Tools For The Intelligence Community
A rundown of some of what BAE Systems has to offer
Courtesy: Matthew Poletti, Military Periscope
Geospatial data is displayed via a web browser for intelligence analysts through a BAE Systems component of GXP Xplorer. The GXP WebView add-on product, shown above, has the capability to load full-resolution images.
The right information properly applied is generally more important than having massive amounts of facts that can't be utilized. However, separating the figurative wheat from the chaff to get those vital kernels can be an overwhelming task in military and intelligence circles. Data accumulation is the norm.
Yet, finding those key pieces is the job of the intelligence analyst. As with many jobs, having the right tool makes the difference. Defense firms have come up with many potential solutions -- sorting, filtering and searching the myriad bits of intelligence to make some sense of what can be a confused picture. The demand for such products is high.
How BAE Systems tries to meet that demand is instructive. Military Periscope met with members of BAE's Intelligence & Security sector at the recent Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) exhibition in Washington, D.C., where we discussed the company's latest products for intelligence analysts.
Using Geospatial Data via a Browser
First up was BAE's new GXP WebView product. This is a web-based component of the company's GXP Xplorer geospatial data discovery and management tool. Its function is similar to the more advanced SOCET GXP, which is a separate device. The Xplorer and its WebView module allow an all-source analyst to view, annotate and publish products.
The main goal, say members of the BAE team, is to minimize the time spent searching for data. It is not unusual for an analyst to find that he spends half his time on the job just searching for information before taking the next step. These GXP products permit him to spend more time on analysis and delivering intelligence to decision-makers.
WebView is designed to be lightweight and affordable, more so than SOCET, which BAE Systems describes as a more robust software product. Developed using HTML5, WebView can be used in a variety of browsers -- from Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox to Internet Explorer 8 or above. Xplorer also features a mobile app that supports iOS and Android. This level of interoperability stems from the fact that so much of the tool's functionality comes from servers on the backend.
During a demonstration at the exhibition, Xplorer pulled map data from Google. In an operational setting, the tool would use more current imagery from government servers, said Darren Stelle, a member of BAE's Geospatial eXploitation Products team. The tool also integrates with other data sources, searching documents, slides, videos, spreadsheets and imagery.
An analyst can, for example, zoom in on an area of interest, view images or video and pull up geotagged data. The tool also indexes various servers being employed by users, using metadata and other information to catalog the information. A user can search this information within Xplorer, with the results being presented on a map or with text.
The WebView add-on module is the newest feature of Xplorer and was the focus of the demonstration. With the click of a button, maps are streamed from a server, in the same fashion as, say, Google Maps. The imagery is tiled and streamed using HTML5, with each section loading as the user scrolls.
As long as there is network connectivity, imagery can be viewed as if it were on the user's local machines. Displayed across the map are markers indicating if there is more information available about a particular set of coordinates. This might be, for instance, detailed, current satellite imagery of a certain location. With a click, the analyst can view that image in the browser regardless of the file's format and physical location.
While viewing satellite images, WebView provides a range of options with which to manipulate and edit the image. One can zoom, rotate or pan. With the software's built-in tools, it is possible to get accurate coordinates of a building or measure distances between two points just by drawing a line.
Text labels or icons can be inserted anywhere on the image An analyst can draw lines, shapes and otherwise edit the image to draw attention to particular areas. There is even a chat feature -- so several people can work together to edit their workproduct in real time.
Editing and labeling is just part of the job. The tool also allows an analyst to publish to a number of file formats, such as PowerPoint, KML or GeoPDF. This is automatically geotagged; a marker linking to the report can be placed on Xplorer's map to assist other analysts.
This is a far cry from the ancient charts where unexplored regions might be labeled, "Here be dragons."
WebView is especially useful for an all-source analyst who would not usually have access to geospatial imagery, Charles Ratzer, communications manager at BAE's Intelligence & Security sector, told us. That user could use the tool to find geospatial images for his reports rather than involving an imagery specialist, he said.
Xplorer and WebView do use the same geospatial sensor models as the SOCET GXP device, with an identical high level of accuracy. On the other hand, SOCET is accredited for targeting; the web-based tool is not.
That could change. Stelle said the day may come when the tool is upgraded with targeting or terrain elements or other SOCET features. Since Xplorer and WebView together cost between one-eighth to one-10th as much as SOCET, such changes would make them attractive alternatives.
BAE officials told us that the U.S. Army has shown great interest in the Xplorer and WebView products. Xplorer is already in use by the U.S. Air Force. The USAF has even purchased another BAE Systems add-on module called Workflow Improvement; that module integrates Xplorer and SOCET GXP so there is no need to switch between the tools.
Sharing Information Securely
Another BAE Systems product, this one called SIBA, was also on display elsewhere at AUSA. The secure information-sharing software is designed for collaboration and dissemination of classified products.
There are several levels of possible security clearances, which can limit the number of those using particular intelligence. SIBA, which works with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and SharePoint, is designed to connect analysts with needed intelligence regardless of their clearance level.
Unveiled last year at the Dept. of Defense Intelligence Information Systems conference in Denver was an advanced prototype of BAE Systems' Secure Information Broker Application (SIBA). The company refers to SIBA as a "big data" cross-domain solution that allows users to share select information within a file.
SIBA links high-, middle- and low-clearance networks, permitting sharing across these secure platforms. If a user is concerned about granting access to classified material, he can tag paragraphs, words or even individual characters as sensitive. That material becomes inaccessible to those at lower classification levels.
In BAE's demonstration, a simulated high-level user marked certain dates and locations in a document as sensitive. When a user with a lower level viewed that same document on a different device, that data did not appear and there was no indication that anything had been redacted.
Users at all classification levels may employ SIBA to edit an intelligence document. Should a lower-level user add or remove information, a senior analyst with a higher level of clearance must accept or reject the change. Only then would the information be sent across the entire network. Thus, SIBA permits "overall information enhancement," said Connor Forman of BAE's Cross Domain Solutions team.
The Cross Domain Solutions team also had yet another product on display at AUSA: the Virtual Desktop. It permits a user to connect to his computer desktop from any location. Since the Virtual Desktop is housed on a server, not a specific device, users can log in from any secure laptop or tablet. It also has wireless capability. The system provides mobility and security, according to BAE.
The Virtual Desktop can be accessed from the office or abroad. Even if a specific device were to be damaged or lost, the information would still be available. After the Defense Intelligence Agency adopted the solution, it realized a 25 percent cost savings, according to BAE Systems.
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The potential benefits of such products are obvious, especially when they can work in concert.
Virtual Desktop allows analysts to access intelligence easily regardless of location. Meanwhile, the Xplorer and WebView software make it more convenient to create and publish intelligence reports. Lastly, SIBA permits various analysts with different roles to view the reports.
In short, their use seems likely to outperform most conferences -- where all too often everybody talks, nobody listens and everyone disagrees afterward.
This article is reprinted with express permission of Military Periscope.