I’m currently working on a chapter on how the assessment of OSINT has changed over time and I think you could provide me with some missing pieces of the puzzle given your expertise in this area and your work in promoting the use of Open Sources.
01 Firstly, from what I have gathered so far, the US attitude towards OSINT started to change with the recommendations made by the WMD Commission in 2005. Is this correct?
No, this is not correct. Although the WMD Commission enjoyed several people deeply familiar with OSINT, it followed from the 9/11 Commission Report that actually recommended an Open Source Agency (OSA), and the Aspin-Brown Commission Report in 1996 that stated that OSINT should be a top priority for funding and a top priority for DCI attention. All such recommendations are ignored. The Central Intelligence Agency, at the time of its inception the ONLY national intelligence agency, was created by President Harry Truman to be a central bureau for collating and making sense of all that had already been collected by others — e.g. the Department of State, the military services, labor attaches, etcetera. Cf. Harry Truman, “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence,” Washington Post, 22 December 1963, p. A11. From inception, the Presidential intent was to achieve strategic analytics using predominantly open sources and methods, as well as such signals or other secret information covertly acquired by others. CIA was never intended to become a spy agency or a covert action gorilla mounting secret wars, funding dictators, or subverting the media to present both the US and foreign publics with a menu of lies.
KEY POINT: The value of OSINT has never been in question. The absence of integrity in government has led to a loss of focus on definitions — what is intelligence, what is OSINT (versus information), who is responsible for doing OSINT, should government make decisions based on ethical evidence-based decision-support. At root, this question is about the soul of intelligence and the soul of the Republic. I trace the collapse of integrity in the US Government to the successful assassinations — and cover-ups — of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, all by elements of the US Government acting in concert with Texas oil and New York money, as well as Cuban exiles and New Orleans criminal families. That was the point at which the US Government stopped representing the 99% and became a wholly-owned front for special interests — the 1%. That in turn has inspired me to recognize that the foundation for predominantly open intelligence (decision-support) with integrity leveraging OSINT is ruthless, pervasive, most secret counterintelligence focused on enemies of the state and the public interest — on multi-billion dollar a year traitors — not on small million and multi-million dollar a year criminals, which is where the FBI has chosen to focus while being complicit in ignoring high crimes in both the public and private sectors. Today the US has neither OSINT nor effective counterintelligence, and no substantive decision made by the Executive or Congress is actually based on intelligence with integrity.
Hamilton Bean, No More Secrets: Open Source Information and the Reshaping of U.S. Intelligence (Praeger, 2011)
Anthony Olcott, Open Source Intelligence in a Networked World (Bloomsbury Academic, 2012)
The CIA was quickly subverted by Allen Dulles and converted into a clandestine and covert action “dirty tricks” enterprise, one that to this day appears to have multiple chains of command and capabilities that are exploited completely apart from Executive direction, Congressional approval, and US taxpayer funding. Cf. Jonathan Nashel, Edward Lansdale’s Cold War (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005) and (Colonel, USAF) L. Feltcher Prouty, The Secret Team: The CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World (Skyhorse Publishing, 2011) as well as two insider books, David F. Rudgers, Creating the Secret State – The Originals of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1943-1947 (University Press of Kansas, 2000), and Amy Zegart, Flawed by Design–The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC (Stanford University Press, 1999).
The capture of vast quantities of gold in the Philippines, creating the ultra secret Black Lily Fund, was the signal event that transformed CIA into both a well-funded off-the-books covert operations agency above and beyond the law, and a pawn of Wall Street and the Rockefeller family, in my view. That history remains to be written. CIA has enjoyed three sources of money invisible to Presidents at first, and later shared with captive Presidents and selected mandarins in the form of gold certificates. The first was captured gold, the second drug running, and the third Saudi money funding the Safari club. Cf. Sterling and Peggy Seagrave, Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold (Verso, 2005); Books at Col James Sabor USMC (RIP) Murder Book; and Search: Seven CIAs [Steele on the Record]
In my view, the assassination of John F. Kennedy — and the cover-up orchestrated by Lyndon Baines Johnson — was the coup of all coups, turning all Presidents thereafter into pawns subject to assassination or coups if they strayed (as Nixon strayed when he questioned free trade). At the same time, CIA directors have themselves been pawns to forces they do not understand both within their own agency, each generation recruiting its successors, and also external — John Brennan’s running independent separate operations in Africa out of the White House, and the manner in which General David Petraus, USA (Ret) was “wiped out” (and lucky not to be “suicided”), is a recent example.
