the soil. They said they could tell, like, freshwater from sewage and things like that. Just the world of GEOINT is very wide.


[00:03:21.010] - AUBREY

Yeah, absolutely. It was funny, actually, you say that, and I was getting a demo with some people, and we were in a truck, which I'll explain later. But he went around the room and asked everybody what they do, and every single person there had a different answer. There was a student, there was an engineer. Myself, I was like, I work on a podcast and then a data analyst. It was just really kind of all over the board. And I think that's a really interesting intersection for who's attending these conferences and also how this technology can be used. Yeah, I think some of the most interesting demos that I saw were from companies that are using SAR, which, if you don't know, is.


[00:04:16.290] - SHANNON

Synthetic Aperture Radar. We got a lot of acronym debrief.


[00:04:22.120] - AUBREY

So forgive us for Synthetic Aperture Radar. And what's interesting about that, compared to optical, is that you can see through clouds from the satellite. You can see at night. So a lot of times, sometimes when we're doing weapons monitoring, someone might hurry up and try to move an aircraft carrier at night or unveil it and move it, something like that. Because your typical imagery is not going to be able to capture that from a satellite or on a cloudy day, SAR can see all of that. And actually you could see the metal sort of gleaming on some of these images. And then the various companies often do a little bit of work to it's, a little harder to tell. It takes a little more technical skills. And some of these companies are making it easier for a data analyst to just plug into what they're used to seeing. Got some great demos. It was like down to the meter was what the guy at Capella said. Pretty fascinating stuff.


[00:05:31.370] - SHANNON

Yeah, Capella was also an interesting booth. Black sky was right around there as well. Good talk with them. Yeah. Similar problems in OSINT, NGO in. What do you do with all of this data? First of all, there's just a ton of it. So there are a lot of vendors there that we're talking about the data handling aspects, security of that data, cost effectiveness of using cloud versus on prem, like when those are appropriate. And then how do you bring it all together? How do you synthesize and analyze and then present it in a way that actually means something that is actionable? So same challenges, different acronym, but interesting to see the volume of vendors there just to deal with the data.


[00:06:22.490] - AUBREY

The truck that I mentioned was I.


[00:06:24.510] - SHANNON

Was going to say, why were you in a truck? I didn't see a truck today, but oh, really?


[00:06:28.560] - AUBREY

Maybe the truck went back to California. It was a very large, not armored vehicle, but a pretty giant above vehicle. Yes. And so the application was actually geo and disaster relief, which we touch on a little bit with Mark Knapp. But it was funny. We got in the truck and the guy's giving us a demo and he's like, this isn't actually really what we do, but we wanted to show off this cool truck of how you could use our product. But what they actually make, and this is GDIT what they actually make are really small portable servers that are like half width, use low power and they can be put together to make a mesh in perhaps a disaster relief area where a hurricane has taken out all comms. You can use this as a comms base or behind enemy lines, I think is the actual application that is happening most often for their product.


[00:07:39.380] - SHANNON

Quietly drive this tiny truck in there.


[00:07:42.930] - AUBREY

Or like a small server. That a stack. They had a stack in the truck. But he was saying you can have some briefcase size ones that then you put in various locations and then you have a lot of coverage. And I think he said 15 km² was the coverage area when I asked of just one of them. So once you start piecing them together quite a bit and it also can provide cell service. So that was pretty interesting. And I feel like a lot of the booths I saw were more software side of things. So it was cool to see some hardware.


[00:08:22.890] - SHANNON

Yeah, there were some satellite companies with models of their satellites there. It's amazing, just the availability of commercial satellites and the volume of commercial satellites now and that it's like, yeah, we'll put another one up, no problem. We'll have 30 more next year or whatever.


[00:08:44.630] - AUBREY

Or 3000 if you're starling.


[00:08:47.390] - SHANNON

Oh, my God. Yeah.


[00:08:48.620] - AUBREY

So I did get the Magic Leap demo. Did you do that?


[00:08:53.770] - SHANNON

I don't think I did magic leap today.


[00:08:55.690] - AUBREY

Okay, so it's a VR headset demo.


[00:08:58.970] - SHANNON

I saw them. Yes.


