IMINT is a product of imagery analysis. Imagery includes representations of objects reproduced electronically or by optical means on film, electronic display devices, or other media. Imagery can be derived from visual photography, radar sensors, infrared sensors, lasers, and electro-optics. IMINT includes the exploitation of data to detect, classify, and identify objects or organizations. It can be produced from either hard- or soft-copy (digital) imagery. Hard-copy imagery is synonymous with film, while soft-copy imagery is displayed on electronic terminals. Both types of imagery sources can be analyzed and interpreted for various purposes by different users.
At one time, the imagery intelligence threat was largely restricted to the former Soviet Union and later to the Russian Federation. This is no longer true. The proliferation of space-based imagery systems permits much greater use of imagery products by nations that previously did not have access to them. Currently, imagery can be purchased from a variety of sensors.
These systems include the Land satellite multispectral imagery (MSI) system operated by the United States, the French SPOT MSI and pan-chromatic imaging system, the European Space Agency’s ERS-1 synthetic aperture radar imaging system, and the Japanese JERS-1 multi-sensor imager. Additionally, the Russians are selling 2 meters or better imagery from their space-based reconnaissance systems. The commercial imagery market is likely to continue to grow at an exponential rate, and additional collection systems are currently being developed.
Imagery also has limitations. Except for synthetic aperture radar, imagery quality is normally degraded by darkness and adverse weather. This allows the targeted organization to use these periods of time to conduct activities that they wish to go unobserved.
If an organization is aware that it is being targeted by imagery systems, they can use camouflage, concealment, and deception (CC & D) techniques to obscure their activities or provide a misleading image to the observing party. Effective use of CC & D may result in the adversary drawing erroneous conclusions about the observed organization’s capabilities and activities. Finally, imagery intelligence collection usually requires a technologically oriented infrastructure. While this requirement may be lessened to some extent in the future, effective use of imagery will still require well educated, technically competent analysts a capability that may be beyond adversaries.