Hence, very early on, CIA diverted from the original concept, the second era of national intelligence formulated by Sherman Kent, the era of strategic analytics rooted predominantly in open sources of information. During the brief period following WWII and into the Dulles era, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) shone — was a model — for BOTH overt information acquisition in all relevant languages, AND deep insights (success at bombing railroad bridges somewhat gauged by price of oranges in Paris). As Dulles himself noted in his own book, The Craft of Intelligence: America’s Legendary Spy Master on the Fundamentals of Intelligence Gathering for a Free World (Lyons Press, 2006), 80% of intelligence questions could be answered from open sources. This number has remained remarkably consistent across the past fifty years, with the best quotation coming from General Tony Zinni, USMC, then Commander of the US Central Command, whose J-2 replied to his question about sources and methods:
Zinni asked his J-2 at CENTCOM how much of their usable intell was open source. His J-2 said 80%. Zinni asked his J-2 how much of the 20% classified could be found or expanded in OSINT after was it was initially indicated by classified sources. It was determined to be 80% of that. Tony Zinni: Background & Confirmation of the 4% “At Best” Quote on Secret versus Open Sources
Earlier Zinni was quoted by myself as saying that he received, “at best” 4% of his commander’s information [for an area of operations spanning 27 countries with 2 wars and over ten joint task forces in action] from secret sources and methods. 20% of 20% is 4%. Graphic: Tony Zinni on 4% “At Best”The US secret intelligence attitude toward OSINT has always been conflicted, and every commission since 1947 has noted the language and counterintelligence deficiencies and the need to do better. The first official call for an Open Source Agency has been traced to an article in the CIA’s in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence, in 1969. Jan Herring, the first National Intelligence Officer for Science & Technology, and George Marling, at the time on the Intelligence Community Staff (ICS), are generally credited with being the founding father of the movement to get a grip on OSINT in a complex world. I will not belabor the History of Opposition, it remains quite strong. see especially 2004 Modern History of Public Intelligence and the Opposition.
To all of this I would add the continuing major failure of anyone in the US Government to be serious about either eight tribe outreach (academic, civil society, commerce, government, law enforcement, media, military, non-government/non-profit) or OSE/M4IS2 [Open Source Everything/Multinational, Multiagency, Multidisciplinary, Multidimensional Information-Sharing and Sense-Making]. Alvin Toffler and I first defined the “blocks” that needed to be integrated in 1995 or so, while driving away from a lunch at DIA where it was obvious none of the senior executives had a clue about the other boxes or wanted to leave their own little box. We are long overdue for a mandated migration to open source everything, not just childish pantomimes about open government and open data. More on that below. If I could pick one job for myself today, it would Deputy Director for Management of the Office of Management and Budget (or Special Assistant to same), with both a consolidated national Inspector General / ultra covert Counterintelligence Corps, and the new Open Source Agency, as direct reports. I would offer all traitors a 30 day Truth & Reconciliation option [presidential pardons contingent on full disclosure], with hanging on the Mall for those that force the cost of investigation, indictment, conviction, and sentencing.
In summary, since I started the most recent fight (in 1988) to establish OSINT as the primary intelligence discipline [best tracked through Access Archive Tables, Articles (List), Awards 1992-2006, As Featured in Media, Briefings (List)]– the integration of the proven process of intelligence (requirements definition, collection management, source discovery and validation, multi-source fusion, analytic tradecraft, visualization & delivery) with open sources and methods (in 183 languages, 33 of them including 12 Arabic variations vital), a handful of us — besides myself two former CIA employees, one former DIA employee, and one former Special Operations employee, have fought a quarter-century running battle to get the US Government to address OSINT responsibly. A signal success was the placement of an Open Source Agency on pages 23 and 413 of the 9/11 Commission Report. Another signal success was getting the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to agree, for a second time, that the OSA should be independent of the secret world, under diplomatic, commercial, or presidential auspices. The President is not yet ready to “be” the actual President and manage a government Of, By, and For We the People, but if he ever reaches that point, the senior civil servants at OMB have realized that the OSA is the necessary first step toward restoring effective governance.
A partial success was the publication of a monograph, Human Intelligence: All Humans, All Minds, All the Time (Strategic Studies Institute, 2010) that was pre-cleared for publication by both DoD and CIA. This established the fifteen slices of HUMINT, only four of which are classified, and also establishes that OSINT is predominantly a HUMINT specialization, in which human to human is the best means of acquiring and exploiting “just enough, just in time” raw information that is generally NOT published in any form.
