“There are certain infrastructure elements or entities that we can find through our sensors, but this is a real challenge to find an individual person,” Lt General James Clapper, director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) told AFP Thursday.
To an individual requires a mixture of different types of intelligence, he said. The best way of combining those elements is currently still by using spies on the ground.
Still, the agency is working on reducing reliance on man-power.
“There are some potential phenomena, scientific phenomena, technical phenomena that are being looked at in terms of the ability to track individuals through individual signatures,” he said.
“There is a lot of work being done on it that is classified that we're not real interested in revealing what the technical approach might be for fear of compromising it,” Clapper added.
NIMA, which analyses satellite photographs and makes maps, sent some 90 people to the Gulf during the Iraq conflict. It used its agents to identify targets utilising unmanned Predator drones.
The use of precision-guided munitions in the Iraq war compared with the first Gulf War placed a “high premium” on the agency's analysis of imagery and maps, he said.
In the 2003 war, about 90% of the bombs dropped were precision guided.
As the amount of imagery grows, NIMA wants to find a way to automate the recognition of what sites are, “leaving the more ambiguous challenges to the eyeball and the mind of the analyst,” he said.