OPEN SOURCE INTELLIGENCE REVIEWED
The latest issue of the CIA's journal Studies in Intelligence
has a couple of articles that demonstrate the advantages and limitations of systematically using OSINT
"Reexamining the Distinction Between Open Information and Secrets
" by Stephen C. Mercado
Book Review: "Understanding Terror Networks by Mark Sageman
" Reviewed by Dwight P. Pinkley
For professional intelligence analysts, OSINT is frequently an underutilized resource due to a need for efficient and systematic aggregation and judicious and precise discrimination among what can often be a massively overwhelming body of information. To make these kinds of selections under time constraints requires both a high level of vertical expertise so the analyst can readily evaluate the significance of the data and a capacity to scan horizontally across fields with acceptable competence. Interestingly enough, Stephen Mercado points to the blogosphere and old media as demonstrating the OSINT equivalent of the " wisdom of crowds
":"Quantity: There are far more bloggers, journalists, pundits, television reporters, and think-tankers in the world than there are case officers. While two or three of the latter may, with good agents, beat the legions of open reporters by their access to secrets, the odds are good that the composite bits of information assembled from the many can often approach, match, or even surpass the classified reporting of the few."
The military appears to be taking the lead with tapping OSINT for intelligence purposes
though the existence of a formal system to regularly vet the blogosphere per se is unknown, it would be well within the technical capacity of the NSA to create such a system. It is also extremely probable that IC analysts rely on the internet from time to time, including blogs writtten by those with particular fields of expertise, as do most other researchers these days. There are also, most likely, analysts with a mathematical bent who can discern useful intelligence from studying the memetic network patterns of the blogosphere or make use of those pattern structures for purposes of disinformation strategy ( have to be careful there - you don't want to corrupt your own feedback loop !).
The review of the Sageman book ostensibly demonstrates the limits over relying solely on OSINT though that is mixed rather heavily with the scholarly limitations of Dr. Sageman, who I'm certain is a top-notch psychiatrist and former CIA field operative but is neither a historian nor an Arabist. The reviewer himself makes an elementary mistake in finding fault with Sageman:"And there are other problems with Chapter Three. On the one hand, Sageman contends that foreign fighters were barely involved in fighting in the Soviet-Afghan war (57); on the other hand, he stipulates that the leadership and founding members of al-Qa’ida were indeed in the fight "
These two statements by Dr. Sageman I have to note are not mutually exclusive. They also happen to be accurate. Foreign fighters were at best peripheral to the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan but they were present, engaged in firefights that were, if no great strategic importance to the outcome of the war, served as the defining life experience for these "Arab Afghans" themselves.
The IC does not operate under the research constraints that Dr. Sageman labored under regarding OSINT, which should form the base of the analytical pyramid, the context, into which SIGINT, IMINT and clandestinely- acquired HUMINT can be placed and evaluated.