Another partial success, but I fear I will not live to see this happen, is my early realization in 2006, and now more evolved appreciation, for the reality that OSINT is a means of integrating education, intelligence, and research to create a Smart Nation. What we have in the USA today for education is criminally insane and mal-adaptive. What we have in the way of intelligence and research is insanely criminal — fragmented, producing lies more often than not, costing too much for too little, and so on. So I created the graphic here, of nine circles that I believe need to be managed by a single Minister or Secretary-General for Education, Intelligence, and Research.
Signal failures have been the CIA successfully blocking five attempts to present the OSA as a capturable initiative to Hillary Clinton (4) and John Kerry (1). Signal failures have included the inability to get the Secretary General of the United Nations or any of the regional associations (e.g. African Union) for focus on OSINT as an enabler for hybrid public governance. I like to say “The truth at any cost lowers all others costs.” Some governments — the Nordics and The Netherlands stand out — get this. Most do not. At root, OSINT is about multinational information sharing and sense-making to arrive at the “best truth” for the largest possible number of stakeholders. That is not how the US Government is managed — it operates, at the highest levels, on who pays to be heard, and the truth — along with all forms of intelligence with integrity — has no standing. I have come to the conclusion that as long as we have a two-party tyranny in the USA (excluding from power the Constition, Green, Libertarian, Natural Law, Reform, and Socialist parties and of course all the Independents), there will be no “market” for truth in government. This is why I have turned my attention to public intelligence in the public interest and why I funded — while I had money — Earth Intelligence Network, the 501c3 that is now largely represented by two books (COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace, and INTELLIGENCE FOR EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability) and this website.
If the USA is to have a successful non-violent revolution restoring the Constitution and the Republic, OSINT will have a broad role to play outside the US Government. I do however see some real possibilities at the intersection of NATO, White SOF, and USSOUTHCOM (the Americas), and I am also hugely impressed by some civil society ventures in humanitarian assistance technologies that are geospatially rooted as I called for in 1988 — Crisis Mappers stands out, it should be applied to every postal district everywhere, all of the time. The primary deficiency among these independent ventures is their lack of an analytic model or commitment to whole systems process, and a lack of access to true cost information — they tend to be reactive, in the moment, rather than proactive and integrative. The best hope for OSINT and its follow-on, OSE/M4IS2, is clearly outside the USA and outside the secret world.
Still Best in Class References:
2008 Open Source Intelligence (Strategic) 2.0 [Full Text Online]
Principal Collections of Relevant Material:
02 Secondly, how would you assess the progress made in terms of re-valorizing OSINT as an INT? Have sentiments actually changed within the Intelligence Community?
No, sentiments have not changed — and perhaps more to the point, the thinking (not just me but many others such as Tom Atlee, Michel Bauwens, and Patrick Meier) is again 20 years ahead of the US Government and they have no means or inclination for changing what they do wrong in OSINT, or for advancing to the next stage of OSE/M4IS2. Within CIA they continue to treat OSINT as a digital information collection service, with 100 T-1 lines feeding an array of grandmothers and young kids and contractor butts in seats (clearances are more important in the US system than substantive knowledge), and they compound their ignorance by classifying everything they produce. Within DoD OSINT is treated as a technical discipline, again ignoring the fact that 90% or more of what is relevant is not online and if online is not indexed and not in English. The best summary of the OSINT failure of both the US Government / Military and of NATO, which tends to follow US practices, is offered by Brigadier General James Cox, Land Forces Canada (Ret), the flag officer that got NATO into OSINT in the first place. In 2012 BGen James Cox, CA (Ret) On the Record on Open Source Information versus Open Source Intelligence versus Secret Intelligence, where additional information and more links are provided, he says:
If I was king of the world, I would build an OSINT organization to rival existing national SIGINT organizations (CSEC in Canada, NSA in US) and HUMINT organizations (CSIS in Canada, CIA in US). This OSINT organization would be in a number of big buildings around the country, tapped into all the sources you have long written about (media, experts, academia … all tribes) AND they would produce magnificent ‘single source’ OSINT products that could be added to SIGINT, HUMINT, IMINT etc. products at the national level.
Bearing in mind that NATO has no organic intelligence capabilities to speak of (and is transitioning from military operations to military planning), General Cox’s views are perfectly on target. The US does classified and open source collection badly, and processes less than ten percent of what they collect while being completely incompetent in at least 150 of the 183 languages that matter, and probably closer to 165. What we really need — and my own views continue to evolve — is Open Source Everything (OSE) as the technical solution for affordable scalable inter-operability across all boundaries; and M4IS2 (Multinational, Multiagency, Multidisciplinary, Multidomain Inforamation-Sharing and Sense-Making) that uses OSINT — decision-support — as the default, with secret multinational and unilateral operations comprising at most 10% of our time and money.
