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IMINT (Imagery Intelligence)

IMINT (Imagery Intelligence)

IMINT, or imagery intelligence, is one of the four major branches of intelligence, along with HUMINT, MASINT, and SIGINT (human, measurement and signatures, and signals intelligence respectively). Formerly known as photographic intelligence, or PHOTINT, IMINT is derived from photography, infrared sensors, synthetic aperture radar, and other forms of imaging technology. It was this wealth of imagery sources and techniques that influenced the shift in terminology from PHOTINT to IMINT during the 1970s.

Collection platforms for IMINT have ranged from surveillance balloons, employed from the time of the French Revolution onward, to satellites such as those of the KH or KEYHOLE series. In addition to KEYHOLE, CORONA, and other satellite systems employed by U.S. intelligence, there are satellites that are not obviously tasked for intelligence gathering. Aircraft, both manned and unmanned, have long served in the mission of gathering IMINT. These range from the B-17 Flying Fortress of World War II to the U-2, in use since the 1950s, to Pioneer Unmanned Aerial Vehicles used in the Persian Gulf War.

Once gathered, imagery has to be transmitted to processing centers, most of which are in Washington, D.C. Technicians at the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC), the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), and other such units are highly skilled at studying photographs taken from high altitudes or from space. From these images, many of which would be extremely difficult for the layperson to interpret in even the most basic sense, imagery technicians can discern information on the movement of troops and materiel, or other enemy activities.



Imagery Intelligence. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 1996.

Krepon, Michael. Commercial Observation Satellites and International Security. New York: St. Martin's, 1990. Richelson, Jeffrey T. The U.S. Intelligence Community, fourth edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999.


Imagery Intelligence. Federation of American Scientists. <> (April 3, 2003).


Balloon Reconnaissance, History
Geospatial Imagery
NIMA (National Imagery and Mapping Agency)
Persian Gulf War
Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC), United States National
Photography, High-Altitude
Satellites, Spy
U-2 Spy Plane
Vietnam War

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