[00:09:00.970] - AUBREY

I had to wait for a very long time. It was a very popular booth, it turns out if you give people a game they'll want to play. But you can view satellites in real time in front of you as they are in space. We went through the different locations. So Leo, Meo and Geo of kind of where the placement is. And you could filter by company so you can see out of all of the Operable satellites, which I think was like 7365, I think that's Operable, which there's like 15,000 up there total, most of which don't work. As many of us know, there's just junk floating in space. But yeah, a lot of them are starlink and have launched in the last three years.


[00:09:51.710] - SHANNON

Yeah, I've seen the exercises that they run when they all line up and they're visible from the ground. Looks terrifying. Looks like we're under alien invasion. My heart definitely skipped a beat before I knew what it was. Yeah, I think, like, you were saying that they're kind of putting in perspective like all that's out there. I think that was my main takeaway from the show was that if you are in a specific int you kind of get your niche just understanding the availability of other types of information and technology and applications of how that information can be used is the real benefit. It just helps you understand how to communicate with your colleagues better, enhance and corroborate and confirm your intelligence. You're going to have to look outside of the OSINT sphere at some point to do that.


[00:10:45.010] - AUBREY

Well, absolutely. And there were tons more cool companies, by the way. I can't remember and name every single one off the top of my head, but people were very patient talking to us. But I also saw a lot of great panels.


[00:11:04.290] - SHANNON

Yeah, how were the panels?


[00:11:05.550] - AUBREY

A lot talking about I think one of the big headlines was red tape. A lot of these people are in government, and the problem sort of with how fast technology is moving and our nation moving at an OSINT liner speed is those two things don't always go together. And people talking about how can we pivot? How can we sort of start moving faster, especially as technology advances and we're trying to keep up with other countries. And there were a lot of talks hit on that subject. The other big subject of the couple of days that I saw, I think, was just recruiting. The military and the government just aren't having as much success recruiting as they did 20 years ago. And there was a great quote, I think, from a former congressman that said, like, I don't care if you have a nose ring and tattoos, if you got a brain, we need you.


[00:12:01.670] - SHANNON

I want you. Yeah.


[00:12:02.980] - AUBREY

Talking about a little bit of kind of getting out of old mindsets. And they talked about that. There was a panel on hiring for neurodiversity kind of similarly and thinking about, like, we could really use neuro atypical people in this sphere, but they're getting weeded out in these interview processes. And I appreciated this one just because I feel like sometimes they're like, you need to do this, but don't actually provide any clues as to how. And one of the things they talked about is just if you're a neuro atypical person, you might have trouble with simple things like eye contact or being fidgety or even taking questions extremely literally. And that's just something to keep in mind in your interview process.


[00:12:53.430] - SHANNON

Yeah, a conversation we were having last night. This makes me think of these guys from Geo yeti that we were talking with at our Putchack event, and they were kind of putting in perspective in the intelligence community post Cold War. It was sort of like, well, what do we do with ourselves? What's the mission? And then 911 hit, and it was like, oh, we got to scale up really quickly. And I think we've kind of been in that mindset that these agencies have become really big and become very important, and so there's just more pressure to hire and kind of maintain the apparatuses that have been erected in the last few decades. And then with the explosion of ocent. This is in the last 15 years. How do you better use that? What type of people do you need assigned to? That isn't considered all source. Do you have a specific person or team dedicated to this or agency dedicated to this? Yeah, there was somebody I talked to today, I think, at Parsons that said they had 700 open positions on their website. So if you're looking for a job, go look at Parsons.


[00:14:06.710] - AUBREY



[00:14:07.710] - SHANNON

Yeah. These things are just booming, and there's obviously a need for them. So great career path to get into.


[00:14:16.560] - AUBREY

Yeah. From the sound of it, quite a few of the agencies, too, are about to do a hiring blitz.


[00:14:22.190] - SHANNON



[00:14:23.650] - AUBREY

One of the other great panels that I saw, there was someone from the National Reconnaissance Office, and he said I had to write down this quote in kindergarten, in first grade. It's space in dinosaurs. They eventually find out there's not much money in dinosaurs, but there is in space.


[00:14:42.570] - SHANNON

That's good. I'll keep that.


[00:14:44.510] - AUBREY

Yeah, there was some really good talks, too, just talking about how we're going to modernize some of our capabilities. Are we still building satellites the way we did in the lot of talks about how sort of commercial industries and government can come together to make some of these missions happen, and we're already starting to see that. I mean, that's definitely showcased within this symposium and how to do it some more on the local side of things, as probably a lot of people listening know or may not know that the Nga is located in St. Louis, which is near and dear to Shannon and I. And he talked a lot about they're in the middle of building a new building on the north side, which is a traditionally underserved area, and kind of working with different nonprofits and programs to start getting people on the track to get into the intel cycle. And he listed off a lot of interesting sounding programs. There was Unleashing Potential, K Career Inc. And they're going into high schools and kind of starting to talk to people about how to get into this career path. And then also offering scholarships and certificates later on.


