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Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is a term used to refer to the data collected from publicly available sources to be used in an intelligence context. In the intelligence community, the term "open" refers to overt, publicly available sources (as opposed to covert or clandestine sources). It is not related to open-source software or public intelligence.
OSINT under one name or another has been around for hundreds of years. With the advent of instant communications and rapid information transfer, a great deal of actionable and predictive intelligence can now be obtained from public, unclassified sources.
- 1 Principles
- 2 Definition
- 3 History
- 4 Risks for practitioners
- 5 Value
- 6 Process
- 7 OSINT Community Disciplines
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Literature
- 11 External links
Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is the collection and analysis of information that is gathered from public, or open, sources. OSINT is primarily used in national security, law enforcement, and business intelligence functions and is of value to analysts who use non-sensitive intelligence in answering classified, unclassified, or proprietary intelligence requirements across the previous intelligence disciplines.
OSINT sources can be divided up into six different categories of information flow:
- Internet, online publications, blogs, discussion groups, citizen media (i.e. – cell phone videos, and user created content), YouTube, and other social media websites (i.e. – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). This source also outpaces a variety of other sources due to its timeliness and is easily accessible.
- Public Government Data, public government reports, budgets, hearings, telephone directories, press conferences, websites, and speeches. Although this source comes from an official source they are publicly accessible and may be used openly and freely.
- Professional and Academic Publications, information acquired from journals, conferences, symposia, academic papers, dissertations, and theses.
- Commercial Data, commercial imagery, financial and industrial assessments, and databases.
- Gray Literature, technical reports, preprints, patents, working papers, business documents, unpublished works, dissertations, and newsletters.
OSINT is defined by both the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), as "produced from publicly available information that is collected, exploited, and disseminated in a timely manner to an appropriate audience for the purpose of addressing a specific intelligence requirement."
According to political scientist Jeffrey T. Richelson, “open source acquisition involves procuring, verbal, written, or electronically transmitted material that can be obtained legally. In addition to documents and videos available via the Internet or provided by a human source, others are obtained after U.S. or allied forced have taken control of a facility or site formerly operated by a foreign government or terrorist group.”
Security researcher Mark M. Lowenthal defines it as “any and all information that can be derived from overt collection: all types of media, government reports and other documents, scientific research and reports, commercial vendors of information, the Internet, and so on. The main qualifiers to open-source information are that it does not require any type of clandestine collection techniques to obtain it and that it must be obtained through means that entirely meet the copyright and commercial requirements of the vendors were applicable."
OSINT in the United States traces its origins to the creation of the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service (FBMS), an agency responsible for the monitoring of foreign broadcasts. An example of their work is reflected in the application of the correlation of changes in the price of oranges in Paris with that of railway bridges being bombed successfully.
The Aspin-Brown Commission stated in 1996 that US access to open sources was "severely deficient" and that this should be a "top priority" for both funding and DCI attention.
In July 2004, following the September 11 attacks, the 9/11 Commission recommended the creation of an open-source intelligence agency. In March 2005, the Iraq Intelligence Commission recommended the creation of an open-source directorate at the CIA.
Following these recommendations, in November 2005 the Director of National Intelligence announced the creation of the DNI Open Source Center. The Center was established to collect information available from "the Internet, databases, press, radio, television, video, geospatial data, photos and commercial imagery." In addition to collecting openly available information, it would train analysts to make better use of this information. The Center absorbed the CIA's previously existing Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), originally established in 1941, with FBIS head Douglas Naquin named as director of the Center. Then, following the events of 9/11 the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act merged FBIS and other research elements into the Office of the Director of National Intelligence creating the Open Source Enterprise.
Furthermore, the private sector has invested in tools which aid in OSINT collection and analysis. Specifically, In-Q-Tel, a Central Intelligence Agency supported venture capital firm in Arlington, VA assisted companies develop web-monitoring and predictive analysis tools.
In December 2005, the Director of National Intelligence appointed Eliot A. Jardines as the Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Open Source to serve as the Intelligence Community's senior intelligence officer for open source and to provide strategy, guidance and oversight for the National Open Source Enterprise. Mr. Jardines has established the National Open Source Enterprise and authored intelligence community directive 301. In 2008, Mr. Jardines returned to the private sector and was succeeded by Dan Butler who is ADDNI/OS and previously Mr. Jardines' Senior Advisor for Policy.
Risks for practitioners
A key main disadvantage to using OSINT is the volume of information which is generated constantly. With the technology revolution this has increased the amount of data being distributed, but becomes difficult to evaluate sources.
