Written by Christin Young
on September 20, 2019

The Honorable James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, appeared before a packed house on September 10 for a special edition of the United States Geospatial-Intelligence Foundation’s (USGIF) GEOINTeraction Tuesday event to officially open the Foundation’s new Trajectory Event Center in Herndon, Va.  

A visionary who is credited with coining the term “GEOINT” and a facilitator for the Foundation’s creation, Clapper gave his opening remarks before engaging an audience of GEOINT community professionals in a lively discussion.

“USGIF was formed to forge a partnership with industry,” Clapper said. “This facility is just an utter manifestation of the progress we’ve made not only with NGA [National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency] as an institution, but with the discipline of GEOINT; how it’s matured and grown to become an integral part of warfighting and national intelligence.”

For Clapper, intelligence work is in his blood. The son of an Army SIGINT officer, Clapper’s lifelong fascination with intelligence gathering began at his grandparents’ home in Philadelphia in 1953, when he inadvertently tuned into the same frequency the Philadelphia Police Department dispatcher was using. Before long, he was sleeping during the day and staying up all night, intently listening to the happenings around the city.

“I got a map of the city of Philadelphia from my grandfather, and I started plotting the police calls,” Clapper said. “After a while, I figured out how to reconstruct the police district boundaries in the city of Philadelphia just by the way they dispatched police calls.”

When Clapper’s father returned to retrieve him from his grandparents’ house a few weeks later, he asked his son what he’d been up to that summer. The young man got his map and proceeded to give a 20-minute discourse on the organization and operations of the Philadelphia Police Department; everything from high crime areas to how many cruisers were assigned to each district. Clapper still remembers the look of astonishment on his father’s face.

“He said, ‘my God, I’ve raised my own replacement,’” Clapper said.

Clapper would go on to have a distinguished military career before retiring to work in private industry in 1995. He returned to the government two days after 9/11 as the first civilian director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), transforming it into NGA as it is known today.

In 2003, Clapper and other leaders in the community recognized a need to bring together government, industry, academia, professional organizations, and individuals to advance the GEOINT tradecraft in support of national security. In early 2004, USGIF was founded.

“The way the Foundation has grown and flourished has tremendous outreach for industry, and what it does with and for young people is phenomenal,” Clapper said. “That’s something that’s so important to me now because the most important asset of the Intelligence Community and NGA is people, and we need to keep bringing people into the organization.”

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