[00:16:12.380] - AUBREY

Tishlong announced a lot of scholarships that are happening, some in particular that I was excited by, or particularly for first generation college students at a community college. There was one for trade school students or someone attending continuing education programs. So not only offering these, but maybe finding them in places that aren't traditional for your institutions that might be a little bit out of pocket for many people.


[00:16:46.690] - SHANNON

Yeah. Outreach. This was through Nga that they were recommending these scholarship and training programs.


[00:16:52.790] - AUBREY

Yeah. And they're through USGIF. And they had various company sponsors. I know AWS was one. I can't remember all of the other sponsors, but great.


[00:17:05.290] - SHANNON

But God bless them. Yeah. There seems to be a huge effort to create that pipeline. Even if it's going to take five to ten years to come to fruition, the focus is already there.


[00:17:23.710] - AUBREY

But yeah, it's great that they're forward thinking.


[00:17:27.070] - SHANNON

Yeah. And I think part of the way that it seems like they're working to engage people that might not have been interested in GEOINT or in our sphere, in OSINT for that matter, in the more maybe traditional fields of applications in military and intelligence agency missions. The stuff that it seems like they're trying to broaden the horizon with on the generation that's coming in. And the stuff that I think both you and I just find fascinating, again, of how wide this world is are maybe the softer applications of something like GEOINT. I talk to people about how GEOINT is used in shipping, whether that be maritime shipping or ground and logistics. When are my trucks going to get there? Is there going to be enough space for all of them in this parking lot at once? Like just figuring out where to put stuff uses GEOINT. They were talking about insurance companies that use it to understand where floodplains are and are floodplains changing? Are those moving in the areas that would have been considered that one year, is that changing the next? Or in five years, what are those projections? Being a former California resident, seeing how they understand wildfires, both from like a forestry service perspective and again, insurance or utilities, where are you building substations?


[00:18:56.020] - SHANNON

Where are you putting these transformers? What does the risk of that look like in wildfire season, which is beyond even a season now? There are a couple of other ones that I thought, again, I just never heard of before. Tracking poaching in national preserves in Africa, and illegal, I know, and illegal fishing as well, kind of beyond national fishing boundaries. And then one of the innovation talks that I went to, these were like five minute talks, rapid fire by lots of different organizations at the innovation hub was from Enrel, N-R-E-L on the success rate essentially of renewable energy. It's like there's all these countries that have made these promises and projections of moving to renewables, but how is that actually going? And using satellite imagery and GEOINT to look at scale of wind turbines, what is the placement and number of solar panels and how is that affecting the grid? And is this actually going to meet the projections? So looking at the scale of renewables through the lens of GEOINT, again, never would have thought until I popped into this talk.


[00:20:15.590] - AUBREY

Yeah, one of the panels they also touched on using GEOINT in agriculture because the former director of NASA was talking about from their space station, they can see if plants are in distress and kind of look at early sort of intervention there. And I have a friend who's an ecologist and was just talking about using drones for conservation, being able to tell if there's invasive species moving in without someone physically on the ground there.


[00:20:50.000] - SHANNON

Yeah, climate was definitely climate and weather were baked into this throughout in terms of using geo and to understand climate and climate change. And then also kind of bypassing the weather in certain SAR satellites that can see through the clouds and see at night and stuff like that. How limiting that used to be when it's like, sorry, your target was it was rainy that day, so you don't see anything.


[00:21:14.950] - AUBREY

One quote from that same panel that I thought was interesting because budget constraints and the economy were a big focus, and that was one of the panels that I attended. And a great quote from one of them was, and I don't remember which, sorry. When money gets cut, they don't innovate. They go back to how they used to operate. And I thought that was a really interesting note, and I find that to be true, actually. Yeah, you need a little bit of room in the budget if you're going to try something new, or else you kind of have to stick to bare bones. Yeah.


[00:21:52.870] - SHANNON

And time is money, too. It takes time for people to scale up on new technologies or new ways of doing things. That innovation is great, but it takes commitment either in time or dollars or both.


