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The New Craft of Intelligence
Making the Most of Open Private Sector Knowledge
Despite the fact that U.S. taxpayers have been paying more than $30 billion a year for a national intelligence and counterintelligence community to protect it from both traditional state-based threats and unconventional non-state actors, the events of 9-11 demonstrated our inability to detect and prevent bold asymmetric attacks that used our own airliners as precision missiles. Armed with new concepts, money, and suicidal pilots, Osama bin Laden has cost us at least $20 billion in damages.
The problem with spies is they only know secrets
Unfortunately, our spies and our satellites have lost touch with reality, for they collect less than 10% of the relevant information that we must digest to understand the complex multi-cultural world that is now capable of producing very wealthy and suicidal terrorists. We need a “new craft of intelligence” that can access and digest the broad historical, cultural, and current events knowledge that is available openly in over twenty-nine languages — by exploiting these open sources we can create open source intelligence, or OSINT, suitable for informing our public as well as our state and local authorities and our international partners, as to the threats to our nation.
What are open sources? Open sources go well beyond the Internet (3 billion pages of substance and rising) and premium online services (ten times what is on the Internet, with value-added) to include “gray literature” (limited edition publications including dissertations and local directories from around the world); specialized market research, private investigations, and other information broker services; and geo-spatial information services including commercial imagery and Russian military maps for all countries of the world (the U.S. does not have military maps for 90% of the world.) Open sources include experts on any subject, in any language. Shocking as it may seem, our intelligence community does not routinely strive to identify the top people in the world (not just Americans) on the various topics of concern — from terrorism to the environment to human trafficking to corruption to disease and public health — with the result that our analysis tends to be shallow and incestuous, relying on the same consultants again and again.
Where’s the action?
Why is this not obvious, and, more importantly, why is it not being acted upon? Although the bipartisan Aspin-Brown Commission on intelligence reform (reporting in March 1996) found that our intelligence community is “severely deficient” in its access to open sources of information, and also found that the various departments and agencies of government have failed to fulfill their responsibilities for collecting, processing, and analyzing open source information relevant to their missions, nothing has been done to implement the Commission’s recommendations for reform. The Commission specifically stated that OSINT should be a top priority for funding within our $30 billion a year intelligence budget, and that it should be a top priority for the attention of the Director of Central Intelligence.
· The DCI then serving, John Deutch, and the DCI now serving, George Tenet, chose to ignore virtually all of the recommendations of this bipartisan Commission.
· The Department of State, which is statutorily responsible for the collection of open source information abroad, has abdicated this responsibility and has no funds and no process in place for responsibly collecting relevant information from all the countries where we have taxpayer-funded Embassies.
· Just recently, the Department of Defense, about to spend billions and billions of dollars on new satellites that we do not need, closed down the open source information portion of the General Defense Intelligence Program, claiming they lacked sufficient funds and that open source intelligence is not a priority.
· The various other departments rely almost exclusively on “free” information that is given to them by parties with their own agenda to pursue.
· There are no structured processes for the collection, translation, and analysis of Islamic, Chinese, Russian, Arab, Japanese, Korean, or other foreign language materials.
· There is no central coordinating authority for ensuring that open sources acquired or translated by one part of the government are readily available by all the other parts, nor is there a government-wide open source intelligence requirements and acquisition authority.
The rewards of open source intelligence
There are immediate benefits to both national security and national prosperity of creating a government-wide open source intelligence program — preferably not managed by the intelligence specialists, who have repeatedly demonstrated their complete disdain for open sources of information. Those benefits would include the provision of an insurance policy for intelligence coverage of Third World security issues; an immediate increase in the timeliness, coverage and political utility of overtly available information; an immediate increase in open source information sharing across the departments and with the private sector; and finally, the provision of a foundation for a web-based OSINT exchange with allies, other nations and international groups.
I believe that a government-wide open source intelligence executive authority should be established, and a budget authorized and appropriated, to fulfill the following open source intelligence support objectives, and I have advocated this approach since 1992. The goals: to improve diplomatic understanding of foreign perceptions and conditions ($45M); to improve military and law enforcement understanding of emerging and existing threats ($75M) and to improve commerce and treasury understanding of international economic environment ($5M). I have already established that this proposal is acceptable to key Congressional leaders and to the political leadership in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), but to my enduring dismay, have been unable to break through the staff barriers to any Cabinet leader in government willing and able to take on this function on behalf of the people of the United States of America — Colin Powell is my first choice for the post. My second choice is the creation of a small new agency.
I would venture two common-sense observations that we must communicate to our government: 1) we cannot afford to ignore the rest of the world; and 2) we need a government-wide open source program right now. In close coordination with the most authoritative experts and retired intelligence and defense leaders available, I’ve created a list of initiatives to achieve these objectives, which appears below. If you think this makes sense, I hope you will write to your Senators and Representatives in Congress. The common sense of the people must come into play on this matter.
Recommended Open Source Initiatives
· Digital History Project ($5M) to digitize and translate key Islamic, Chinese, and other foreign language historical, political, economic, cultural, social, and technical materials.
· Non-Governmental Organization Data Warehouse ($10M) to provide free storage and network access to the various international organizations whose “local knowledge” is vital to U.S. understanding.
· Global Coverage Distance Learning and Expert Forum Network ($10M) that will establish open ethical boards of review for all countries and topics, including distance learning and expert forums.
· Generic Open Source Training Initiative ($10M) to create both distance learning modules accessible by our state and local, armed forces and diplomatic personnel and our public.
· Public Information Sharing and Collaboration Toolkit ($10M) comprised of a generic set of industry standards and related tools for desktop level exploitation and analysis of digital foreign information.
· Regional Open Source Information Networks for Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America ($40M) , each with an open source collection and processing center in partnership with local governments who will provide regional language skills and access to gray literature and local experts.
· International Trade and Chamber of Commerce Network ($5M) to establish a web-based network maximizing access by U.S. businesses to foreign economic, regulatory and taxation information.
· Digital Marshall Plan ($20M) to provide direct assistance and subsidies to extend the Internet to every corner of the world (including rural areas in America) via wireless delivery means.
· University of the Republic & Global Outreach Program ($15M) that will bring together and educate “cohorts” of mid-career subject-matter experts from state and local governments, the federal government, and the business, academic and media communities, as well as foreign professionals.
About the Author
Robert David Steele is a 25-year veteran of the U.S. national security community. He has been a clandestine case officer in three foreign countries, helped program funds for imagery satellites, carried out tactical operations in support of strategic signals intelligence programs and founded the Marine Corps Intelligence Center (now Command). He and his small company have been featured in Year in Computers (2000) and the writings of Alvin Toffler, among others. His first book, “On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World,” sold out in the weeks after 9-11, has just been re-issued. His forthcoming book, “The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political (Citizen’s Action Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Genocide, Disease, Toxic Bombs, & Ignorance)”, will be available in late April 2002. Steele is the founder of Open Source Solutions, Inc., which sponsors an annual conference for intelligence professionals from all walks of life and all countries of the world.
I know the gentleman that made this article happen, and am fairly sure he found great irony in juxtaposing George Tenet’s face against what Alvin Toffler called “The Rival Store” in 1993. Director Tenet declined to accept recommendations made to him in 1997 with respect to Global Coverage, and today, in 2009, we will do not do what we need to do to get a grip on all relevant information in all language.