2007 How to Restore Spies Credibility–Go Open Source

About the Idea

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WIRED MAGAZINE DANGER ROOM

By Noah Shachtman

December 14, 2007

In the mid ’90s, Robert Steele, a former-CIA officer and early proponent of open source intelligence, testified before the Aspin-Brown Commission about the tremendous value of unclassified information. The Commission decided to put this open source intelligence, or “OSINT,” to the test and directed that Steele and his network of commercial intelligence contacts would go head-to-head against the secret intelligence community in a battle-of-the-INTs. The subject would be the tiny and generally dismal nation of Burundi. The battle was engaged at 17:00 on a Thursday and the delivery deadline was 10:00 the next Monday.

On Monday morning Steele showed up with:

  • The names of the top 10 journalists covering Burundi (ripe for debriefing)
  • The names of the top 10 academics covering Burundi (ripe for debriefing)
  • 20 two-page executive-level political-military summaries on Burundi
  • Burundi order-of-battle information down to the tribal level.
  • 1:50 maps of the country
  • 1:50 cloud-free imagery of the country that was less than 3 years old.

Phi Beta Iota: What actually happened is that FedEx delivered the stuff, Steele himself did not show up.  The bottom line is the same–with six telephone calls Steele totaled the secret intelligence community, for two reasons:

1.  They don’t care about Global Coverage–never have, never will (until an iconoclast is appointed Director of National Intelligence and creates  the Open Source Agency as recommended by the 9-11 Commission.

2.  They know nothing of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and are still treating it as a passive technical processing sideline, rather than as a full discipline that is predominantly human in nature.