In Plain View: Making Open Source Intelligence a Priority
In the virtual public square, the most valuable intelligence might not be so secret. In fact, the intelligence might be in plain view. During the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the public discovered that the Boston Marathon bombers learned how to build their weapons not in a clandestine operation, but from Al-Qaeda’s public and free online magazine, Inspire. Everything the Tsarnaevs knew about terrorism came from open source information.
Open Source information is a tremendous cache of Big Data that does not require any of the tools of intelligence gathering to capture it. Analysts create Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) from publicly available media (e.g. film, magazines, newspapers, radio and television), academic journals, conferences and studies, and pictures. OSINT also includes websites and social media—often called “New Media.” Those may include free digital platforms as varied as free mapping tools, online video streaming, blogs, and comments sections on commercial and news websites.
What makes OSINT valuable is the unfiltered data from the public. Analysts can move beyond the official published views of traditional sources in OSINT, getting “the word on the street” from everyday people that post their views in blogs, tweets and status updates. OSINT also captures self-promotion by terrorist organizations, as groups such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS and sovereign citizens leverage social media. Their postings provide intelligence that can be mined for messages, code words, or tactics.
For homeland security and intelligence agencies, OSINT presents a Big Data management challenge.
Finding that useful piece of OSINT first requires an information management strategy. Government partners look to tools to accelerate their ability to quickly grasp the information they need to produce actionable intelligence. OSINT requires focused project management to measure and refine analysis to promote insight discovery.
The Government is still at the cusp of exploring the Big Data challenge of OSING. Only by knowing what you can do to store, search, consume, and connect information, will you be able to find those Open Source puzzle pieces hiding in plain view.