By nature, the intelligence community (IC) thrives on the ability to uncover key data and intelligence from classified sources for the entire chain of command—from senior policymakers down to the warfighter. One area of intelligence gathering that is potentially just as valuable is open source intelligence (OSINT). While OSINT is certainly not new to the IC, it can be highly effective and is often overlooked as an ideal intelligence discipline.
As a discipline, OSINT extends beyond information that any citizen can access via sources such as Google or public data from government reports. The most robust OSINT programs utilize these techniques while also tapping into subject matter experts and members of academia. These individuals can provide deep understanding and ultimately actionable intelligence that can help the IC and the U.S. government make effective foreign policy decisions. In addition, OSINT data can augment intelligence gathered through other disciplines, providing a more comprehensive view for enhanced decision making.
Looking ahead, a new form of OSINT is emerging in the form of “crowdsourcing” data to provide better accuracy of intelligence forecasting. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) has been actively seeking solicitations from members of industry and a pool of open source experts to help the IC make better informed decisions.
Members of academia are also helping the IC tap into the “wisdom of crowds.” The phenomenon is based on statistical evidence that large crowds of average folks are often capable of better predicting unknown events than individual experts. Via the Internet, researchers at George Mason University are assembling a team of more than 500 forecasters who will make educated guesses about a series of world events. The effort is actually part of an academic competition between universities that are vying for a grant from the IARPA.
In the face of future budget cuts that will task the IC with “doing more with less,” OSINT is a cost-effective way for the community to tap into and leverage data from open resources and crowds. While much of this data would be considered unclassified, it does not diminish its true value. The combination of classified and unclassified intelligence will provide the intelligence community with a complete set of data for decision making that will always be needed—even in the face of lowered budgets.