Friday, December 09, 2005


As I began posting information related to Jamaat ul-Fuqra, I posted a disclaimer noting that my information was being gathered from open sources. I said that not only did bloggers have power to inform as citizen journalists, but to become a better informed citizenry themselves. In addition to that, I said that bloggers who post information, including investigative research, in an open source venue could serve as “virtual tipsters” or informants because the government -- while its investigative abilities are vast -- is not omnipresent and all-knowing.

I wanted to write this post to further discuss the value, uses, opinions, history, future and sources related to open source intelligence.

A number of disciplines comprise the information used by the intelligence community. They include ELINT (Electronic Intelligence), SIGINT (Signals Intelligence), COMINT (Communications Intelligence), MASINT (Measurements & Signatures Intelligence), IMINT (Imagery Intelligence), HUMINT (Human Intelligence), and OSINT (Open Source Intelligence). Agencies employ analysts in each of these fields as well as all-source analysts who help put the puzzle pieces together.

OSINT actually accounts for a large majority of the information that is collected (some say 80-90%), but it receives a miniscule amount of the funding (as little as 1% according to one source).

The 9/11 Commission recommended in its report that the CIA should create a new division or “Open Source Agency” that would report to the Director for National Intelligence.

On November 8, 2005, they announced just that, and the birth of The DNI Open Source Center took place. Pajamas Media covered the story here. The Department of Defense is also stepping up its domestic surveillance activities, which does make sense when you consider that there are foreign supported organizations (like JF) operating here.

It is imperative that the value of open source information be properly recognized.

China has recognized this and even published a book on how to exploit available scientific and technical information. A review of the document by the (U.S.) National Counterintelligence Executive had this to say, “One of the most startling revelations in Sources and Techniques is the extent to which the Chinese military and defense industries rely on open-source information, particularly US and British, for weapons modernization.”

We also know from daily news reports that that terrorist groups use the internet to communicate in chat rooms and message boards, and to post information about their activities, etc. This is open source information that can be exploited.

The GWOT is changing the way intelligence agencies do business. Many of the traditional sources and covert collection methods still work, but they must be accompanied and complimented by new sources and methods.

Consider newspapers. The average citizen can sit in their living room and read online newspapers from Singapore to Zimbabwe. That would have been impossible 20 years ago.

Also, the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is becoming more common. People are using openly available mapping and imagery to display information. Some software that has been around for years requires a little more technical skill to fully utilize. Google Earth is among one of the most recent and more simple to use programs. With its features download placemark and datalink files created by other users, you can find everything from historical stormtracks of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico to live traffic cams in Germany.

Now, with the emergence of bloggers, a new component is added to the mix. A distributed network of observers, citizens, researchers, professionals, academics, dissidents, soldiers, engineers, photographers, and so on can openly report information from anywhere in the world. This can only be advantageous to the intelligence community.

Fellow blogger New Victorian put it this way:

...the next great intelligence network is the blogosphere. Millions of people, distributed all over the world, sharing information rapidly at little or no cost, putting the bits they know and hear together to form new patterns, to notice things that seem out of place.
Just yesterday, the RAND Corporation published a report on “State and Local Intelligence in the War on Terrorism." The abstract: “Examines how state and local law enforcement agencies conducted and supported counterterrorism intelligence activities after 9/11. The report analyzes data from a 2002 survey of law enforcement preparedness in the context of intelligence, shows how eight local law enforcement agencies handle intelligence operations, and suggests ways that the job of gathering and analyzing intelligence might best be shared among federal, state, and local agencies.”

I searched the report to see how open source information played into all this. Page 65 says this:

Internet searches are an important source of information for local police, and they are conducted frequently (62 percent of the local law enforcement agencies surveyed reported using the internet as an information source). The utility of the FBI weekly intelligence bulletin is less certain. [9] It is used frequently but is considered less useful by some. One respondent indicated that the information is less helpful when it is not specific to a region, [10] and another that it is useful but mostly repetitive.

“Open” sources of information are used extensively by local police organizations. As one respondent explained,

About 70–80 percent of our intelligence comes from open sources—those open to the public—such as the newspaper, media, internet, public, and community. The media spends billions of dollars on information gathering. The remaining 20–30 percent comes from undercover surveillance, informants, and federal databases (which are developed from operations). Reasonable suspicion must still exist to review open sources—we can’t just review them willy-nilly. CNN is a good source because the information is often correct, unlike other stories. All information must be verified. The internet is a source that was not previously used until about five years ago. [11]
You can download the full report here.

In an article, written earlier this year by Stephen C. Mercado of the CIA, entitled, "Reexamining the Distinction Between Open Information and Secrets", Mercado states (emphasis added):
"We need to rethink the distinction between open sources and secrets. Too many policymakers and intelligence officers mistake secrecy for intelligence and assume that information covertly acquired is superior to that obtained openly. Yet, the distinction between overt and covert sources is less clear than such thinking suggests. Open sources often equal or surpass classified information in monitoring and analyzing such pressing problems as terrorism, proliferation, and counterintelligence. Slighting open source intelligence (OSINT) for secrets, obtained at far greater expense when available at all, is no way to run an intelligence community. Also, we must put to rest the notion that the private sector is the preferred OSINT agent. In the end, I would contend, the Intelligence Community (IC) needs to assign greater resources to open sources."
As for his comment regarding the "notion that the private sector is the preferred OSINT agent," I make no claims of advantage over intelligence professionals. My goal, especially with regard to the information I've published on Jamaat ul-Fuqra, is to simply report what I've found out and disseminate that with the knowledge that fellow citizens AND government professionals may read it. And, having monitored recent traffic to this blog, I can attest, government professionals are reading it.

In conclusion, I have listed some additional reading material that may be of use to readers (and fellow bloggers) interested in open source intelligence.

Additional reading:

Review Essay. Richard S. Friedman. "Open Source Intelligence," PARAMETERS, US Army War College Quarterly, Summer 1998, pp. 159-165.

Article. Stephen C. Mercado. "Open–Source Intelligence From the Airwaves: FBIS Against the Axis, 1941-1945," Studies in Intelligence, Fall-Winter 2001. Center for the Study of Intelligence, CIA.

Article. Stephen C. Mercado. "A Venerable Source in a New Era: Sailing the Sea of OSINT in the Information Age." Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 48, No. 3, 2004. Center for the Study of Intelligence, CIA.

Article. Herman L. Croom. "The Exploitation of Foreign Open Sources." Studies in Intelligence, Summer 1969.

NATO Open Source Intelligence Handbook (PDF via
NATO Open Source Intelligence Reader (PDF via
NATO Intelligence Exploitation of the Internet (PDF via

Global Voices

Pajamas Media


Always On Watch said...

And, having monitored recent traffic to this blog, I can attest, government professionals are reading it.

This is so good to learn!

I believe that bloggers can "make a difference," but the governmental authorities need to do their job. We bloggers can provide some valuable info, if only law-enforcement will recognize that fact. Furthermore, as I see it, we citizens have the civic duty to keep our eyes open.

Peakah said...

Thank you very much for the email alerting me to this post... it is fascinating! You warned me when you wrote that I'd might find this interesting... You got that right... nice work!

The Blog o sphere being only in its infancy has potential to become a powerful force in the protection of our neighborhoods if utilized and organized.

Starting in January a group of us Nevada bloggers will be doing pretty much just that as we all team together to create a portal for conservative minded Nevadans. It will be interesting to watch its evolution...

Thanks for the post my friend, I'll pass it on...