Answers on OSINT for India 24 – Does Open Source Information Sharing by Secret Agencies Have Security Downsides?


Sir, as we know info sharing is the strategy in OSINT. I observed that info is majorly multi-domain i.e. whatever we collect has security implications in major domains. For example, if a SIGINT operator pounces upon some piece of grey lit that has one portion concerning diplomacy then the same part needs to be conveyed to someone in policy intel.

Can you send some reading, grey lit, newspaper report or anything that might be considered to be close to having intel value and have multi-domain info contained in the piece of info.

Dear Colleague,

You are directly addressing the reason why we need a separate Open Source Agency (OSA) and why we cannot allow the secret intelligence agencies to manage their own open source information support programs.

CIA has always insisted  that the mere fact that they are interested in or collect a specific piece of open source information in any language makes that information immediately classified.  It is not just the fact that they are interested (for example, an open source article about Chinese aviation plasma stealth technology) but the actual article is then “classified” in the US intelligence world and not shared with consumers.

When General Al Gray approved the creation of the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA) and I was recruited to be the senior civilian responsible for creating it, his priority was intelligence support to military expeditionary force acquisition. The US Army Country Studies, for example, were classified SECRET. There was no useful decision support to military strategics, planners, and program managers with respect to what I conceptualized as “strategic generalizations” such as cross-country mobility, bridge loading, tunnel clearance, line of site distance, aviation temperatures, etcetera.

In brief — and BGen James Cox RN CA agreed with me on  this — open source is  too important to be “fenced” by the secret  agencies because it ends up blocking the proper exploitation of open sources both across all secret agencies (the CIA, NSA, DIA, and FBI all hate each other and do not collaborate professionally) and in relation to the military commanders and civilian leaders who need decision support that is most useful when it can be shared with people who do not have security clearances.

This is a quote from the US Navy Wing Commander who led the lead flight against Baghdad in the first Gulf War:

“When you send me information that requires a safe and three security officers to move around the battlefield, that is not useful to me.”

General Al Gray himself focused on the importance of separating the secrecy of source and methods with the military actionable fact of a target: transmit the grid coordinates in the clear, never mind how we got them or how we know what is there.

An Open Source Agency would have within the Information Bureau a direct support element dedicated to meeting the needs of the secret intelligence agencies, and even staffed with cleared subject matter experts (e.g. COMINT, ELINT) who could guide the open source collection campaign. For a while I was converting top secret intelligence requirements into ostensible graduate student research papers within various science &  technology centers associated with universities.

The key is that the OSA owns the original and provides a copy to the high side (the secret world) immediately as it is acquired, but the secret world loses all false pretenses and claimed rights with respect to classifying the original.

It also merits comment that it is vastly easier for an Open Source Agency to hide a requirement within millions of requirements covering all scientific & technical as well as social science and humanities target  topics, than it is for a secret agency — and its known contractors — to do so.

It is also vastly easier for a global Open Source Agency network with a million subject matter experts covering every imaginable topic in every imaginable language to spot, assess, and develop potential clandestine sources to the point that special circuit riders can then pick up the development, recruitment, and handling of actual clandestine sources. Neither CIA nor DIA has ever been willing to acknowledge that fundamental fact. Instead they have their rogue private sector elements that are easily spotted by local liaison and make a mockery of the concept of clandestine operations.


1990 Expeditionary Environment Analytic Model

Unclassified Strategic Generalizations Vital to Classified Acquisition

2013 BGen James Cox, CA (Ret) On the Record on Open Source Information versus Open Source Intelligence versus Secret Intelligence

Search (3): Analytic Models, 10 Threats, Threat Support to Acquisition

Robert Steele: NATO 2040: Intelligence (Decision-Support) as Root for Transformation [Final Author’s Draft]


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