National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA)


NIMA came into existence on 1 October 1996. It consolidated the work of the Defense Mapping Agency, the Defense Department's Central Imagery Office, the Defense Dissemination Program Office, and the CIA National Photographic Interpretation Center. It also assumed the imagery exploitation, dissemination, and processing duties previously held by the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, and Defense Air-borne Reconnaissance Office.

Materials presented in chronological order.

Miles, Anne Daugherty. The Creation of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency: Congress' Role as Overseer. Occasional Paper No. 9. Washington, DC: Joint Military Intelligence College, 2001.

Wiant, Studies 46.1, calls this monograph on the creation of NIMA in 1996 "thoughtful and timely.... Miles is primarily concerned with congressional processes and the play between authorization and appropriation committees."

Pincus, Walter. "Pentagon Gaining Turf from the CIA: Intelligence Aides Deny Accounts that Deutch Lets Langley Lose Ground to Military." Washington Post, 16 Nov. 1995, A21.

SSCI Vice Chairman Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) has announced his opposition to DCI John "Deutch's proposed consolidation of intelligence imagery analysis in a new Pentagon-run agency, which would swallow up the CIA's National Photo[graphic] Interpretation Center along with the Defense Department-based Central Imagery Office and Defense Mapping Agency."

Cassata, Donna. "Spy Budget Cleared for Clinton; Plan for New Agency Curbed." Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, 23 Dec. 1995, 3894-3895.

On 21 December 1995, the House and the Senate passed the fiscal 1996 intelligence authorization bill. "The bill reportedly authorizes about $28 billion." Among other items, the bill "would prohibit the CIA and Defense Department from using fiscal 1996 funds and previous year dollars to create the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) until Congress has a chance to review and comment on the plan."

Harvey, Donald [RADM/USN (Ret.)]. "Intelligence Notes: NIMA Begins Operations." American Intelligence Journal 17, no. 1/2 (1996): 94.

Rutledge, John W. ("Bill") [BGEN/USAF] "National Imagery and Mapping: Guaranteeing an Information Edge." American Intelligence Journal 17, no. 3/4 (1997): 33-38.

The author was director of NIMA's Customer Support Office. Prior to that, he served as deputy director of the Central Imagery Office. He notes that "NIMA is unique among DoD combat support agencies in that it has been assigned -- by statute -- important national support responsibilities" (emphasis in original).

Ackerman, Robert K. "Imagery Agency Passes the Torch to Commercial Service Providers." Signal, May 1999. []

NIMA "is fielding a team of commercial companies to provide vital geospatial information services to military and civilian government customers. The goal is not only to rapidly obtain various products ranging from basic mapping to detailed geospatial imagery, but also to establish an extensive commercial base of geospatial information services and generate two-way technology transfer."

Vogel, Steve. "Charting a Military Course: After Cartographic Consolidation, Mapping Agency Is Aiding Forces in the Balkans." Washington Post, 9 May 1999, A21. [http://www.]

NIMA sits in a "secluded defense compound near MacArthur Boulevard and the Potomac River.... About 3,000 employees work in the Bethesda compound.... NIMA [also] has 1,000 employees in several other facilities throughout the Washington area, including the District, Reston, Fort Belvoir and Chantilly. Some of the agency's most sensitive work is done inside Building 213 [home of the former NPIC] at the Washington Navy Yard, where analysts study imagery collected by satellites.... NIMA, commanded by a three-star Army general, is a hybrid, both an intelligence agency and a combat support agency for the Pentagon."

Schmitt, Eric. "Pentagon Admits Its Maps of Belgrade Are Out of Date." New York Times, 11 May 1999. []

According to government officials on 10 May 1999, "[i]n confusing the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade for a Yugoslav arms agency, the CIA relied on old maps and educated guesses rather than on first-hand information." NIMA, "the Pentagon agency that drew up the map of Belgrade," also "prepared the maps for the Marine Corps jet that struck a ski-lift cable last year near Aviano, Italy. Defense lawyers contended that the crew was not to blame because the cable did not appear on the Pentagon map....

"[I]ntelligence experts said [that] a decision made in 1996 may have contributed to the problem of reading [airborne reconnaissance] photographs: The CIA photographic intelligence center, which analyzes reconnaissance photographs, was folded into the Pentagon's mapping agency, prompting many of the government's most experienced photographic analysts to leave." See also, Bradley Graham, "The Explanation in Washington: U.S. Analysts Misread, Relied on Outdated Maps," Washington Post, 11 May 1999, A17.

