“TPED” is an acronym that stands for “tasking, processing, exploitation, and dissemination.” There is an emerging belief that the community would be better served with a TPPU cycle that is Task, Post, Process, and Use. Some have suggested that TPED is the supply-chain management for the GEOINT Community. Alternatively, you can think of TPED as shorthand for the ensemble of people, systems, and processes that add value to a geospatial intelligence collection system. TPED is a cycle, developing raw data into finished information for policymakers to use in decision making and action. The below diagram illustrates the cyclic nature of the process:
The US Intelligence Community.
TPED is usually juxtaposed to a specific intelligence collection discipline—e.g. imagery, SIGINT, etc.—or to a specific intelligence collection asset. Thus, we speak of “tasking” an imagery reconnaissance satellite, “processing” its raw collection, “exploiting” its processed collection take, and “disseminating” the resultant information products. This may lead one to conclude that TPED is a neat, serial process.
In the United States, collection outruns processing and exploitation. More is collected than can ever be processed and exploited. Furthermore, technical collection systems have found greater favor in the executive branch and Congress than processing and exploitation. One reason for this is that collection is akin to procurement and is much more appealing than processing and exploitation. Also, collection advocates argue successfully that collection is the bedrock of intelligence. Collection also has support from the companies who build the technical collection systems and lobby for follow-on systems. Processing and exploitation are largely in-house intelligence community activities.
The current TPED problem in the United States derives largely from a domestic infatuation with Cold War high-technology intelligence. The technology is very expensive, and although intelligence spending is officially classified, many press reports quote a figure of between $28-30 billion per year prior to September 11. Regardless of the actual amounts involved, according to an unclassified breakdown of the current budget, almost two-thirds of the U.S. spending focuses on the technical collection agencies such as the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the National Security Agency (NSA). During the Cold War, money was spent on collection technology and not the supporting TPED architecture. The United States could rely on extended periods for strategic warning using the existing intelligence structure and its bureaucratic inertia, with its inherent “stovepipe” TPED. These systemic shortfalls with TPED were overcome by the IC because the enemy and our allies were clearly defined, and the links tying our intelligence architecture in place were well understood.
TPED is critical for sustaining the drive for information dominance in the United States, but the current architecture is not adequately designed to support the global war on terror. National security decision making in the United States has relied on past assessments of security versus risk when sharing intelligence with its alliance partners. This paradigm, while appropriate for the Cold War, may not work in today’s coalition-centric global war on terror, and modern information age warfare has turned the Cold War TPED model on its head. During the Cold War, intelligence reports written by tactical units were sifted and analyzed by national agencies and centralized for the benefit of national decision makers. Currently, TPED is more distributed, as the national intelligence collection systems and subject-matter expertise once dedicated to supporting a select group of national decision makers now support a vastly expanded base of coalition, theater, and tactical users as well. In the United States, the interoperability of intelligence systems supporting efforts in the global war on terror is essential for intelligence producers and consumers in a distributed worldwide network.