Political Intelligence


Has Open Source Intelligence Arrived?

Philadelphia, PA July 25th, 2007 -- Unfortunately I had other conflicting engagements and so I was unable to attend the much vaunted OSINT Conference in Washington, DC, but the usual suspects slated to speak have nothing new to offer, and precious little to show for the taxpayer investment. Arnaud de Borchgrave wrote a good, right wing coverage of the event more lamenting the end of news bureaus than the potential of OSINT:

"WASHINGTON, July 24 (UPI) -- President John F. Kennedy once said he got "far more out of the New York Times than the CIA." Those were the days when major U.S. newspapers and the three networks maintained foreign bureaus staffed by prize-winning foreign correspondents all over the world.

In those halcyon days, Open Source Intelligence, or OSINT in the espionage vernacular, could be culled from highly knowledgeable foreign correspondents, many of them scholars who had written books about the history and culture of their wide-ranging beats. No more. At the end of World War II there were 2,500 U.S. foreign correspondents; today there are fewer than 250.

Newspapers, magazines and networks -- victims of both a weak dollar and corporate bottom-line bean counters -- have cut back foreign news coverage to the point where it no longer qualifies as OSINT. ABC slashed its staff foreign correspondents from 37 in the 1970s to four, according to veteran newsman Ted Koppel. Once over lightly foreign reporting -- with the exception of major events like wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and 20-minute TV magazine pieces -- is not what the Intelligence Community sees as OSINT. Reporters are now increasingly "parachuted" into hot stories abroad for a few days and then home to avoid exorbitant hotels bills.

A recent two-day Washington conference on OSINT organized by Eliot Jardines, assistant deputy director of national intelligence for open source, brought 1,200 people together from 40 countries. It was a mix of media, academia, business and IC.

All facets of OSINT were discussed, notably the constant drama of constant trivia that has afflicted U.S. media since the end of the Cold War (e.g., almost two years of O.J. Simpson that kept America's collective eye off the international ball; infamous skater Tonya Harding, who got more airtime in a comparable news period than the fall of the Berlin Wall that collapsed the Soviet empire; Congressman Gary Condit, whose affair with a murdered staffer was dislodged by Osama Bin Laden and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks; Paris Hilton, whose mind-numbing, one-hour interview on "Larry King Live" reminded the millions who watched that addle-brained celebrity has now displaced merit-based fame).

For obvious reasons, open source information is no longer the traditional collection from open sources. This aspect of the intelligence business has become infinitely more complex. There are now 26,000 individual newspapers in the world that have to be monitored because one or two of them might contain a piece or two of a global terrorist puzzle. To complete the global Tower of Babel babble, there are 26,000 radio stations; 21,000 TV stations; 108 million Web sites; 75 million blogs; 56 million MySpace squatters; 100 million hits a day on YouTube; 8,000 news and information portals; 200 million photos on flickr.com, increasing at the rate of 5,000 per minute; 45,000 daily podcasts; and 2.5 million Web-enabled devices.

The pipe input into the Internet doubles every six months. Daily some 627 petabytes crisscross the globe on the Internet (one petabyte equals 1,024 terabytes, or 2 to the 50th power, which comes out to 1,125,899,906,842,624). That's several thousand times the entire contents of the Library of Congress -- every day.

Cold War problems were a lead-pipe cinch next to today's counter-terrorism challenges. As Tom Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, put it, "For almost half a century it was a question of what do we do to keep nations on our side and what we do to pry the others away." Now the IC has 15 minutes to supply answers to immediate questions. Decisions will be made whether IC can weigh in or not. The magnitude of the challenge can be gauged by the inexperience of many analysts hired since the Sept. 11 attacks. Half of some 45,000 analysts in 16 intelligence agencies (total personnel just under 100,000) have less than five years of experience. They were part of the explosive growth of the IC post-Sept. 11.

Now the IC needs to tell its political masters something critically important they didn't know, which is a lot more than Googling a profile for a living or checking a Wiki entry. OSINT supplies the deeper knowledge that provides real insight into why, for example, a 21-year-old French Muslim living in the Paris suburb of St. Denis, whose grandparents were born in Algeria, found his way to Iraq to fight Americans and returned to France to set up a terrorist cell. A French professor who specializes in Islam would have access to such a youngster now in prison in France, not the CIA station chief in Paris.

