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Imagery intelligence (IMINT) (also referred to as photo intelligence) is

the technical, geographic, and intelligence information derived through the interpretation or analysis of imagery and collateral materials.[1]
[i]ntelligence that 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.[2]
[i]ntelligence derived from the exploitation of collection by visual photography, infrared sensors, lasers, electro-optics, and radar sensors such as synthetic aperture radar wherein images of objects are reproduced optically or electronically on film, electronic display devices, or other media.[3]
generally considered to be a picture produced by an optical system akin to a camera, but can also refer to images that can be produced by infrared imagery and radar.[4]


IMINT, is facing profound changes. Imagery is collected in essentially three ways, satellites, manned aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The satellite program that covered the Soviet Union and acquired highly accurate intelligence concerning submarines, missiles, bombers, and other military targets is perhaps the greatest achievement of the U.S. Intelligence Community — it served as a foundation for defense planning and strategic planning that led to the end of the Cold War. In today’s environment, there is a greater number of collection targets than existed during the Cold War and more satellites are required, especially those that can be maneuvered to collect information about a variety of targets.

At the same time, the availability of high-quality commercial satellite imagery and its widespread use by federal agencies has raised questions about the extent to which coverage from the private sector can meet the requirements of intelligence agencies. High altitude UAVs such as the Global Hawk may also provide surveillance capabilities that overlap those of satellites.


  1. 10 U.S.C. §467(c).
  2. U.S. National Intelligence: An Overview 2011, Glossary of Terms, at 81.
  3. OPSEC Glossary of Terms (full-text).
  4. Congress as a Consumer of Intelligence Information, at 5 n.24.