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Clapper: New imagery companies could complement, but not replace what intel agencies need

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, urged the government to use caution before relying too heavily on new commercial satellite imagery companies.

ORLANDO, Fla. – James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said the intelligence community has likely not taken full advantage of products from a flurry of new commercial satellite imagery companies.

How the intelligence community, and specifically the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, uses imagery from a series of startup commercial satellite companies is an issue the agency has been working through for years.

During a question-and-answer session here May 17, Clapper said the government needs a “complementary partnership” between the intelligence community and satellite imagery companies. The National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates the country’s spy satellites, should focus on “government-only functions,” he said, and the intelligence community should “use what’s available commercially as a supplement.”

Marcel Lettre, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, conveyed a similar message during a speech here May 16.

Clapper also cautioned about relying too heavily upon the new imagery companies, some of which have put restrictions on how their data can be used.

“We have to be very careful about how much dependence we put on commercial when commercial concerns are dictated by profit” and not government interests, he said.

Clapper also acknowledged the government’s pace of change is slower than industry often wants.

“Have we taken mass advantage (of the satellite companies)? Probably not,” he said. “We’re the government after all.”

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Clapper: New imagery companies could complement, but not replace what intel agencies need

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