Gates, Robert M. "In War, Mistakes Happen." New York Times, 12 May 1999. [http://]

The former DCI argues that "there was a system failure as well as mistakes by individuals. The source of all mapping information for United States military targeting is" NIMA, "a joint military and civilian intelligence organization. According to The New York Times, that agency was apparently the source of outdated maps. Then the C.I.A. analysts apparently misidentified the target. And finally, military databases in the United States and NATO used to check the accuracy of such information failed to catch the error.... Americans ... should understand that outdated maps and insufficient personnel are related to 12 years of budget cuts in both the military and intelligence."

Schmitt. Eric. "Mapping Unit Failures Laid to Reorganization." New York Times, 12 May 1999. []

Formation of NIMA "from parts of the Pentagon and the CIA three years ago ignited an uproar among intelligence officials.... [M]any senior CIA photographic analysts perceived their new assignments to the mapping agency as drudge work, and they either retired or sought transfers to other government jobs....

"The agency is a hybrid of eight defense and intelligence agencies, principally the Pentagon's Defense Mapping Agency and the CIA's National Photographic Intelligence [sic] Center.... [C]ombining the two organizations has been a bumpy process.... The cadre of scientific and technical experts who analyzed the satellite data dwindled through resignations and retirements,... and was gradually supplanted by a younger work force steeped more in political science than scientific testing.

"As a result, the intelligence analysts responsible for interpreting spy satellite photographs are less skilled and less experienced than their predecessors of 10 years ago.... NIMA officials insist the criticism is unfair and say that as trouble spots erupt around the world, their analysts are being asked to analyze more and faster, while Congress in recent years has kept cutting the agency's budget."

Eddington, Patrick G. "Get Ready for More Targeting Disasters." Los Angeles Times, 5 Jul. 1999, 15.

"Since October 1996, when the CIA was told by Congress to turn its imagery components over" to the Department of Defense's NIMA, "there has been loss of key personnel and a lack of coordination between the intelligence and operational communities. This has left the United States and its allies vulnerable to making catastrophic errors like bombing the Chinese embassy. Congress must rethink how things are done or tragic mistakes will continue to happen."

Loeb, Vernon. "To See and Not Been Seen: Behind the Grids of NIMA -- 2 Overseas Incidents Popped Agency's Bubble of Invisibility." Washington Post, 10 Jul. 1999, A3. [http://www.]

"Twice in the past 18 months, the secretive agency that analyzes U.S. satellite photographs and prepares military maps has been blamed for costly mishaps: a Marine jet's collision with an Italian ski lift in February 1998 and NATO's bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia this May.... [S]ome critics question whether NIMA is competent."

King, James C. [LTGEN/USA, D/NIMA] "Delivering On-Time Information Superiority." Defense Intelligence Journal 8, no. 1 (Summer 1999): 14-23.

Fulfilling the U.S. Imagery and Geospatial Information System (USIGS) Modernization Plan "requires significant investment to meet the challenges of the information age."

Marshall, Mark G. "Intelligence." Defense Intelligence Journal 8, no. 1 (Summer 1999): 93-119.

There are "organizational, technical and professional problems" associated with a failure to understand the nature of IMINT and a "consequent failure to recognize the differences between IMINT and MASINT.... With the disassembly of the NPIC and DIA's Directorate for Imagery Exploitation, there is no longer a shelter for image talent in the Intelligence Community. Scientists and engineers have talked and counted their way into control over a discipline that they do not fully appreciate.... After a decent interval has passed, the Community may openly regret having given cartographic engineers influence over the craft of seeing."

Loeb, Vernon. "IntelligenCIA: Inside Information." Washington Post, 31 Oct. 1999. [http://]

According to NIMA officials, the agency is "working to produce a data base of high-resolution satellite imagery of 25 percent of the earth's land mass by the end of Fiscal 2005, thanks in part to the availability of high-resolution commercial imagery from Space Imaging Inc.'s recently launched IKONOS satellite. The stored imagery -- detailed enough to show white lines on a city street -- will be geo-referenced and suitable for targeting, meaning exact coordinates can be derived for anything depicted."

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