Open source intelligence is a unique artifact of the intelligence community, and because of that the U.S. government’s Open Source Center is something that many people can not quite understand.
Most people view any intelligence organization as dark and secretive, with not only closed doors, but locks and bars over those doors. This isn’t actually an accurate representation of what constitutes a real intelligence organization.
What is Open Source Intelligence?
When most people imagine what methods an intelligence agency uses to gather intelligence, the movie-inspired image of a James Bond-like figure lurking and sneaking around in foreign lands, and infiltrating foreign government agencies and organizations, is the first thing that comes to mind.
The truth is, the intelligence community uses a wide range of sources to gather information. These sources are identified as follows.
- ->SIGINT – Signals Intelligence
- ->IMINT – Imagery Intelligence
- ->MASINT – Measurement and Signature Intelligence
- ->HUMINT – Human-Source Intelligence
- ->OSINT – Open Source Intelligence
- ->GEOINT – Geospatial Intelligence
The “James Bond” notion comes from HUMINT, where there may be agents in the field that seek to collect foreign intelligence. However, as you can see there are many other forms of incoming intelligence that get incorporated into the entire Intelligence infrastructure.
“Finished Intelligence” is information that is produced after multiple sources of intelligence are collected and considered. The five categories of finished intelligence include current intel, estimative intel, warning intel, research intel and scientific and technical intel.
How OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) Works
Open Source intelligence is the area of the intelligence community that, for obvious reasons, the public most often encounters, without even realizing it. Agents from the intelligence organizations regularly peruse the net, social networks, chat rooms and forums in order to gather information just as you would if you were sitting at home and looking for information on Google. While they may visit those sites that are generally accessible to the public, often agents must dig into the “hidden internet” in order to access the intelligence data that really matters.
The “hidden internet” is called so because due to how the information is stored – in a database, behind a form-driven directory or through some other search-query script, Google can not access the information during regular “crawler” updates. There is much information that is not “crawled” or archived by Google.
Additionally – other sources of information may not be SEO optimized, and end up obscured at the bottom of Google results. Even though open sources are unclassified and available for anyone to access – many times relevant information is not easily accessible because the creators of that information may not be skilled or trained in search engine optimization. To solve this problem, and to make accessing relevant and important information easier, the U.S. intelligence community uses the Open Source Intelligence repository.
The Open Source Intelligence Repository
The Open Source Intelligence repository is essentially a giant database filled with publicly available information that has been collected, filtered and organized to contain only valid and credible sources and information. It was created in response to calls from congress that the intelligence community needs to pay more attention to publicly available data. The 2007 CRS Report for Congress stated:
“Responding to legislative direction, the Intelligence Community has established the position of Assistant Director of National Intelligence for Open Source and created the National Open Source Center. The goal is to perform specialized OSINT acquisition and analysis functions and create a center of excellence that will support and encourage all intelligence agencies.”
It seems clear that the expansion and quality of information on the Internet has many within the government recognizing the clear value of the Internet as an Intelligence gathering tool.
According to the login instructions:
“Accounts are available to US federal, state and local government employees and contractors.”
However, if you are a journalist you can access the database through the World News Connection where you can subscribe to access information from the OSC. The WNC describes itself as follows.
“An extremely valuable research tool for anyone who needs to monitor non-U.S. media sources, the material in WNC is provided to the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) by the Open Source Center (OSC). Analysts from OSC domestic and overseas bureaus monitor timely and pertinent open-source materials.
WNC is the only news service that allows you to take advantage of the intelligence gathering experience of OSC.”
It’s important to keep in mind that while the OSC data is organized for you – you can just as easily collect and analyze the data yourself by seeking out underground search engines, RSS feeds and directories where the libraries of data is stored. While it may take more time to seek out and locate the “hidden internet” yourself, if you take that time it also means that you won’t be receiving a filtered version of that data.
It is “open source” after all, so while the OSC may save time for federal employees in finding information, it’s also important to keep in mind that you will only have access to the intelligence that the OSC has identified.
Here at Top Secret Writers, we continue to seek out new repositories of open source information, such as declassified government documents and databases, and deliver that information to you in the form of relevant and timely blog updates. If you collect open source information from the net, be sure to subscribe to our RSS feed.Originally published on TopSecretWriters.com