Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Benefits of Open Source Intelligence - OSINT

Surprisingly, Forbes, the homepage for the world's business leaders -- and wannabe ones -- has a well written article on Open Source Intelligence you might find informative :

"How can we use this to reform intelligence? I suggest we create a national Open Source Agency. Half of the money earmarked for the agency would go toward traditional intelligence work. The other half would provide for 50 state-wide Citizen Intelligence Networks, including a 24/7 watch center, where citizens can both obtain and input information. We could establish new emergency intelligence phone numbers--think 119 instead of 911--allowing any housewife, cab driver or delivery boy to contribute to our national security. All they have to do is be alert, and if they see something, take a cell phone photograph and send it in with a text message. If three different people notice the same suspicious person taking photographs of a nuclear plant, for instance, it could be hugely important. The system could even evolve to automatically mobilize emergency workers or warn citizens. Imagine if after people alerted the network about a roadside car bomb, it automatically sent text messages to every phone in the immediate area, warning people to stay away."

Collective intelligence, wisdom of crowds -- Web users were supposed to virtually patrol the U.S border once -- all is driving Web 2.0, trouble is so is paranoia, and all paranoid people need is a platform to spread it further, but the article emphasises on how educated citizens can be the best defense. The benefits of OSINT according the CIA themselves are based on :

Speed: When a crisis erupts in some distant part of the globe, in an area where established intelligence assets are thin, intelligence analysts and policymakers alike will often turn first to the television set and Internet.

Quantity: There are far more bloggers, journalists, pundits, television reporters, and think-tankers in the world than there are case officers. While two or three of the latter may, with good agents, beat the legions of open reporters by their access to secrets, the odds are good that the composite bits of information assembled from the many can often approach, match, or even surpass the classified reporting of the few.

Quality: As noted above, duped intelligence officers at times produce reports based on newspaper clippings and agent fabrications. Such reports are inferior to open sources untainted by agent lies.

Clarity: An analyst or policymaker often finds even accurate HUMINT a problem. For example, when an officer of the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence (DI), reads a report on a foreign leader based on “a source of unproven reliability,” or words to that effect, the dilemma is clear. Yet, the problem remains with a report from a “reliable source.” Who is that? The leader’s defense minister? The defense minister’s brother? The mistress of the defense minister’s brother’s cousin? The DI analyst will likely never know, for officers of the Directorate of Operations (DO) closely guard their sources and methods. This lack of clarity reportedly contributed, for example, to the Iraqi WMD debacle in 2002-03. The DO reportedly described a single source in various ways, which may have misled DI analysts into believing that they had a strong case built on multiple sources for the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. With open information, sources are often unclear. With secrets, they almost always are.

Ease of use: Secrets, hidden behind classifications, compartments, and special access programs, are difficult to share with policymakers and even fellow intelligence officers. All officials may read OSINT.

Cost: A reconnaissance satellite, developed, launched, and maintained at a cost of billions of dollars, can provide images of a weapons factory’s roof or a submarine’s hull. A foreign magazine, with an annual subscription cost of $100, may include photographs of that factory’s floor or that submarine’s interior

Meanwhile, Intelligence analysts are putting efforts into sharing their data, data mining the web and social networking sites which is both, cost-effective and can greatly act as an early warning system for important events. Despite technological innovations, a blogger in an adversary's country can often unknowingly act as a HUMINT source of first-hand information -- looking for democracy minded individuals breaking through regimes through malware is yet another possibility. Tracking down terrorist propaganda and communications on the Internet has already reached the efficiency level mainly because of the use of open source intelligence and web crawling the known bad neighborhoods ever since 2001.

Related resources and posts:
IP cloaking and competitive intelligence/disinformation
Terrorist Social Network Analysis