Monday, December 10, 2007

Open Source Intelligence: Issues For Congress (CRS)

The good people at OpenCRS have made a December 5, 2007 report on OSINT available to the public on their website. The report contains quite a bit of good background info including a summary of the debate on the value of open source to the intelligence community. According to the report, while "Intelligence professionals generally agree that open source information is useful", there are three main positions within the community with regard to the true value of open source information:

  • "The first holds that policymakers simply derive less value from such information than from clandestinely-collected secrets."
  • "The second view asserts that open source information should be viewed not only as an important contextual supplement to classified data, but also as a potential source of valuable intelligence, in and of itself."
  • "Proponents of the third view adopt a “middle-ground” position, arguing that open source information probably will never provide the “smoking gun” about some issue or threat, but that it can be instrumental in helping analysts to better focus or “drive” clandestine collection activities by first identifying what is truly secret. Open sources therefore should be viewed as an analyst’s “source of first resort.”
Also of interest are the laundry list of current obstacles to analysts trying to using open source and the recent history of criticism of the community's failure to use open source more extensively (it is a lengthy parade of horribles...). Probably of most interest is the list of things the CRS mentions that Congress could do to help the open source movement. These include, according to the report:
  • "One way is to examine specific budget areas in which spending on open source currently can be identified."
  • "Another opportunity occurs when the DNI submits to congressional intelligence committees an annual report reviewing analytical products. Arguably, these annual reports should address the use of open source information. However, oversight committees could ask for additional information on open source utilization if needed."
  • " approach that might be considered in some situations would be a request for an alternative analysis of a specified topic solely based on open sources in order to compare it with all-source analyses." (Note: I'll do it!)
  • "Some may argue that Congress should consider an amendment to copyright law that would cover the open source efforts of intelligence agencies. Removing uncertainty of the extent of copyright would facilitate open source efforts and facilitate the widest possible use of the information by public officials."
  • "Some have proposed making the Open Source Center a component of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) while essentially retaining its current roles and missions."
    • "The advantage of placing the NOSC directly under the DNI would be to enhance the prestige of the open source discipline by raising its profile, fencing the funding, and ensuring its independence from shifting priorities within the CIA where human intelligence collection inevitably makes heavy and continuing demands on senior officials."
    • "Placing the NOSC within the ODNI could also facilitate the NOSC’s ability to support law enforcement agencies and state, local, and tribal entities." (Note: Good point.)
  • "A more radical, approach would be to establish an Open Source Agency completely outside the Intelligence Community (in addition to the existing Open Source Center). The goal would be to provide open source information not just to intelligence analysts but to all elements of the Federal Government including congressional committees." (Note: The basis for the PIA -- Public Intelligence Agency. Where do I sign up?)

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