With OSINT, the IC wants to make accessibility a normal way of doing business. Too many things are stamped Top Secret, Secret or Classified that don't need to be. Even newspaper clippings sent from one Intel agency to another have wound up classified.

OSINT is now a matter of consulting the best experts available. A Cold War National Intelligence Estimate used to take 480 days to reach agreement among 16 agencies. It is now down to 80 days -- still far too long, says DNI Adm. Mike McConnell.

As Mary Margaret Graham, deputy DNI for collection, says, "Open Source is a discipline of collection, not intelligence per se, but an enabler of intelligence." The Center for Strategic & International Studies, where this reporter dwells as a senior adviser, has just published the findings of a one-year experiment in "Open Source as a Force Multiplier in Intelligence."

CSIS' Transnational Threats Project, which this writer directs, recruited 15 experts on Islamist extremism in Europe from the Middle East (including Israel), North Africa, Europe, the United States and Canada, and networked them 24/7 with a state-of-the-art, electronic collaborative software tool. They were known as TIN members -- for Trusted Information Network.

With a budget of less than half a million dollars, Tom Sanderson, who moderated the TIN, and his deputy Jacqueline Harned, proved such a network can produce material inaccessible to the IC. It can be used for myriad problems requiring expert illumination.

Commented Eliot Jardines, open source director for the Intelligence Community, "Why collect clandestinely what we can get from Open Source?" Why indeed. When Jardines came aboard ODNI in 2005, with his deputy Sabra Horne, senior adviser for outreach, they had a blank slate. They then decided to gather open source expertise from academia, media, corporations, the IC, the military and government. The Washington OS conference more than met everyone's expectations."

Reading between the lines you see that Eliot Jardines, like his mentor and promoter Rep. Simmons is on his way out, and the real spooks want the intelligence world back out of the hands of contractors and publishers. UPI and other failing news bureaus had the opportunity to become the OSINT leaders back in 2005 and blew it. The amateur spooks, (over 100,000 of them Arnaud) were recruited as a knee jerk spending spree, in the aftermath of 9/11 and to find WMD's in Iraq. These DHS/DOD contracts are HUGE!

To pay for these excess the US has borrowed over a trillion dollars from potential adversaries, and robbed every social security budget it can find. Now with Baby Boomers retiring someone has to account for the huge amounts of money used in the name of the War on Terrorism, and pay the benefits these 79,000,000 voters expect. The result will be the gutting of these private, and innovative concepts of intelligence gathering, and the emergence of a much slimmer intelligence community in the years ahead.

What Arnaud de Borchgrave does not say is the failing news networks have been replaced by 49,000,000 Blogs and thousands on electronic news releases, including from al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and every media savvy terrorist organization on the planet. We don't have a shortage of raw intelligence, we have an overload. The "filtered" crap on TV News and biased newspapers is political entertainment, not OSINT.

But the Washington, DC elite think they know best, and the next terrorist attack will take them by surprise, as did Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, Korea, 9/11 and Iraq. Want to know about the latest top secret Chinese submarines, see the FAS (Federation of American Scientists) web site, or Google the photos from the satellite. Don't bother asking the Washington, DC Intelligence Agencies, they don't know!

The other problem is "When is a Journalist a Spy", which I have criticized many of the vocal renderings of the volatile Robert Steele in wanting to make every citizen an OSINT Spy for the military. They shoot you for that in most countries. If that French Professor who specializes in Islam interrogates a student in Paris, and that information goes directly to a military operation, or government intelligence operation in a foreign country, the international lawyers will tell you that the French professor is on very thin ice. An FBI Agent, in co-operation with the French Authorities, and at their request is one thing, but amateur spooks, with no diplomatic cover is a recipe for jail time.

OSINT, handled properly has such potential. But it is not what Eliot Jardines would like it to be, the replacement for the CIA. Sorry Eliot, start running up your blog again, your time is running out, unless you can come up with some spectacular results before the end of 2008.

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