KEY POINT: OSINT, done properly, produces truth that can be shared. It is therefore diametrically opposed to the current information pathologies including “rule by secrecy” that enable the 1% to capture entire governments and screw the 99% with legalized crime. OSINT — like the truth — is a revolutionary concept in a time of pervasive deceit. It requires champions others than the US Government — the public, labor unions, non-aligned governments not led by dictators, etcetera. Right now the social media world is still focused on “talking” — digital kum-ba-yah and virtual hand-holding. They are only slowly — but impressively in the case of Crisis Mappers — starting to focus on facts — on true cost economics, on public information cards, on buy-cotts against the Koch Brothers and Monsanto, on outing high crimes and constant corruption by their “elected” representatives. OSINT has a life of its own now — not within the US Government — but it is also a small piece of a much larger construct that includes OSE/M4IS2, and eventually, Smart Nations, the World Brain, and the Global Game in which all minds have access to all relevant information, and both voice and vote on all matters of interest to them.
I left the insider IC in 1993 and the outsider IC in 2006, but I have a remarkable network of loyal dissidents that keeps me informed, and on the basis of all that I know from unclassified sources and methods, I could consider the IC across the board — in the classified disciplines as well as OSINT — to be at best 10% effective. This makes sense only if you accept the assertions of whistle-blowers such as William Binney of NSA, as I do, to wit, the US Intelligence Community is not in the business of producing decision-support (outcomes), it is in the business of managing inputs (money for the military-intelligence-industial-congressional complex (MIICC)). Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, our drone program of extrajudicial assassinations (2% effective, 98% collateral murder of innocents) are all perfect reflections of both the irrelevance of intelligence to decision-support in Washington, D.C., and also the absence of a countervailing public intelligence — global foreign public intelligence — power. Certainly I would like to see the Nordics and BENELUX (and the Baltic states of Esonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) approach both the European Union, which recently created the Emergency Response Centre, and NATO, which has started thinking about Alternative Command & Control, with a propostion to create the first Multinational Decision-Support Centre (MDSC) on the northern shores of the Mediterranean. My focus of effort for the next 20 years is in the OSE/M4IS2 area.
It is sad, but when I first put forth the concept of open sources as fundamental, it led to Sandra Cruzman, my former boss at CIA, telling Ross Stapleton-Gray that “This confirms Steele’s place on the lunatic fringe.” A quarter-century later, the US secret intelligence world has not even addressed with any seriousness the six fundamental challenges I outlined in 1990. Now that a few PhDs (some very badly, others like yourself better) and a few governments are finally understanding OSINT as a critical foundation for hybrid public governance, long-term multi-stakeholder consensus, and so on, I am again 20 years ahead of the pack, and likely to be ignored for another 20 years absent a few governments deciding that we are long overdue for creating a United Nations Open-Source Decision-Support Information Network (UNODIN) by first creating regional MDSCs, first for EU & NATO — EU does the non-military, NATO does the military — and then make all of that software and hardware — all open source — and the practical applications — freely available to the African Union, CELAC in the Americas (the OAS is dead), and the new Asian organization that has quite properly refused the insanely predatory Trans-Pacific Partnership proposed by corporate interests speaking through their captive US Government.
I suppose I should mention that over 90 governments now have investments in OSINT, I have been told that perhaps 25,000 all told work in jobs that have “OSINT” in the job description, but my second and third hand impression is that they all suffer from the same incapacity to make the leap from OSIF to OSINT. Within the Western world, an initiative by the EU and NATO, in partnership with the African Union would properly begin the third era of national intelligence, the ear of Smart Nations, a World Brain, and a Global Game.
03 Third, what is the role played and perhaps still to be played by the private sector in OSINT? Do private companies have specialized skills in the exploitation of OSINT? And is the private sector able to leverage these skills against the sentiment that OSINT is somehow less important as an INT?
As you are aware, I wrote the first articles along these lines,
There is no question but that private enterprise can provide a broad array of specialized skills, especially with respect to historical, cultural, and local knowledge in 183 languages the US Government does not speak and will never master, but what I have learned is that if the government is paying the bill, and lacks integrity, then nothing the corporate world does will be effective. I’ve lost many battles on the question of how best to do OSINT. The US Government chose to treat OSINT as a technical collection discipline that would create an entire new array of “managers” of money for the private sector, rather than as an integrative discipline that would pull together — be the foundation and the central shaft for — all sources and methods. So instead of having a number of tiny enterprises capable of producing timely, truthful information about any given topic, we have a broad array of private sector whorehouses that offer up contractor “butts in seats” meaning people with clearances and without knowledge. My understanding is that any all-source intelligence analyst that has the temerity to call anyone in the country they are responsible for, is immediately investigated by the security goons. I lost my clearances to such goons, who could not handle 7,500 cheerfully declared foreign contacts when asked to do so in a verbal interview. My clearances were finally reinstated, after losing my business and six years of income, with the direct intervention of the Office of the General Counsel at DoD, and I am in the process of trying to get to Afghanistan for the final meltdown, evidently the only place where a modern ronin like myself can find work. I am open to all offers and globally mobile.
