OSINT - It's About Access
Washington, DC. Dec 21st, 2005 ---- The ever colorful and controversial Robert Steele Vivas gave us some great food for thought yesterday with the contents of his PR Wire News Release. It does clearly point out the differences between the bureaucratic and the knowledge based approach to creating actionable intelligence, and I thank Robert for focusing on them. In his News Release Steele said:
"There are a number of pretenders who claim they can demystify, explain, and perform OSINT for the private sector as well as federal, state, and local governments, but the reality is that only one organization, OSS.Net, Inc., has devoted seventeen years to educating the world on this topic; has 30,000 pages of free information about OSINT on its web site; has actually written the Defense Intelligence Agency, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and Special Operations Forces Open Source Intelligence Handbooks; and provides 24/7 global coverage to the U.S. military elements fighting two wars and global terrorism.
"Public relations firms and 'newsrooms' put their money into high-salaried individuals and expensive technology. Real OSINT professionals spread the money broadly over thousands of collectors, translators, and analysts."
Ouch! I would dread the thought of relying on thousands of collectors, and providing the results in more than a brief synopsis to New York Executives. I get my ass bitten now with the usual scream of "Do I buy more stock or sell the *#%@&^# company?" Top Executives and politicians don't have time to read and try and digest tens of thousands pages of pontificating diatribe. That is the problem facing the military and government. They have far too many low grade collectors, too many papers and handbooks, and not enough high level access.
A seat at the President's Daily Briefing would be worth all the poor collectors around the planet. In fact if the President too had a choice of one expensive source by the side of the Chinese leader, or a million opinionated peasants there would be a crate of used dollar bills on it's way to Beijing, and a million peasants out of work.
OSINT and Competitive Intelligence have been on the whole miserable failures these past two decades, because they either totally ignore lessons learned by governments, or try and emulate military technologies, and ally themselves with battlefield intelligence, even interrogations and information operations such as disinformation. They do not think outside of the box, and ask the question "What do we need to know, when, and where is the original source?" It's absolutely of no use to sit in a remote location, thousands of miles away from the decision makers, and wait for news of their decisions to be taken off the wire services, and printed in the local paper, then put on the Web for OSINT search engines to locate. Consider the chaos if there were thousands of collectors each getting a different, often slanted view of the world from their local media. There has to be direct access, and state of the art newsroom technology to filter out the chaff.
As Steele points out the "Newsrooms" employ highly paid professionals with access to the decision makers, as well as lots of expensive technology. We have to to keep up with the breaking news from around the world, as well as be ahead of the curve with decisions in Washington, and other Capitals. It comes as a surprise to the Grunts from the military that the people in the room at the briefings we attend are often paid over $1,000,000 a year for their knowledge, and that to even get through the door often means spending $1000 a person. But that is how Washington, London, Paris, Tokyo and soon Beijing and New Delhi work. It isn't about beating the crap out of prisoners with rubber hoses, waterboarding and the other techniques in the Intelligence Handbook.
The military used to get much of their strategic planning information through the Embassy circuit around the world. I was greatly indebted to President Reagan, and the many Ambassadors and "Diplomats" who allowed me to get a unique insight into their world when I visited the 125 US Embassies and Consulates. That is the true "Open Source Intelligence" at work for Governments. Sadly we are beginning to lose diplomatic skills, preferring to rely on threats and brute force.
The average Fortune 500 company can't drag people out of bed at 2 am in the morning and force them naked onto a human pile, or hold them underwater till they begin to drown. It has to develop more effective, and less abhorrent means of finding out intelligence. Just like investigative journalists have for hundreds of years, and do today. But yes, it is expensive and if you intend to supply 24/7 coverage you need a very sophisticated operation costing millions of dollars, the example I use most had $20 million of resources before it sent out one alert. The Federal Intelligence Budget was leaked as $44,000,000,000 this year, and employs several hundred thousand people, directly or indirectly. When you take the military intelligence, together with the other State intelligence inputs, the real intelligence budget becomes astronomical. But wait! You have to add to that the costs of the partners such as GCHQ and SIS in London, and the other Intelligence services around the world and we have a figure few can comprehend. But that is pure speculation for how can Government, and Diplomatic information be quantified in a civilian environment.
That space is outside the realms of private OSINT companies, except to yap at the heels of the government, like a frustrated Pekinese. Which brings us back to the real world, and the Newsrooms. They can monitor the same space, and use that information for journalism, or commercial purposes, such as Bloomberg, Lexis Nexis, Dow Jones, Activa and many more. The next stage from these broad based information services is to focus on a particular area and get the lead time down to as near real time as possible. This is the requirements of Hedge Funds, major corporations, and political users. A company in Cellular Radio does not want to know that you have details and drawings of the type of weapon favored by an Iranian facing off against a US Marine, but they do need to know about the thoughts of the Committee Chairman writing the Cellphone Rules. This is why we keep away from competing in the space where the government directly invests $44 Billion a year and concentrate on Washington, DC. The Army and Marines are better suited to discuss the preferences of the Iranian and his favorite weapon.
There are qualified sources, and those who like watching James Bond movies.The poor peasant in the desert outside of Addis Ababa is really of no interest to a Fortune 100 mobile radio company worrying about their billion dollar investment in what appears to be the wrong frequency band, so why include him in the process. New York Investment Managers tend to want an answer NOW! Whilst I like Steele's benevolent desire to employ the unwashed masses of the world's poor to advise and analyze Open Source information, I would far prefer sources that can stand the test of a Due Diligence hearing by nasty Lawyers. True if the military screws up on false information it can be immediately classified and covered up. In the Civilian world that is now becoming very dicey, and Federal Prosecutors are finding they can further their careers by going after those who hide financial disasters.
Anyway I gave up playing soldiers twenty five years ago. Got enough Commendations and wrote enough white papers and manuals to keep anyone happy. Didn't make any money, and didn't get to schmooze with the World's leaders. Let's let the twenty something's learn the hard lessons we learned with Military Intelligence, OSINT or Top Secret. But thank you Bob for paying for that News Release and giving us all the opportunity to have a good chuckle.