Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 20, 2006

Blogs, intelligence collection, and homeland security

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christian Beckner on April 20, 2006

Bill Gertz wrote in the Washington Times yesterday on the value of open-source intelligence (OSINT) and the role that blogs plays in that process:

The new Open Source Center (OSC) at CIA headquarters recently stepped up data collection and analysis based on bloggers worldwide and is developing new methods to gauge the reliability of the content, said OSC Director Douglas J. Naquin

“A lot of blogs now have become very big on the Internet, and we’re getting a lot of rich information on blogs that are telling us a lot about social perspectives and everything from what the general feeling is to … people putting information on there that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Mr. Naquin told The Washington Times.

This raises an interesting question: are blogs also potentially a valuable source of intelligence for homeland security? I’m biased to believe that this site plays a positive role in that regard, but mainly in terms of intelligence fusion and analysis – not raw collection, except in a few odd instances. Today blogs in Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East provide valuable direct intelligence about conditions in those countries that is difficult for U.S. officials to acquire directly at scale. Those difficulties don’t really exist within the United States, so the potential intelligence value of blogs is likely smaller, but it’s possible that blogs run by militant fringe groups could tip off law enforcement officials about plans for domestic terrorism. Blogs focused on avian flu (and other borderless threats) are also valuable, to the extent that they provide first-hand accounts of the patterns of outbreak. And blogs now serve as a direct, real-time sources of information in the event of an attack or a natural disaster. This was the case with Katrina, where blogs were often ahead of the news cycle. Of course, if the technology grid is disrupted because of an attack or a natural disaster, their value is diminished. Perhaps first responders need to develop new procedures to monitor local blogs in the event of an incident as sources of intelligence for their response plans.

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