As you can see from the “big picture” graphic, I believe there is a need for three predominantly private sector enterprises and networks in my final construct for UNODIN:
World Brain Institute. Centered in the academic domain, but with robust outreach to the other seven tribes of intelligence (civil society including labor and religion, commerce including System D and time dollars, government at all levels, law enforcement, media, military, and non-government/non-profit), focuses primarily on an absolute commitment to open data across all boundaries, eliminating for once and for all data conversion obstacles, while also focusing on the re-integration of the many academic disciplines, and the re-integration of real world problems with academic and commercial and government research, along with nurturing civil society research (e.g. Open Tools), and serving as Inspector General for the World Brain and Global Game. This would also fund a prototype Public Intelligence Centre and distribute at no cost the open source software and hardware for what I envision as over a million centers around the world, all connected to one another and being the skin of the World Brain and the Global Game.
Open Source Consortium. Focused on Autonomous Internet, Open Source Everything, and Liberation Technology. Helps private enterprise migrate from unafforable, non-scalable, non-interoperable proprietary technologies, toward affordable, scalable, interoperable technologies across all the Opens — especially free cell phones (OpenBTS), open cloud, open data, open hardware, open software, open standards. Works with governments to provide national and regional call centers created with open source technologies that can educate their publics one cell call at a time, while harvesting the distributed intelligence of their populations.
Virgin Truth. I may never hear from Sir Richard Branson, but he received my proposition by hand of a retired MI-6 Director who received it from Alfred Rolington former CEO of Janes, so I know he got it. I have given up on Microsoft ever getting it, Ozzie left for good reasons, and of course Google is very evil and not at all interested in anything open. From where I sit none of these organization is able to adapt to the 21st Century, so I have a very skeptical view of the potential in the private sector as long as their existing hierarchies suffer from “not invented here” syndrome. I had hopes for Nokia once. I’ve published and written on collective intelligence, the concept established by many others is quite simple: connect everyone to each other and to the Internet for free, get out of the way, and monetize the resulting innovation that can create infinite wealth.
KEY POINT: Hybrid public governance demands that all eight tribes share the same open infrastructure, the same open data, and an inclusive transparent network for aggregating and analyzing informatoin, agreeing on what the information means, and then achieving decisions in the public interest. The private and public sectors are no longer able to co-exist apart from one another. Everything is connected. Any one of the tribes can be a “hub” for an initiative, but if they lack connectivity and buy-in from all the other tribes, the endeavor will not be successful in affordable, scalable, inter-operable, sustainable terms.
Although some elements of the private sector are stumbling into green sustainable practices, as best I can tell no one anywhere is actually committed to understanding the “true cost” of everything they do. The private sector has the most to gain from getting a grip on true costs because that is the precursor to theri having a sustainable profit model. Externalizing costs to the public and future generations is profitable in the short-run, not over the long-term.
In my view both governments and corporations have failed (along with churches, schools, labor unions, the American Red Cross and the UN, etcetera) for one simple reason: they have all sacrificed their integrity. They have set aside ethics, philosophy, and the role of the humanities in managing the sciences. Where we need to get to is public hybrid governance in which all eight tribes help create a universe of shared information, a universe of shared-sense-making, and in so doing, achieve voluntary sustainable harmonization of public investments, behavior, and long-term planning.
I need just one billionaire — or one government — or one CEO of one multi-billion dollar company — or one commercial consoritum interested in created a sustainsable commercial ecology for the 21st Century — to agree to invest 1% of their disposable income in OSE/M4IS2. For 20 years I have known how to do OSINT right, and for 20 years my own government has marginalized me and refused to do the right thing, while so many others, including Singapore, have fallen prey to unethical private sector parties whose only focus is on money in, not intelligence out. I do have high hopes for the next 20 years, but deeply regret the trillions of dollars and millions of lives we have wasted because no one in power really wants to leverage the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. E Veritate Potens….but only if we want to engage.
OTHER ANSWERS FROM ROBERT STEELE