Accredited journalists have some protection in asking questions, and researching for recognized media outlets. Even so, they can be imprisoned, even executed, for seeking out OSINT. Private individuals illegally collecting data for a foreign military or intelligence agency is considered espionage in most countries. Of course, espionage that is not treason (i.e. betraying one's country of citizenship) has been a tool of statecraft since ancient times.
OSINT is valuable due to its less rigorous processing and exploitation processes and timelines compared to more technical intelligence disciplines such as HUMINT, SIGINT, MASINT, GEOINT, etc. Additionally, OSINT rapidly brings valuable differences of opinion to collection due to the breadth of sources OSINT encompasses.
According to the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction report submitted in March 2005, OSINT must be included in the all-source intelligence process for the following reasons (as stated in the report):
- The ever-shifting nature of our intelligence needs compels the IC to quickly and easily understand a wide range of foreign countries and cultures. – … today's threats are rapidly changing and geographically diffuse; it is a fact of life that an intelligence analyst may be forced to shift rapidly from one topic to the next. Increasingly, IC professionals need to quickly assimilate social, economic, and cultural information about a country—information often detailed in open sources.
- Open-source information provides a base for understanding classified materials. Despite large quantities of classified material produced by the IC, the amount of classified information produced on any one topic can be quite limited, and may be taken out of context if viewed only from a classified-source perspective. Perhaps the most important example today relates to terrorism, where open-source information can fill gaps and create links that allow analysts to better understand fragmented intelligence, rumored terrorist plans, possible means of attack, and potential targets.
- Open-source materials can protect sources and methods. Sometimes an intelligence judgment that is actually informed with sensitive, classified information can be defended on the basis of open-source reporting. This can prove useful when policy-makers need to explain policy decisions or communicate with foreign officials without compromising classified sources.
- Only open source can store history. A robust open-source program can, in effect, gather data to monitor the world's cultures and how they change with time. This is difficult, if not impossible, using the snapshots provided by classified collection methods.
OSINT is a highly diverse form of intelligence collection and analysis. Most OSINT collectors need to take precautions while collecting information from the Internet. This can come in the form of using a VPN to anonymize their identity and collect information more discreetly. This is where evaluating sources becomes important to the overall OSINT collection and analysis process. An OSINT analyst needs intelligence evaluation to determine a true process or expose a false process that would affect predicting the future. Finally, the analysts need to find use of the evaluated intelligence so that it can be incorporated into a finished classified, unclassified, or proprietary intelligence product.
Information collection in OSINT is generally a different problem from collection in other intelligence disciplines where obtaining the raw information to be analyzed may be the major difficulty, particularly if it is to be obtained from non-cooperative targets. In OSINT, the chief difficulty is in identifying relevant, reliable sources from the vast amount of publicly available information. However, this is not as great a challenge for those who know how to access local knowledge and how to leverage human experts who can create new tailored knowledge on the fly.
OSINT Community Disciplines
There are a large number of open-source activities taking place throughout the US Government. Frequently, these open-source activities are described as "media monitoring", "media analysis", "internet research" and "public surveys" but are open source nonetheless.
The US Intelligence Community's open-source activities (known as the National Open Source Enterprise) are dictated by Intelligence Community Directive 301 promulgated by the Director of National Intelligence. The Directive establishes the authorities and responsibilities of the Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Open Source (ADDNI/OS), the DNI's Open Source Center and the National Open Source Committee.
Prior to the establishment of the National Open Source Enterprise, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), established in 1941, was the government's primary open-source unit, transcribing and translating foreign broadcasts. It absorbed the Defense Department's Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS), which did a similar function with foreign printed materials, including newspapers, magazines, and technical journals.
The former Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Dr. Stephen Cambone encouraged in part by the Defense Science Board reports on Strategic Communication and Transition to and From Hostilities, created the Defense Open Source Program (DOSP). The current Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence is assigned executive agency for this program to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
U.S. military offices that engage in OSINT activities include:
- Unified Combatant Command
- Defense Intelligence Agency
- National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
- US Army Foreign Military Studies Office
- EUCOM JAC Molesworth
- Foreign Media Monitoring in Support of Information Operations, U.S. Strategic Command
The Department of Homeland Security has an active open-source intelligence unit. In congressional testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee's Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee the Undersecretary of Homeland Security Charles Allen indicated on February 14, 2007, that he had established the "Domestic Open Source Enterprise" to support the Department's OSINT needs and that of state, local and tribal partners.
