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  • 1. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 1 WHAT ARE THE WEAKNESSES OF OPEN SOURCE INTELLIGENCE (OSINT)? LISA N. OLIVER-JOHNSON INTELLIGENCE 501 STRATEGIC INTELLIGENCE SPRING 2013 DR. RHEA SIERS AMERICAN MILITARY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF SECURITY AND GLOBAL STUDIES JULY 10, 2013
  • 2. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 2 INTRODUCTION In recent years, Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) has grown and is considered as important as other disciplines within the Intelligence Community (I.C.). Within the intelligence community, open source intelligence is destined to remain a major constituent for all-source- intelligence capabilities, including classified sources. The acknowledgment of OSINT shows through its wide use within the intelligence community, where it provides “eighty and ninety five percent of the information used by the intelligence community” (Center for Security Studies 2008, 1). However, the growing debate in how to use OSINT within the intelligence community and for national security is daunting, while others argue on how best to use the collected information. OSINT has many advocates who believe that it is the answer for the intelligence challenges during this current war era. Nevertheless, there are also non-supporters who warn supporters in the treatment of OSINT “as more than a component of a continuing, all-source approach to intelligence-gathering and analysis” (Center for Security Studies 2008, 1). The Center for Security Studies, argues, that the “evolution of the OSINT debate can be attributed to three main factors” (Center for Security Studies 2008, 1). The first factor began with the cultivation of the ‘security agenda’ within the past two decades. The Center for Security Studies, mentions that during the Cold War, “intelligence services were preoccupied with a limited number of largely state-centric challenges” (Center for Security Studies 2008, 1). Therefore, determining the intentions and capabilities of the Soviet Union was the main task of the intelligence services of Western nation-states. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the threat to the security of the United States has “multiplied and become more diverse in terms of their agents and nature” (Center for Security Studies 2008, 1). These threats range from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to intra-state conflicts, illegal immigration, energy security, fragile
  • 3. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 3 or failed states, and organized crime. Therefore, what the intelligence community currently has to deal with has broadened immensely. RESEARCH QUESTION(s) AND PURPOSE STATEMENT The research questions are what are the weaknesses of open source intelligence? Should open source intelligence become the foundation of secret disciplines within the intelligence community? How should open source intelligence be processed, collected, analyzed, and disseminated? Is there room for open source intelligence reform? Therefore, the purpose of this research is to present a hypothesis that will prove the weaknesses in open source intelligence and the need for reform. The author will do this by putting forth ideas on strengthening the trade, showing that open source intelligence should not be the main foundation, and exploring how to better process, collect, analyze and disseminate OSINT. LITERATURE REVIEW Robert David Steele, author of Strategic Intelligence: The Intelligence Cycle mentions that OSINT is uniquely important to the development of strategic intelligence not only for the government, but also for the military, law enforcement, business, academia, nongovernmental organizations, the media, and civil societies. [This] includes citizen advocacy groups, labor unions and religions for the simple reasons that the reliance on strictly legal and open sources and methods allows OSINT to be shared with anyone anywhere” (Steele 2007, 95). Steele argues that OSINT should not become the foundation “for all secret disciplines” (Steele 2007, 97), however, it could become the “foundation for a total reformation of both the governmental function of intelligence and the larger concept of national and global intelligence, what some call collective intelligence or the world brain” (Steele 2007, 97). Steele adamantly argues that secret collection has made significant errors within intelligence management regarding OSINT. These
  • 4. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 4 errors include the denigration of OSINT, and choosing to “ignore open sources of information, assuming that the consumers of intelligence were responsible for their own OSINT” (Steele 2007, 101). While there is a lack of processing OSINT, it can provide the combination of collection, processing and analyzing all information in all languages. The United States intelligence community collects twenty percent of what is needed at ninety-nine percent of the cost, and according to Steele, the intelligence community “spills most of that for lack of processing capabilities” (Steele 2007, 102). Therefore, there is a weakness in collection abilities, processing and training of analytical staff as well as intelligence managers. However, Steele argues that “apart from our failure to actually invest in processing (tasking, processing, exploitation, and dissemination)” (Steele 