OSINT & The Cult of Secrecy
Washington, DC. Dec 16th, 2005 ---- The Washington Intelligence Community can't get past their obsession with the Cult of Secrecy when it comes to Open Source Intelligence, even at corporate level. It is this Cult of Secrecy that has led to thousands of Americans being killed or maimed in Iraq and in conflicts around the world.
I usually agree with Robert Steele from OSS, but in a paper with Mark Lowenthal called "Open Source Intelligence: Private Sector Capabilities to Support DoD Policy, Acquisitions, Operations" the following statement got me hot under the collar:
"Security. The OSINT provider's key personnel must hold Top Secret SI/TK clearances, and be eligible for any compartmented clearances as required. Individual sources can hold SI/TK, Top Secret, and SECRET clearances--or no clearance at all--and this qualification can be treated similarly to language and subject matter qualifications. The OSINT provider should serve many clients and provide DoD client with the same kind of obscurity and discretion that a bank provides its most valued private accounts. The OSINT provider should have a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) in its building and have Intel-Link and STU-III connectivity as desired. By using fully cleared personnel for the requirements process, and then balancing between in-house and sub-contract personnel who are not privy to the identity of the client and are also operating under non-disclosure contracts, the OSINT provider can fully protect the client's equities. When finding an expert (or several experts) to respond to a particular requirement, the OSINT provider should not reveal the requirement to the expert or contract with the expert until the client has reviewed a resume of the expert's qualifications and approved employment of the expert for the specific requirement."
I do wish retired CIA people would realize that the Cult of Secrecy, especially Compartmentalized Secrecy leads to the massive repetitive Intelligence Failures that have killed more Americans and British than the Soviet Union ever did. Anyway Open Source Intelligence is about unclassified intelligence gathering, and the only purpose to make the collection individuals get SI/TK clearances is if you are going to "Modify" or "Fabricate" the findings to further your agenda and lie to the American public. For a classic case study look no further than Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans.
There is absolutely NO case where the OSINT provider needs any security clearance. Later analysis by the client may, to present a policy case, but never should the private sector need to insist on security clearances for their employees. Now in and around Washington DC there are mushrooming Mercenaries who act as quasi-military intelligence gatherers. They are not OSINT but merely directed agents of the military. When OSINT is deliberately targeted towards an end use for military purposes, then it ceases to be OSINT.
For example OSINT is used by a pharmaceutical manufacturer to watch development of say Heart medications around the world, and the progress of XYZ corporation with their competing range of drugs. The end purpose is to develop a research plan, followed by a marketing plan to sell the product to the maximum number of outlets, at the best price, to get maximum profits.
The collection of targeted information on Al Qaeda's leaders so as to allow CIA Agents to fire missiles at them and kill them, and anyone in the vicinity is not OSINT. By definition that is an act of war, and if legitimate the intelligence must have been gained for military purposes.
Does the secrecy doctrine mean that all CNN employees must have Top Secret clearances? The CIA seems to have gathered most of the breaking news on international events from watching CNN. OSINT and Newsrooms are handling the same raw material, from the same sources.
So just as the Pentagon gets information from unclassified, non security cleared newsrooms, the same must apply to OSINT information for it to be effective. The collector need not know, in fact should not know the end use of the product. Any other rationale means the collector acts as a filter, and may inadvertently ignore the most valuable piece of information, because they were not part of the compartmentalized cell who knew of the importance of that item. For proof look at the bundling incompetence of the FBI and CIA during the years and months before 9/11.
Furthermore it may come as a huge shock to the cloistered military intelligence people but the US public know about Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the attacks on US interests around the world. Surprise, Surprise! If a OSINT analyst sees a message on a website that indicates an attack on the US he will react the same regardless of the FBI snooping into his sexual preferences. But many of the best and brightest linguists won't pass a security check in a hundred years. OSINT networks should not be concerned what these translators do in their bedrooms, but hundreds of our best linguists have been booted out of the intelligence community for being Gay. And guess what, we have a desperate shortage of linguists!
OSINT Centers should supply knowledge to the clients. The ability to monitor weird languages, dialects and sources should be part of the process. The people who do this and translate are of absolutely no concern of the end user or client. Trust and reliability are the key factors. Security clearances have nothing what so ever to do with trust or reliability. Ask John Walker, Pollard or Hansen.
Let's keep OSINT Open, and not have it rendered impotent by the Military and Intelligence Community. With $44,000,000,000 a year to spend they need to try and find Bin Laden. Maybe a private OSINT company can find his website for them, and find where Network Solutions sends his renewal reminders. But then the private company wouldn't have a Top Secret clearance so the knowledge wouldn't be valid. It's better to beat the crap out of a frozen shackled prisoner and get the information your bosses require. Can't trust these private successful OSINT providers.