[00:22:05.930] - AUBREY

Yeah, absolutely. I also attended one of the training sessions and I have to say it was a little bit underwhelming.


[00:22:14.740] - SHANNON

Oh, no, we won't say which one.


[00:22:18.930] - AUBREY

Yeah, no, and I hope that it was just that particular one, but yeah, could have found it on YouTube.


[00:22:28.910] - SHANNON

Okay, cool. Yeah. Actually, I was going to ask random takeaways from the conference. My favorite thing was someone reading a very crowded PowerPoint slide like this. Sorry, this is just my notebook. Like reading it line by line. Sorry, you probably can't hear my microphone reading it line by line, holding something up in front of their face so that they could just read it slowly. But I was like, what a life hack. Like, never seen this before in my life. These people are geniuses here.


[00:23:03.450] - AUBREY

Reading a PowerPoint line by line is.


[00:23:05.610] - SHANNON

Maybe I was going to say hot tip is really fewer words on your PowerPoint slide. But it was still a good talk. So worth the read. Also, my confession is so much for geospatial intelligence. Not once, but twice. I was on my phone walking in downtown St. Louis and walked up to the doors of the dome. I was like, Why can't I get in? Because it's not the convention center, which is a block away. I did it in the morning and then I did it coming back in in the afternoon. They would be so ashamed of me. They're like, can we get you a satellite, perhaps?


[00:23:47.770] - AUBREY

Oh, yeah. There was a really great talk that kind of talked about everybody's trying to get satellites up in the air, but they forget about the ground game and there are more points. So sometimes they get it up, but they don't have the control mechanism to operate from the ground.


[00:24:10.210] - SHANNON

And looking at all of the satellite imagery too. That from the ocent world. It is. It's the other perspective. GEOINT is mostly satellite fueled, looking at physical features on the ground or events happening on the ground. Osen is looking at the same thing, but from a different perspective. And so I think they dovetail so nicely. Actually, I went up to the SRE booth. What a bunch of gems working at the Sri booth today. Just immediately when they heard I was in ocent, they're like, do you know you can map ocent information? They're like, if something has a location and a time, like long lad information, you can pop that in some geospatial platform and really understand where are we looking, when are we looking? That talking about GEOINT as a way to bring together anything with location data. That's really interesting. Never thought of it before.


[00:25:10.210] - AUBREY

That's awesome. Yeah, I think there was definitely some buzzwords that got thrown a lot around, a lot. Hyperspectral was one. Resiliency on the industry side was a big one.


[00:25:26.250] - SHANNON



[00:25:27.230] - AUBREY

There was one more good quote from a former congressman talking about working between government and industry. And he said, we need to do more than write checks or buy things from your catalogs, which is talking about industry needs to innovate, but government needs to be innovating with them.


[00:25:49.970] - SHANNON

Yeah, there's a lot of shelfware in agencies, there's a lot of money, there's a lot of turnover. That it is. The challenges are understandable as to why things get bought the way that they do. But I think everybody wants to be more thoughtful in the dollars that are spent and the way that these solutions are actually deployed and actually used. So in a better world, sure.


[00:26:18.730] - AUBREY

They also talk about in that partnership. Another important part that doesn't get maybe as much attention is including academia. If you think of some of our best technologies out there right now, a lot of them were started in laboratories on a college campus.


[00:26:35.550] - SHANNON

Yeah, the university systems. God bless.


[00:26:40.450] - AUBREY

Well, it was a great three days, our first time at GEOINT, but not our last. And yeah, I excited to see more of these technologies and use you can check out the agenda on USGIF's website if you're interested in who was speaking, what they talked about. Highly recommend it.


[00:27:07.040] - SHANNON

Yeah, it's a great event. We learned a lot. And I think again, would highly recommend for anybody, any Ocenters out there that might be dabbling in GEOINT to either attend the conference or yeah, like you said, to check out the speakers and just kind of see what else is out there.


[00:27:24.430] - AUBREY

Well, thanks for joining us today. If you liked what you heard, you can view transcripts and other episode info on our website. Authenticate.com Needlestack. That's authentic with the number eight Needlestack. I got a lot of confusion on that today and yesterday. Make sure you get the key in there somehow. It gets missing sometimes. Be sure to let us know what you thought on Twitter at needlestackpod and to like and subscribe wherever you're listening today. We'll be back next week with more on Geolocation. We'll see you then.


[00:28:01.000] - SHANNON

All right, see you then.

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