Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is one of the “new” categories
Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is one of the “new” categories of collection and serves as a key intelligence collection discipline. It has also received a significant amount of focus in the post 9/11 era. For this week’s discussion posting: Ca
Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is one of the “new” categories of collection and serves as a key intelligence collection discipline. It has also received a significant amount of focus in the post 9/11 era. For this week’s discussion posting: Categorize the challenges facing the OSINT community and analyze some of the implications of these challenges for the future. Make sure you place your discussion within the context of the literature.
Assignment: Response to at least two classmates.
Due Dates: Main Posts are due and responses to classmates are due. Feedback to students after the assignment grading period will not be assessed.
One of the main challenges with OSINT is the risk of gathering inaccurate, skewed, or completely false information. As all of us are aware, there are varying degrees of reliability when analyzing sources on the internet or across the media domain. To some extent, trained professionals can distinguish which sources of information they need to be putting more scrutiny on. However, there is still a high risk of gathering false information through this means of collection (Joint Publication 2-01 2013). Social media scrubs can provide significant amounts of information on events and people. Many analysts within the IC use social media databases as a tipping mechanism for real time events such as terrorist acts and missile strikes. Conversely, Social media has become a significant propagating force for misinformation and propaganda. An extremely recent high-profile example was the case of the Ghost of Kyiv. During the first month of the war in Ukraine, social media platforms were lauding the Ghost of Kyiv, a Ukrainian pilot who shot down as many as 40 Russian aircraft. His efforts were a significant morale boost for Ukrainians and Western powers. Just a few weeks ago, it was revealed that this person does not exist (Peter 2022). OSINT can be extremely helpful as the first stage of collection but must be verified by other disciplines. Another challenge with OISINT is the sheer volume of it. In a digital age, Open Source has expanded from official communication platforms to include anything publicly available on the web. Often times this bogs down analysts who have to sift through millions of sites/datapoints/profiles to find something useful. Additionally, it is very challenging to find something unless you know where to look.
The future will only make more data available for intelligence communities to access. With this in mind, it will be critical for the IC to find ways to better triage information (potentially by using AI?) and be increasingly wary of false information. There may need to be a more robust vetting process in place for OSINT information that is used to build profiles or frame events.
Peter, Laurence. 2022. How Ukraine’s ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ legendary pilot was born. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-61285833
Joint Intelligence, Joint Publication 2-0. 2013. U.S. Government. Department of Defense. Washington DC: Government Printing Office.
Open source intelligence is a tricky INT to work with. Before coming out of a weeklong course over open source intelligence, I had no idea what it was. Open source intelligence is making itself known within the IC and that is because many people, and countries for that matter, are turning to social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook to post their latest news. Individuals are also blogging/vlogging which provides a lot of good information for those who seek it. Many journalists publish news within minutes after something occurs and this is all intelligence that can be collected. Inadvertently, people continuously post valuable information that can be collected at the tier one level. Meaning, it is all located on the surface web and can be accessed from social media sites, academia sites, .gov/.mil sites, and even places such as intel link. Open source intelligence does have its challenges, however.
For starters, not all information that is collected will be in English, and collectors will severely limit themselves on the things they gather if they solely stick to English words. Therefore, one will have to use things like Google translate or other members who speak the language. Without assuming however, one must know the language of the original text so they can get an accurate translation. Companies are attempting to develop programs that allow for better translation but that will take some time because even Americans speak different dialects of English. Some of the nation says coke, while some says pop, and the other says soda. Therefore, obtaining a full proof translation program will be hard to obtain. Agencies are struggling with foreign language skills and cultural understanding and thus, are extremely limited in their foreign collection efforts (Lowenthal and Clark 2016, 22).
Another challenged that is posed is the ability to access the deep web. This is not something that anyone can do. The deep web offers much more than what is traditionally given on search engines such as Google and Bing. The deep web can provide a wealth of knowledge when used correctly. The challenging part is getting access into it. It is not easy to enter the dark web and many agents struggle with the coding process to enter. Therefore, agencies are again struggling on their open source collection efforts as they are tying their hands behind their backs with limited information.
A very important step to open source collection is vetting and validating the sources collected on. Journalists, social media pages, and news outlets are all in a rush to put out the latest news so they can be coined as the first to report. This only creates deception, though. Collectors must be diligent in the process because inevitably, someone will post the wrong information just so they can be the first to report (Lowenthal and Clark 2016, 27).
OSINT is an ever-evolving realm. Collectors must keep up to date with the people and regions they collect on. Personally, what I believe to be important moving forward, is for leaders to understand what their collectors are observing daily. They are asked to collect on uncensored things meaning, they are apt to see just about anything. And sometimes, they are asked to watch that day in and day out without a break. Therefore, I would say that leaders should help mitigate the things collectors look at, if able. Maybe allow collectors to get settled in the first hour of their shift and decompress the last hour so they are not taking that burden home with them.
Another thing to be on the lookout for is smaller teams. As the economy turns, OSINT collectors will transition from a centralized leadership style to a smaller, more responsive team. Theses teams will be tasked to support and collect for an operation they are assigned to (Lowenthal and Clark 2016, 41). OSINT is also transitioning to other data sources. These sources can allow a collector to identify who and when a picture was taken by just a few short clicks of the mouse. Within minutes, a collector will be able to turn a photo from Facebook into valuable information that can be collected on. That can lead to another change too. Everyone is glued to their phones these days and thus, all news, media, blogs, etc., are online, which will enable collectors to collect extensively online and within the easily accessible tier one realm (Lowenthal and Clark 2016, 42).
Lowenthal, Mark, and Robert Clark. “Open Source Intelligence.” Essay. In The Five Disciplines of Intelligence Collection, 5–42. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press, 2016.
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