2007, 103), the United States has created three consistent errors throughout the decades since the evolution of OSINT, which “have made it virtually impossible, and now unaffordable, to actually do automated all-source analysis” (Steele 2007, 103). These errors include no standards (failing to establish data standards), no geospatial attributes (machine speed all-source analysis and fusion), and no integration (no single space where all known information comes together). Failures in analysis also stems from factors that intelligence analysts are too young, “too inexperienced in the real world, and too isolated from foreign or even U.S. private-sector experts, to realize that the secret information that [the analysts] are receiving are out of context, often wrong, and largely irrelevant to strategic analysis” (Steele 2007, 105). Another area of failure is that the U.S. intelligence community and the military focuses on and spends most of the budget on hard targets. Therefore, focusing on big threats and denying ‘lower-tier’ threats, that may blow up in the face of the intelligence community, because of denying strategic OSINT analysis. In summation, Steele argues that there are weaknesses in OSINT collection abilities, processing and training of analytical staff as
  • 5. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 5 well as intelligence managers. However, Steele also states that apart from U.S. failures to actually invest in tasking, processing, exploitation, and dissemination, the nation has created three consistent errors throughout the decades since the evolution of OSINT, which “have made it virtually impossible, and now unaffordable, to actually do automated all-source analysis” (Steele 2007, 103). Is this true or is it that policymakers do not want to focus on building an appropriate OSINT system? With the building of data standards, geospatial attributes and with the process of integration and trained staff, OSINT failures will be minimal, and the successes after building the OSINT management platform, will outweigh the negative attributes mentioned above. Richard A. Best, Jr. and Alfred Cumming argue that analysts have long faced obstacles in the use of open source intelligence. One principle obstacle, according to Best and Cumming is that “many analysts lack sufficient subject matter expertise” (Best and Cumiming 2007, 4). Those who lack analysis skills are able to damper intelligence collection or cause an INTL failure with the inability to analyze OSINT appropriately. Analysts need to have linguistic knowledge, and cultural knowledge of the target, while also acquiring the experience in analysis, and critical thinking skills. Yet, another obstacle is the biased mindset of many analysts. Best and Cumming argue that “some analysts believe that such information generally is not as carefully vetted as clandestinely collected intelligence and therefore is less credible, and ultimately provides less value to the policymaker” (Best and Cumiming 2007, 4). Best and Cumming’s statements are true in regards to the past obstacles of OSINT. With the lack of subject matter expertise as explained in the analysis and conclusion section of this research, analysts must be trained in the targeted subject matter in order to research, analyze, and disseminate timely intelligence.
  • 6. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 6 The U.S. Army FMI 2-22.9 mentions that characteristics of open source intelligence, is to provide a foundation from accessing information either directly or indirectly, through “publically available information [which] forms the basis of intelligence and non-intelligence operations” (Army 2006-2008). OSINT also is able to answer requirements through the depth and range of the public information made available – enabling “intelligence and non-intelligence organizations to satisfy many of the commander’s critical information requirements (CCIRs). Therefore, OSINT enhances collection and production of collection – assisting in the dissemination of intelligence in a timely manner. Andrew M. Borene argues, however, that “other basic elements of a OSINT program are plain common sense and critical thinking skills, as they pertain to operational security while conducting tailored searches on open internet platforms like Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other major search providers” (Borene 2011, 11). If an analyst lacks analysis and critical thinking skills, then their inability of such – will hinder any intelligence and collection technique. Intelligence analysts have accessed information for decades from OSINT to supplement data, according to Borene. This has been done through “systematically collecting open source information [which is currently being perceived] as not be[ing] a priority [in] the U.S. Intelligence Community” (Borene 2011, 11). The lack of priority perception is due to analysts believing that OSINT is not vetted as clandestinely collected intelligence and therefore is less credible, and ultimately provides less value to the policymaker. However, from a defense – sector aspect, Borene argues, “OSINT …has great value for traditional preparation of the battlespace activities in the age of information warfare” (Borene 2011, 12). In doing so, the commander will be able to “immediately build an ‘order-of-battle’ for its area of operations, encompassing both ‘adversary’ and ‘neutral friendly media’ (Borene 2011, 12).
