The New Political Economy of Geographical Intelligence

Jeremy W. Crampton, Susan M. Roberts, Ate Poorthuis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


A troubling new political economy of geographical intelligence has emerged in the United States over the last two decades. The contours of this new political economy are difficult to identify due to official policies keeping much relevant information secret. The U.S. intelligence community increasingly relies on private corporations, working as contractors, to undertake intelligence work, including geographical intelligence (formally known as GEOINT). In this article we first describe the geography intelligence "contracting nexus" consisting of tens of thousands of companies (including those in the geographical information systems and mapping sector), universities and nonprofits receiving Department of Defense and intelligence agency funding. Second, we discuss the "knowledge nexus" to conceptualize how geographical knowledge figures in current U.S. intelligence efforts, themselves part of the U.S. war on terror and counterinsurgency (COIN). To analyze the contracting nexus we compiled and examined extensive data on military and intelligence contracts, especially those contracts awarded by the country's premier geographical intelligence agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), for satellite data. To analyze the knowledge nexus we examined recent changes in the type of geographical knowledges enrolled in and produced by the U.S. intelligence community. We note a shift from an emphasis on areal and cultural expertise to a focus on calculative predictive spatial analysis in geographical intelligence. Due to a lack of public oversight and accountability, the new political economy of geographical intelligence is not easy to research, yet there are reasons to be troubled by it and the violent surveillant state it supports.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-214
Number of pages19
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Susan M. Roberts acknowledges the support of the University of Turku, Finland, and the Fulbright Program. We would like to acknowledge valuable feedback received from colleagues at the University of Turku, University of Oulu, University of Tampere, University of Amsterdam, University of Wageningen, the Turku School of Economics, Columbus State University, and Harvard University, who heard presentations based on versions of this article. The authors thank the anonymous referees and the Editor, whose critical comments and advice were very helpful in sharpening the argument.


  • National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
  • geographical intelligence
  • geographical knowledge
  • government contracting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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