TAMPA — Some of the nation’s top spies and military leaders, along with about 4,000 others in the defense, intelligence and homeland security communities, are descending on Tampa this week for a symposium being billed by organizers as “the largest intelligence event in the U.S.”
The GEOINT Symposium 2013* kicks off today with a shooting sports experience put on by former commandos and runs through Thursday at the Tampa Convention Center. It is expected to bring in nearly $3 million in short-term revenue, help bolster long-term business for defense contractors and spark discussions about the future of intelligence at a time of challenge and change.
Organizers say having the 10th anniversary symposium in Tampa for the first time is important. U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command — both headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base — “are voracious consumers of intelligence,” says Keith Masback, CEO of the U.S. Geospatial Foundation, a nonprofit organization that puts on the symposium.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Letitia A. Long, Socom commander Adm. William McRaven and Centcom commander Gen. Lloyd Austin are among the keynote speakers.
“Quite simply, the nation is more secure as a result of the collaboration that is enabled by the GEOINT symposium,” says Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Intelligence Integration Robert Cardillo.
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Geospatial intelligence — known as geoint in military parlance — uses imagery, the intelligence derived from that imagery and mapping to determine activity on the Earth down to minute details from the sea bottom to space. It may not be a household phrase, but there are no shortage of stories about how it is used.
“If I were to drop a pin in the calendar today and go around the world, you would see we are monitoring things going on in Syria, and we are monitoring the Russian buildup of forces on the Ukrainian border, monitoring for North Korean nuclear tests, supporting the search for Malaysia Air Flight 370, we helped provide support to first responders to the landslide in Washington,” says Masback. With sessions like “Enabling SOF Operators to Influence the Human Domain” and “Navigating the Global Information Sharing Environment,” one of the symposium’s goals is to learn from the lessons of Centcom and Socom, says Masback.
Centcom officials say they rely heavily on geoint.
“Geospatial intelligence really is the foundation for integrating intelligence — it provides the context of ‘where’ and ‘when’ for everything else we know about any particular situation,” says Centcom spokesman Oscar Seara. “It tells us where we are, where our enemies are, what the conditions are in a given place — what are the natural and man-made obstacles and how can we get around them. It also tells us what activities are happening in specific places. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency support team at Centcom provides this critical context, which is integral to everything we do.”
At a time when the National Security Agency is under fire for sweeping data collections and the Central Intelligence Agency is struggling to get out of the paramilitary business and back to its roots in human intelligence, Masback says he expects a lot of conversation among professionals in small groups “about the effects on morale and the challenges in hiring,” he says.
But the event is not just aimed at troops and spooks, he says.
The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight involves a wide range of geospatial intelligence tools, says Masback, and will be a big topic of conversation among experts and exhibitors.
And one of the big pushes this year is reaching out to law enforcement and first responders, who are increasingly going to rely on the information derived from geospatial intelligence.
“We will be talking about information sharing between federal law enforcement and state and locals,” he says. “We gather for national security events like the RNC, but it can’t be a one-off.”
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The asterisk in the symposium’s name denotes how it was scuttled last year by the government shutdown, costing the sponsoring organization and hotels and other businesses in Tampa a lot of money.
The average convention goer spends $326 a day, including hotel expenses, says Alex Kaptzan, vice president of convention sales for Visit Tampa Bay.
That was money that did not come into the area, costing more than $1 million because some 7,000 rooms which had been reserved for the symposium went unsold. Other businesses, like area restaurants and tourist attractions, also lost out, says Kaptzan.
So too did the U.S. Geospatial Foundation, which has sued its insurer, Lloyds of London, saying it was denied coverage for the losses incurred by the last-minute cancellation last fall.
All told, Kaptzan says he expects the symposium to bring in about $2.8 million in spending, based on formulas Visit Tampa Bay uses to gauge economic impact.
There was some good news that came out of last year’s cancellation, says Kaptzan.The previous agreement was to hold the event last year and in 2017. The organization has agreed to bring GEOINT back for a third year, in 2020.
The symposium will have local economic benefits in the long run as well, says Rich McClain, CEO of the Tampa Bay Defense Alliance, an organization of local defense contractors.
Not only does the symposium attract top government leaders from the defense and intelligence communities, “but a vast array of top-level companies and executives that support this industry,” says McClain. “This symposium will go a long way towards highlighting the many talents and companies we have in the region that directly support the geospatial intelligence industry.”
The symposium “is the most valuable event of the year for our core business,” says Anthony Quartararo, CEO of Clearwater-based Spatial Networks, which provides ground-level images in conflict areas and emerging markets for government and commercial clients. The company is one of nearly 300 that will show off their wares on the exhibition floor.
“Given our proximity to MacDill, we are very much looking forward to engaging with potential industry partners as well as directly with government customers in the local area to strengthen the global Socom/SOF mission as well as have a positive impact on the local and regional economy,” says Quartararo. “We are already planning on significantly expanding our corporate offices here in the Tampa Bay area to accommodate the growth we are experiencing and anticipating in the coming years.”
Tampa’s biggest cheerleader says he is “ecstatic” that GEOINT agreed to come back after the shutdown.
“This is exactly the type of conference we want to attract here,” says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “They can take advantage of the 2,500 contractors that call Tampa Bay home. This is a big economic engine and we need to grow those relationships and showcase those companies and really take advantage of Centcom and Socom being in the Tampa Bay area.”
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When Letitia Long took command of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in 2010, she became the first woman to head a U.S. intelligence agency.
Lisa Monnet wants to parlay Long’s visit into a recruiting effort for the 200-member Greater Tampa Bay chapter of Women in Defense, an organization cultivating and supporting the advancement of women in the defense sector.
Long, who will talk about her career at the organization’s monthly luncheon on Tuesday, “clearly demonstrates the ability of women in the defense industry,” says Monnet, who is on the board of directors.
The symposium has given the chapter a chance to “highlight the accomplishments of women, with an understanding women are an integral part of the defense industry, and are rising to senior executives in one of the nation’s most male-dominated sectors,” says Monnet.
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In what has become a tradition for defense-related conferences in Tampa, about 60 conference goers will be taking part in an offshoot of the popular “Shooting with SOF” sports shooting events put on by retired Green Beret master sergeant Scott Neil. Kicking off at 10 a.m. Sunday at Shooters World, “Geeks and Guns” is the first symposium-related networking event and will pair attendees with former commandos in friendly competition using a wide array of weapons. That will be followed up by a party at the Bad Monkey bar in Ybor City, where a silent auction will raise funds for the MARSOC Foundation, which supports active duty and retired Marine Corps special operators.
For information about the symposium, go to GEOINT2013.com.