  • 7. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 7 In conclusion, once analysts remove the biased thinking that OSINT is not vetted as clandestinely collected intelligence and provides less value to the policymaker, then OSINT can be seen for what it truly is. Not only does OSINT have great value for traditional preparation of the battlespace activities in the age of informational warfare but OSINT is able to enhance the production of collection and the dissemination of intelligence in a timely manner. Mark M. Lowenthal mentions that the “main qualifiers to open source information are that it does not require any type of clandestine collection techniques to obtain it” (Lowenthal 1998, 1). According to Lowenthal, OSINT has the ability to provide analysts with raw information, transforming it into an unclassified intelligence product “that represents judicious source discovery and validation, multi-source integration and subject-matter expertise” (Lowenthal 1998, 1). However, Lowenthal points out myths and new realities regarding OSINT, in which myth number one is that OSINT is a threat and a savior. With advocates believing that OSINT is able to provide what the intelligence needs, anyone who believes such does not recognize the “realities of intelligence” (Lowenthal 1998, 3). Lowenthal points out an important factor, that as long as there is denied information from United States, then there will be a need for clandestine activities in all areas. Another myth is that OSINT is a silver bullet as the government tirelessly looks for and spends money “to find some search engines that will make Internet searches easier, while spending even more money to make the Internet available to each analyst” (Lowenthal 1998, 3). There is no silver bullet and there is not one source that will make the jobs of analysts everywhere any easier – it will still require critical thinking skills and the knowledge base of the culture and the operational codes of the target. Therefore, in agreement with Lowenthal, technology “cannot replace skilled analysts who make difficult choices about what to collect and what to analyze” (Lowenthal 1998, 3). After all, analysts need to exploit and
  • 8. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 8 process OSINT like all other raw intelligence. Therefore, with all of the myths regarding OSINT, the facts are that OSINT provides analysts with raw information, transforming it into an unclassified intelligence product “that represents judicious source discovery and validation, multi-source integration and subject-matter expertise” (Lowenthal 1998, 1). METHODOLOGY AND RESEARCH STRATEGY The methodology of this research and analysis was successful through exhaustive data research using the qualitative analysis method. Peer reviewed articles, academic databases from the American Military University and open source intelligence (OSINT) was exploited in order to find the weaknesses of OSINT, while determining if open source intelligence should become the foundation of secret disciplines within the intelligence community. In addition, the same databases were used to analyze how open source intelligence should be processed, collected, analyzed, and disseminated, and if open source intelligence needs to be reformed. Using the Grounded Theory method, the author was able to collect volumes of data, and extract from the text - historical evidence, and studies on the techniques of OSINT. Through the commitment of inductive and deductive analysis, the author was able to determine that OSINT should not be the main foundation of any intelligence collection, tasking, processing, exploitation, or analysis. What is imperative is for analysts and managers in all levels of the intelligence community to have foreign and domestic experience, as well as cultural and linguistic abilities, in order to determine if the raw information received through OSINT is up-to-date, timely, and accurate. With the use of the methodology mentioned above to ascertain the weaknesses of OSINT, it has been determined that the weakness is not within the trade itself, but within those who access OSINT to exploit, task, analyze, produce, and disseminate the raw information.
  • 9. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 9 ANALYSIS It is the hypothesis of this research that OSINT is not a weak method in ascertaining, producing, analyzing, exploiting, and disseminating raw information into classified intelligence. The root cause of OSINT weaknesses derives from the biased mindsets of analysts or managers in the intelligence field. Such individual have formed opinions that either OSINT is not carefully vetted as clandestinely collected intelligence, and therefore is less credible and valuable to the policymaker, or believing that OSINT is the answer and foundation for the intelligence challenges for this current war era. However, in lieu of the above aforementioned, analysts who are not able to determine that the secret information they are receiving is out of context, wrong, or irrelevant, then these same analysts become the root of any intelligence analysis failure. It requires analysis and critical thinking skills in order to determine if the product received is indeed usable. As long as OSINT is received and produced in a timely matter – and is not out of context, incorrect or irrelevant, then OSINT is able to assist intelligence community personnel in the dissemination of intelligence in a timely manner. As Mark M. Lowenthal argues, the “main qualifiers to open source information are that it does not require any type of clandestine collection techniques to obtain it” (Lowenthal 1998, 1). Therefore, OSINT has the ability to provide analysts with raw information, transforming it into an unclassified intelligence product “that represents judicious source discovery and validation, multi-source integration and subject- matter expertise” (Lowenthal 1998, 1). CONCLUSION In conclusion, the weakness of OSINT is not the process of intelligence gathering, but begins at the roots – who are the managers or the analysts of the intelligence community. Many
