No credit to the OSINT pioneers from 1969 onwards, but the slow are finally catching up. BUT they still think OSINT is a technical collection challenge rather than a HUMINT opportunity.
By Charles S. Clark
The digital information revolution has handed the U.S. intelligence community a slew of new challenges that are nowhere close to resolution, a new study says.
The 21st-century problems range from mountains of data to accelerated pace of change to competing information flow from nongovernmental sources to fears of violating privacy and civil liberties, according to a paper “Expectations of Intelligence in the Information Age,” released Thursday by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a nonprofit that brings together experts in the public, private and academic sectors.
The paper drew praise from Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who spoke at a banquet in Arlington, Va., to mark the paper’s release.
“Because policymakers now have access to rich, new sources of information and knowledge at their desktops and via mobile devices, they will expect the [intelligence community] to develop techniques to quickly and accurately integrate these new sources of information with those upon which they have traditionally relied,” the authors said. “The challenge for the [community] is to sustain its relevance beyond the stolen secret in the era of global access to diverse and rich sources of data and information.”
The paper recommends that policymakers engage the intelligence community on the new roles of open source and traditional intelligence; that the legislative and executive branches create new civil liberties protections; and that a coalition of experts be empaneled to propose practical ways to meet the challenges the digital age presents for collection, analysis, validation and dissemination of openly sourced intelligence.
In an interview with Government Executive, report author Stephen Cambone, who was undersecretary of Defense for intelligence under George W. Bush administration Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, said as the United States “pivots to Asia from the Middle East and changes sources, the places where information is coming from are changing, too, and not all threatening behavior is animated by governments.”
Nonstop news coverage increases the speed and volume of “the echo system of information,” which increases pressure on officials, Cambone said. “The trick will be how to satisfy policymakers’ expectations and temper them at the same time. If we can’t validate intelligence for policymakers, they will say they’ll simply make up their own mind, which is the last thing we want,” he said.
The intelligence community is still grappling with ways to exploit open source and new media data “socially, legally and economically so that there is no misuse,” he added. Protecting users’ civil liberties can mean not exposing the government’s interest in the data, Cambone said: “There’s no yes-or-no answer — it will take a long time to work through.”
Co-author Len Moodispaw, a National Security Agency veteran now head of KeyW Corp, noted that with social media, “people can put out falsehoods, and the intelligence officials have to be quiet, even though they may look like idiots.”
Third author Carmen Medina, a former director of the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence now with Deloitte, said, “the big data revolution’s digital exhaust” requires intelligence professionals to consider that in the future, what will be classified are the methodologies for analyzing data rather than the data themselves. “A lot of intelligence is like political punditry,” which is in danger of being overshadowed by data analytics, she said. The civil liberties challenges mean that “if there’s no way for us to adjust that is congenial, we may have to just live with it, but let’s have the conversation.
The white paper, executed by a task force of intelligence luminaries seeking to “rebalance” the nation’s spy apparatus, was hailed as “spot on” by DIA chief Flynn. He gave the dinner audience the example of a recent citizen uprising in Uganda that was reported to U.S. observers by participants using Twitter, noting Africa today represents 47 percent of the world’s cellphone market.
Having assumed his post only in July, Flynn gave a preview of DIA’s Vision 2020 strategic plan for adaptations to a changing intelligence environment for use by the next several administrations. “Intelligence centers are being renamed intelligence and operations centers,” he said, “because intelligence in the first half of this century must drive operations.” He said changing demands will require a reorganization of DIA into a model that emphasizes “integration, interagency teamwork and innovation of the whole workforce, not just the technology but the people.” That means not adding more people but investing in them, he said.
Flynn noted that 5,000 of the “global scouts” that DIA has in Washington and in 140 countries are combat veterans, “which is the new normal.” The new vision includes plans to “decentralize decision making to those closest to the edge” who get a “fingertip feel of the environment,” he added. “Intelligence at the edge is better than intelligence at the center. You can’t get it sitting at headquarters.”
ROBERT STEELE: Below is my personal comment in relation to what General Flynn is reported to have said. There is no link I could find to the new DIA 2020 Strategic Plan, they still have the Ron Burgess 2012-2017 DIA Strategic Plan at their strategic plan page.
I must disagree with General Flynn’s call for investing more in the people we have rather than acquiring more people. The fact is that we have too many people, over-paid and under-employed, across massive bureaucracies sprawled all over the National Capital Area (NCA) as well as across the USA, and too few of them are anywhere near ground truth or able to actually touch another human mind face to face. We need a complete new mix of people, what I call the “five slices”, including new hires (US), mid-career hires (US and foreign nationals), multinationals on rotation, and a range of what one of my former bosses calls “it’s just business” one time engagements, much as I managed for CENTCOM, where we had up to 300 people at any given point, not a single one of them hired for more than two weeks, and all of them a) unaware of their true employer and b) foreigners who were NOT cleared, polygraphed, or otherwise “processed.” Personally, I would like to put inter-agency open source acquisition and all-source analysts into the secure spaces we have all over the world, and drop kick the bulk of the not-so-clandestine service out of official cover and into retirement while creating regional multinational clandestine and covert action stations where we can do real spying on real challenges of common concern. BGen Stewart had the right idea years ago, he called them tactical analysis teams, they just need to be inter-agency in nature, have a serious budget for direct open source acquisition including human hire by the word, and be fluent in the local cultural, history, and language — which automatically disqualifies 90% of those now serving at CIA and DIA.
Phi Beta Iota: In 1969 there was a call for an Open Source Agency on the pages of Studies in Intelligence. Throughout the 1970’s Jan Herring and George Marling championed OSINT as the obvious and essential foundation for S&T intelligence as well as Global Coverage. In 1992 and 1993 Robert Steele particularly, and the US Intelligence Community Scientific and Technical Committee generally, championed OSINT. Today OSINT is treated as a technical discipline when it would be managed along with the 15-slice HUMINT discipline. Neither Jim Clapper nor Mike Vickers have any interest at all in getting it right, and Mike Flynn is surrounded by people that are simply waiting him out — who may also have intercepted the two certified letters sent to him by Robert Steele offering to help turn DIA into an ethcial evidence-based capability relevant to priorities, policies, acquisition, and operations.