More than a dozen professional societies and public interest groups wrote to the Director of National Intelligence last week to ask him to preserve public access to foreign news reports gathered, translated and published by the Open Source Center and marketed to subscribers through the NTIS World News Connection.
The CIA, which manages the Open Source Center for the intelligence community, intends to terminate public access to the World News Connection at the end of this month. (CIA Halts Public Access to Open Source Service, Secrecy News, October 8.)
Rather than reducing the existing level of public access, “the U.S. government should expand public access to open source intelligence by publishing all unclassified, uncopyrighted Open Source Center products.”
Mary Webster, the Open Source Center Deputy Director for Information Access at CIA, did not respond to a request for comment.
BBC Monitoring in the United Kingdom provides a global news aggregation service that is comparable to the NTIS World News Connection and even includes many of the same translations. A spokeswoman for BBC Monitoring told Secrecy News that her organization would gladly welcome new American customers if the US Government is unable or unwilling to meet their needs.
ROBERT STEELE: I’ve had a great deal of experience in the past two decades working with organizations in the secret world — both intelligence and operational. My bottom line conclusion is that white information cannot be under the control of black or green world leaders. The black world obsession with secrecy (if anything, worse than the green world lip-service) makes their leaders completely inept when it comes to white world capabilities. Although I have long championed an Open Source Agency (OSA) that shares all white information with the high side (green or black) in near real time, it was not until I served in Afghanistan that I understood just how screwed up the black world is about how it “manages” its white supporting capabilities. By my personal estimate, USG “white” capabilities in Afghanistan are at less than 30% of what they should be — I am striving to be generous — and a major reason for this inadequacy is that none of the US Government elements in Afghanistan — diplomatic, informational, military, or economic — know how to manage full-spectrum HUMINT/OSINT. They err on the side of stupidity and timidity. Bottom line: white information cannot be managed by black or green programs. White information leaders can be trusted to receive white information requirements from the black and green worlds, but those capabilities cannot be supervised by or constrained by black or green leaders. An Open Source Agency (OSA) that pulls the various OSINT pieces out of CIA, DIA, and other locations, is needed.
In passing, I want to praise what CIA’s Open Source Center (OSC) does do, and comment on what it does not do.
a) OSC feeds most of its messages into M3, which is essential. OSC production was easily 80% of my daily INTSUM. Unfortunately, this does not provide access to OSC PDFs, images, or audio and television. M3 is retarded and likely to remain so for some time, but it is the best thing we have right now — M3 needs to be updated to handle unstructured queries and deliver multimedia to include pre-certification of individual open source items for easy extraction from SIPR and its rolling over (downward) into CENTRIX or NIPR.
b) OSC did relatively well in processing online Dari and Pashto news media from within Afghanistan within 24 hours, but less so on critical web fatwas and articles. It did not do well on provincial media outlets less suceptible to online monitoring.
c) OSC is not responsible for English-language media monitoring, and should be. The lag in posting English-language news originating in the target country was sometimes as much as 7 days. The reality is that most analyts do not have time to do their own OSINT, OSC needs to step up and treat English with the same speed of processing that it applies to indigenous languages.
d) OSC did, in my view, superb work on Afghan-based Dari and Pashto, but failed completely on Arabic, Turkish, and other languages from all of the countries heavily invested in Afghanistan. It was impossible to get a good feel for how Afghanistan was being discussed in China, India, Iran, Qatar, all of the stans, Turkey, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or the United Arab Republic, on the basis of OSC production as fed into M3. Pakistan was well handled — what OSC does for Pakistan in relation to Afghanistan is what OSC should be doing in relation to the other named countries.
e) OSC Customer Relations stinks. On at least two occasions, both critical, they failed to respond to an urgent need for an audio-visual product that was of flag-level interest.
f) OSC’s web site and web-based direct access resources are nice to have but not accessible to front line analysts on a tight schedule who live in the SIPR world. We need two tracks: track one creates an easily accessible platform for citizens and Whole of Government at the unclassified and official and restricted levels; track two feeds everything possible into M3 and treats DoD message requests for multimedia with the priority they deserve.
g) OSC has been forbidden by the Directorate of Operations (CIA/DO) to actually talk to real humans, and is also not central to surveys and other open source instruments. At the same time the US Embassy hides in its bunker and does not get out very much, and when it does, the MemCons from first and second secretary engagements to not get shared.
From all of this I have three conclusions:
01) All white or open source information activities now funded by and under the oversight of the green or black worlds need to be ripped out of those worlds, and given a new more nurturing home within the OSA.
02) OSC needs to ripped out of the CIA and put into a new Open Source Agency. OSC leaders are not qualified to run that agency, but they are certain to flourish under the more liberal umbrella of that agency and would at a minimum have carte blanche for outreach such as is not now done by CIA, DIA, or anyone else. I refer to ethical intelligent outreach, not the idiot misadventures that some have sponsored.
03) OMB needs to mandate information sharing across Whole of Government such that the OSA becomes the hub for all unclassified information funded by the US taxpayer, inclusive of direct human contacts. At the same time, because so much of science as well as media reporting is disappearing from the web (17-30% each year), we need to get serious about cataloguing and offering access to memory copies of substantive information in which the public interest trumps copyright. Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive / Wayback Machine is not working out but could be a possible ally in this endeavor.
The elimination of the pink books should have led to the creation of online substitutes. We have too many timid managers allowing idiot lawyers to do great damage in the open source world — a complete review is needed such that all information funded by the US taxpayer — particularly all research and all overt face to face, email, and memorandum exchanges — gets processed via the OSA, to three levels: public access; official access; and restricted.
The open source world needs to be harnessed and nurtured. There are eight tribes of information, and they control 90% or more of the information we need to develop ethical evidence-based decision-support for Whole of Government strategy, policy, acquisition, and operations decision-making. Only an OSA can do this and do it well. OSC within CIA is neutered. OSC within OSA, as a foundation for the national security division run by someone like Charlie Allen, would be vastly more capable and responsive not only to CIA, but to all other elements including DHS.
The DNI is under the gun and does not have the time or the expert knowledge available to lead this initiative. The NSA debacle, combined with at least one major CIA scandal about to break, will keep the DNI fully occupied until his retirement. What is needed is an OMB lead, making the OSA a presidential initiative as originally planned by Sean O’Keefe in 2000, with one big difference from past plans: instead of just nurturing OSINT, the OSA would now nurture all the opens, and particularly open source information technology.
I continue to believe in the Constitution and the Republic. I continue to believe that we can restore citizen-centric governance in the USA. The OSA is an initiative with enormous potential for good, but it demands support from OMB, the President, and Congress. That may be too much to ask, but I am not giving up. St.