S. Korea's defense chief visits U.S. geospatial intel agency amid N.K. threats
By Song Sang-ho
WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 (Yonhap) -- Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup visited the U.S. geospatial intelligence agency near Washington, D.C. on Wednesday in a symbolic trip highlighting the need for the allies' tighter security coordination to counter North Korea's military threats.
His visit to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in Springfield, Virginia, came on the eve of the annual South Korea-U.S. defense ministerial talks, called the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), where the North's nuclear and missile threats will figure prominently.
It marks the first official trip to NGA by a South Korean defense minister.
Credited with informing a 2011 operation to kill Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, NGA is tasked with collecting, analyzing and distributing geospatial intelligence -- from spy satellites and reconnaissance aircraft to drones and other assets -- to support security and other operations.
Lee met with NGA Director Frank Whitworth, received a briefing on NGA facilities and discussed bilateral intelligence cooperation and joint efforts to deal with North Korean threats, according to Seoul's defense ministry.
"The two sides agreed to closely cooperate to continuously maintain absolute superiority vis-a-vis North Korea in the field of intelligence, which is a core element of deterrence, based on coordination between our military and NGA," the ministry said in a press release.
Lee noted Seoul's efforts to secure military satellites at the core of its Kill Chain preemptive strike system, and called for stronger cooperation with NGA in the area of satellite imagery collection and analysis.
He and Whitworth also shared intelligence regarding a barrage of North Korean missile and artillery firings Wednesday and agreed to continue close cooperation over security challenges from the North.
Whitworth took note of Lee becoming the first South Korean defense chief to visit NGA, saying the visit underscores that the allies' intelligence cooperation is being reinforced in a practical manner, according to the ministry.
The NGA chief also pointed out the monitoring of the North as a primary mission of the agency and expressed his commitment to furthering cooperation with the South Korean military.
NGA is one of the "big five" U.S. intelligence agencies, which include the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and National Reconnaissance Office.
The agency came into the international limelight in 2011, when it helped track down the Al Qaeda leader and assisted in the special military operations to storm his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and kill him.
Lee's trip to NGA came as Seoul and Washington have been stepping up security coordination amid concerns over a recent series of Pyongyang's ballistic missile launches and signs that it is all set for what would be its seventh nuclear test.
NGA has roughly 14,500 civilian, military and other employees across more than 100 locations in the United States and 20 international locations, according to its website. It is headquartered in Springfield, Virginia, and has two major locations, in St. Louis and Arnold, Missouri.
It was founded in 1996 under the name of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. In 2003, it got its current name, NGA.
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