25 Nov 2008
Q&A: K. Stuart Shea, CEO and Chairman, USGIF; and President, Intelligence, Security and Technology Group, SAIC
As CEO, Chairman and essentially the founder of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), Mr. K. Stuart Shea plays an instrumental role in advancing our tradecraft and has an unrelenting passion for our community and protecting our nation.
We were able to catch up with Mr. Shea a few weeks ago, and he shared with us why he started USGIF and where he sees us going – during a most interesting and challenging time of transition.
(Q) It’s been five years. Congratulations. Before we talk about the accomplishments of the Foundation, why did you create it in the first place?
(A) It really got down to the desire to have a community of interest around geospatial intelligence. I had witnessed a similar construct in the space, intelligence and security communities and my sense was that there was not that same level of camaraderie and relationships that existed between government, industry, academia, the private sector, individuals and trade associations in the geospatial intelligence space. We decided to see if we could get everyone together and step outside of their own needs and desires within their own businesses and agencies to focus on something bigger and more significant.
(Q) From developing the idea of USGIF on a cocktail napkin to where we are today, did you accomplish all of your intended goals and objectives?
(A) While I certainly helped play the role of a catalyst, it is really all about what the community has done as a whole to move things forward. And it has been phenomenal. When the idea was first bounced around with a few people, we originally thought we would pull together 200-250 people and a few keynote speakers to network and discuss ideas, and do something for the betterment of the tradecraft. And today, we just came off of the 5th GEOINT in Nashville with 3,700 attendees, all the key players in industry, government and academia came together…it makes you think “wow, how did we get here.” And, I spoke with the folks who run the Space Foundation – who run the Space Symposium — they are blown away by how far we have come in a short five years. And, they have a 25-year heritage.
(Q) Tell us about some of the key milestones and accomplishments of the Foundation?
(A) This Foundation exists not because of me, or any one person. It exists as a community as whole for the betterment of our tradecraft. And the passing on of my leadership philosophy to Mr. Keith Masback has been a tremendous accomplishment for the Foundation.
Another key milestone is seeing our membership increase over the years. And, it is amazing to see major national agencies like NRO, DIA as well as the U.S. Army become members, and essentially want to be on par with the NGA. It really demonstrates that it is all about a community and not about a particular agency or particular function of an agency or industry member company – it’s much bigger than that.
We have also reached a point where key intel and defense leaders ask us to be speakers – without us soliciting them. They find GEOINT to be a fantastic forum to communicate their messages and visions, and our biggest challenge is managing this influx of requests. So, as I look back on 5 years, there are a number of milestones like these that make you realize just how far we have come in a short amount of time.
(Q) Many folks have told us that geospatial intelligence serves as the “foundation” for all other intelligence functions. Can you tell us your perspective on this?
(A) The original symposium that preceded the GEOINT symposia was the GEOINTEL 2003 Symposium and the theme for that event was “Geospatial Intelligence, The Foundation for Security.” Essentially, you have to know where you are, and every intelligence decision deals with some fundamental location on the earth’s surface…and geospatial intelligence is also the foundation for SIGINT and MASINT, HUMINT and all the other “INTS,” providing the horizontal structure for all intelligence functions. People are now realizing that geospatial intelligence is not a vertical stovepipe, but it is in fact the horizontal function that ties everything together.
The theme for GEOINT 2008 was about transition…where do you see our tradecraft heading?
If you look back on the history of technology, there are the early adopters who embrace niche solutions. Then, these solutions grow and evolve to be ubiquitously deployed, and that is where we are today and where we are he heading. Five years ago, we did not have the technologies we have today. And I think that 5 years from now, geospatial intelligence technologies will be so ubiquitous that they will be a part of everyone’s normal vernacular and the way we think. As a result of that, you will see more young people and college students moving into this field because it offers a unique way of looking at the world. These young people will also accelerate the development and deployment beyond our expectations.
(Q) You are known for being very passionate about the community and the tradecraft. Why the passion? And what got you to where you are today?
(A) Well I am passionate in things I believe in. That is my mantra. First, I believe in the United States of America. If you cut me open, I would bleed red, white and blue. And I believe in the service to our nation and I believe in national security. When I think about geospatial intelligence being the foundation for all of this, how could you not be excited?
I am also passionate because we are on the precipice of a really dramatic change in our world. We have all of these new technologies and we can do better with them. We can save lives, protect our nation, and protect our loved ones. Ultimately, we have to operate as a unified whole, between government and private sector, professional associations…and if we do this and focus on something that is bigger than all of us, it is a very powerful thing…and being on the front-end of this is so energizing that it drives me every single day.
(Q) What do you think the highlight of GEOINT 2008 was?
(A) That is a tough question because there were so many highlights. First, the venue was fantastic. The quality of the speakers was unprecedented – exceeding all expectations in terms of being honest and thought provoking. The quality of the attendees and exhibits was also phenomenal. I spent a significant amount of time on the exhibit floor this year, and was energized by what I witnessed. I also thought Phil Vassar, which was a great way to signify the end of the event and mark our 5th anniversary.
I would really like to reinforce that GEOINT and the Foundation is not a one-man show. When you look back on the Foundation, the heart and soul has always been Aimee Correnti, and when you look back on everything she has done, she deserves a tremendous amount of acknowledgment and accolades. And, the entire USGIF team, our volunteers, as well as the financial support of our members and exhibitors have been a tremendous asset that has facilitated our growth.
One last thing I would like to mention is that these are tough times. We really are in a time of transition with the new administration, the economic markets are in turmoil and we are still fighting the war of terror. I don’t want to see GEOINT 2008 as the “top of our game.” I look to the Foundation, as well as to our members and GEOINT participants, to keep up the energy and focus on how important this mission is…and we need to keep this at the forefront of everything we do.