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New Intelligence Course Combines Expertise
James Bond movies are full of examples of the strategic use of intelligence analysis and geospatial intelligence. Those same technologies are used in everyday items such GPS or even weather updates received on a phone. JMU’s very own Dr. Tim Walton and Dr. James Wilson are coming together to bring that technology to the classroom through their class, Applications of Geographic Information Systems (GEOG 469), which focuses on the real world applications of geospatial intelligence.
The class intends to show students how they can take the skills and technologies utilized by geospatial intelligence experts within the geographic sciences and apply them to current real world themes and problems studied by the intelligence analysis community. To accomplish this goal, professors from each field of study are co-teaching this course. Walton, a former CIA analyst for 24 years, and Wilson whose background is in Geographic Science and Geospatial Analysis believe that “we bring different backgrounds to it,” explained Walton. “[Wilson] is the academic and the geographic, and I’m the former intelligence officer. We hope to give both of those perspectives to the students.”
According to Walton, the Intelligence program wanted to collaborate more with other parts of the university, and this course was a good place to do just that. It also keeps in mind the growing national need for graduates with experience in intelligence, providing students with both academic and practical skills in geospatial intelligence. This discipline is a multi-layered way of looking at the world, taking into account geographic features, man-made infrastructures, and even different cultures and political systems. “This has real intelligence value in the world,” he said. “Trying to understand Syria, China, or Korea is often times a Geospatial endeavor.”
Intelligence analysis is a synthesis of this kind of information gathered as a way to make predictions based on this data, often seen in government intelligence agencies like the CIA or the British Secret Intelligence Service. “Hopefully at the end of this course the students will have a better understanding of how those two come together,” said Wilson. “How do you apply the technology to analyze complex problems when you may not have the best data? That [knowledge] can be applied to lots of different scenarios.”
To help teach students how best to fully understand the multiple layers of a place and situation, the professors want to utilize modern examples of crisis, such as the Civil War in Syria, the threat of chemical weapons in Iran, and the dangerous drug trade across the US-Mexican border. “I like to incorporate real world examples that the students can relate to,” said Walton.
The course will focus heavily on the technologies utilized by the geospatial intelligence community, most notably GIS and spatial analysis. It will also discuss drones and satellites. “That is what drones were originally for – to look at things that it would be dangerous to send piloted aircraft to,” said Walton.
Since this course is a combination of the Geographic Science and Information Analysis programs, there is a strong focus placed on projects with teams mixed between both programs. “There is so much emphasis both in business and in the government on effective teamwork,” explains Walton. Tory Pugliese, a senior Geographic Science student, believes it’s a good idea that the course is open to students in both majors. “It gives us the opportunity to interact and share our skills and experiences gained from our own studies and apply it to the Geospatial Intelligence class discussion and projects,” she said.
As Walton put it, “this is the first time we’re going to run this class, so it’s going to be a learning experience for the professors along with the students.” Speaking on what students should take away from this course, both Walton and Wilson emphasized the appreciation of each side’s perspective, as well as many practical skills that the students can take to job interviews and eventually their future careers.
“This is a fairly rare skill,” explained Walton. “It’s valuable and there is a use for it, but not a lot of people have more than just kind of casual training.” With real world skills and experiences these students will take with them, this course is sure to be a valuable asset to anyone who has a particular interest in the intelligence community.