Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 27, 2006

CSIS releases report on open source information

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christian Beckner on March 27, 2006

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (my erstwhile employer) held an event this morning to release a report entitled “Open Source Information: The Missing Dimension of Intelligence.” The report looks at the role of open-source information and considers the potential utility of a “trusted information network” of non-governmental experts as a tool for collaborative intelligence analysis.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Government counterterrorism and intelligence collection methods cannot be properly applied without the understanding and calibration that open source information and nongovernmental expertise can provide. Open source information, broadly construed, will be at least as important in the world’s counterterror efforts as secret intelligence was during the Cold War.
  • There remains a failure to recognize that the new, unbounded forces of international terrorism represent a different threat environment, one that requires a major focus on open source collection to complement the rare but highly valuable insight derived from covert collection.
  • The effort to engage open source, nongovernmental expertise across borders is not meant to supply actionable intelligence that identifies a particular terorrist on a certain street, but instead to share information and knowledge about the terrorist and his/her environment.
  • Many in the intelligence community are well aware of the value of open source information and the universe of experts outside of the classified world, but there is no comprehensive program to exploit this talent. Outside experts are most often engaged and consulted on a one-off basis, rather than as core, central participants in the intelligence process.
  • Unlike during the Cold War, much of the value added information or “intelligence” on today’s threat resides in foreign language databases and in foreign minds. The United States does not have reliable access to either.

The project team that wrote the report also launched a prototype “trusted information network” today, bringing together relevant experts to conduct open-source analysis of the European jihadist threat. This open-source intelligence analysis model is also very relevant to domestic homeland security, and there has been a lot of movement on the issue of enhancing DHS’s open-source capabilities in the last few weeks. Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) dropped a bill last week to instruct DHS to utilize open-source intelligence, and Sec. Chertoff discussed the role of open-source during Q&A at a hearing last month:

I will say in general, I believe in open source. I think Charlie Allen believes in open source. We have put more money in general into the category of intelligence and operations. I know I am limited in what I am allowed to say, but I can tell you we do want to make sure we have adequate resources to pursue open source, as well as other kinds of analytic intelligence.

Unfortunately, CSIS is acting contrary to the spirit of open-source information by trying to sell the publication rather than give it away, but the audio from today’s event is available here.

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