  • 10. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 10 intelligence analysts do not have target cultural or linguistic abilities in order to analyze correctly the disseminated product. In addition, many lack analysis and critical thinking skills to determine if the raw information is fact driven, timely, or if the secret information they are receiving is out of context, wrong, or irrelevant. Proper training can motivate the analysts or intelligence managers to properly task analysis of OSINT. Nevertheless, how can the United States remove the weaknesses from the process of OSINT? According to the Department of the United States Army’s ATP 2-22.9, first in order to exploit OSINT, “intelligence and non- intelligence personnel must comply with the legal restrictions, policies and guidelines outlined in Executive Order 12333 and other associated regulations, instructions and directives” (U.S. Army 2012, A-1). As with the U.S. Army, the intelligence community should create a solid foundation for OSINT. This would include reforming the trade with an overseer or person in-charge (i.e. OSINT Director), that will oversee “exercising integration, evaluation, and oversight” (U.S. Army 2012, A-4). This would include providing “strategic oversight and the guiding of strategic involvement and ensuring the integration of OSINT collection strategy, [and] overseeing interagency sharing of OSINT” (U.S. Army 2012, A-4). Also, the OSINT Director would “oversee [the intelligence community in the] evaluation of OSINT, establishing appropriate source and information validation and verification procedures, develop metrics for overall open- source activities, and make all open source information, products and services available throughout the intelligence community” (U.S. Army 2012, A-5). Other areas that qualify for reformation are the re-establishment of the OSINT architecture, with analysts prioritizing tasks and requests with the ability to task organize. In order to build a OSINT architecture, the U.S. Army mentions to establish a complex system that “include sensors, data flow, hardware, software, communications, communications security
  • 11. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 11 materials, network classification, technicians, database access, liaison officers, training and funding” (U.S. Army 2012, 2-4). All this included with the training of analysts and managers with analysis and critical thinking skills will create a solid foundation for OSINT – but it still will not be great enough to become the main foundation for intelligence gathering and should never become the main foundation for intelligence gathering. Therefore, the U.S. Army argues that a “well-defined and designed intelligence architecture can offset or mitigate structural, organization, or personnel limitation[s]” (U.S. Army 2012, 2-4). A well oil and established OSINT architecture will “incorporate data flow, hardware, software, communications security components and databases that include:  Conducting OSINT intelligence research (through rapid and timely information and direct collaborative and information sharing).  Develop and maintaining automated intelligence networks (through providing information systems that connect assets, units, echelons, agencies, and multinational partners for intelligence, collaborative analysis and productions, dissemination and intelligence reach).  Establishing and maintaining access (to classified and unclassified programs, databases, networks, systems, etc.).  Creating and maintaining databases (through the establishment of interoperable and collaborative environments for the intelligence community and military organizations) (U.S. Army 2012, A-3 - A-4). Therefore, a OSINT management system is imperative in order to remove all weaknesses from the trade – and beginning with training of the intelligence staff, this is very promising. In addition, in the planning of OSINT management, certain conditions should apply. These
  • 12. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 12 conditions are open source reliability, credibility, compliance of laws, operations security, classifications, coordination, removal of deception and biases, analyst linguist requirements, foreign language translation systems, foreign media monitoring, and assigning personnel to OSINT section duties (monitoring, correlating, screening, disseminating, providing feedback and the cueing to effectively confirm or deny information to information collection efforts). With the above aforementioned, the United States intelligence community and military organizations, will be able to expect greater productions of OSINT with a decrease in failures. It is true that if intelligence analysts or intelligence managers are not able to analyze appropriately or critically think, no determination of a OSINT oversight will assist in this process, after all, as Lowenthal so plainly points out, technology “cannot replace skilled analysts who make difficult choices about what to collect and what to analyze” (Lowenthal 1998, 3). Therefore, in short, with the above OSINT management systems suggested, formed opinions of intelligence analysts that OSINT is not carefully vetted as clandestinely collected intelligence and therefore is less credible and valuable to the policymaker, can be buried. Supporters and non-supporters of open source intelligence must first realize that the inability of analysts to determine whether or not the secret information they are processing is out of context, wrong or irrelevant, is the root cause of OSINT problems. More energy must be placed into training current intelligence managers and analysts in order to eliminate such problems, and in doing so, ensure a stronger foundation for the future of OSINT.
  • 13. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 13 BIBLIOGRAPHY Army, United States. "FMI 2-22.9." Headquarters, Department of the Army, U.S. Army, 2006- 2008. Best Jr., Richard A., and Alfred Cumming. "Open Source Intelligence (OSINT): Issues for Congress: RL34270 Congressional Research Service: Report (December 5, 2007):. International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center, EBSCOhost." Congressional Research Service: Report: International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center, D.C., 2007, 1-23. Borene, Andrew M. "Unclassified Information." Journal Of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International ( International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center) 17, no. 4 (Winter 2011): 10-12. Center for Security Studies. CSS Analysis in Security Policy (ETH Zurich) 3, no. 32 (April 2008). Lowenthal, Mark M. Open Source Intelligence: New Myths, New Realities. Defense Daily Network Reports, D.C.: Office of Strategic Services, 1998. Steele, Robert David. "Open Source Intelligence." In Strategic Intelligence: The Intelligence Cycle, by Loch Johnson, 96-122. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007. The United States Army. Open Source Intelligence. ATP 2-22.9, Headquarters of the United States Army, 2012.
  • 14. American Military University – School of Security and Global Studies Page 14