The law enforcement OSINT community applies open-source intelligence (OSINT) to the prediction, prevention, investigation, and prosecution of criminals including terrorists. Additionally, fusion centers around the US are increasingly utilizing OSINT to support their intelligence generation and investigations.
New York Police Department (NYPD) is known to have an OSINT unit, as does the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, housed within the Emergency Operations Bureau and affiliated with the LA Joint Regional Intelligence Center.
Businesses may use information brokers and private investigators to collect and analyze relevant information for business purposes which may include the media, deep web, web 2.0 and commercial content.
Private Specialized Business (assisting the Criminal Justice field)
Another related business group within the United States that relies upon OSINT is the commercial Bail Bond industry. This related industry, servicing the court system, is apart form the above Business Intelligence sector. OSINT is useful to Bail Bond agencies that employ a private Fugitive Recovery Agency to locate and apprehend their absent client;i.e., a criminal defendant who has failed to appear for court and subsequently a warrant for arrest was issued. OSINT is the first method of discovery to help locate the defendant when initial interviewing of the bond co-signers, defendant's relatives and friends is lacking. OSINT gathering leads the investigator to discover an alternate hypothesis to analyze and then match relevant data for making a prediction regarding the fugitive's location; e.g., data is scrubbed from web access on Facebook entries, Twitter messages, Snapchat.
Should those methods fail, the next step is to seek the specialized Behavioral Intelligence services that reference OSINT to aid in establishing the veracity of subjects during the forensic interview and is used to create a behavioral profile. OSINT data is correlated with interview data to include a variety behavioral patterns; e.g., a list of daily personal contacts, habits of activities, visited places of interest, vehicles used, favorite group involvements, etc. According to the Director, psychologist and forensic interviewer at MN-Behavioral Intelligence Agency, (2016) OSINT data base has to be critically filtered and analyzed before it can be applied within investigative interviewing and interrogation.
- An OSINT Deep Web Search for usersnames and email addresses
- Open Source Center
- Private intelligence agency
- Special Libraries Association
- Strategic intelligence
- NATO Open Source Intelligence Handbook, NATO Open Source Intelligence Reader
- DARPA TIDES program
- Investigative Data Warehouse
- Fusion Center
- National Intelligence Open Source Committee
- "Open Source Intelligence" (PDF).
- "The US Intelligence Community". Retrieved 2017-04-29.
- "Spy Agencies Turn to Newspapers, NPR, and Wikipedia for Information: The intelligence community is learning to value 'open-source' information". Retrieved 2008-09-15.
- As defined in Sec. 931 of Public Law 109-163, entitled, "National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006."
- Richelson, Jeffrey T. The U.S. Intelligence Community. Avalon Publishing. ISBN 9780813349190. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
- George, edited by Roger Z; Kline, Robert D; Lownethal, Mark M (2005). Intelligence and the national security strategist : enduring issues and challenges. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 9780742540392.
- Bornn, D Marshall (9 Jan 2013). "Service members, civilians learn to harness power of 'Open Source' information". www.army.mil. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
- See page 413 of the 9-11 Commission Report (pdf).
- Office of the Director of National Intelligence. "ODNI Announces Establishment of Open Source Center". Press release, 8 November 2005.
- Ensor, David. "The Situation Report: Open source intelligence center". CNN, 8 November 2005.
- Office of the Director of National Intelligence "ODNI Senior Leadership Announcement". Press release, 7 December 2005.
- "National Open Source Entreprise Vision Statement" May 2006
- DNI Open Source Conference 2008 "Decision Advantage" agenda, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, July 2008.
- DNI Open Source Conference 2007 "Expanding the Horizons" agenda, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, July 2007.
- Sun Tzu (Warring States period), The Art of War, Chapter 13: "Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy's condition simply because one grudges the outlay of 2 hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity."
- (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities, 378–379). Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction
- DNI Intelligence Community Directive 301 – "National Open Source Enterprise" 11 July 2006.
- WashTimes.com, Washington Times – CIA mines 'rich' content from blogs, 19 April 2006
- GCN.com, Government Computer News – Intelligence units mine the benefits of public sources 20 March 2006
- AFCEA.org, SIGNAL Magazine – Intelligence Center Mines Open Sources March 2006
- FindAcricles.com[permanent dead link], Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin October–December, 2005 by Barbara G. Fast
- FAS.org, Congressional Testimony on OSINT and Homeland Security 21 June 2005
- FirstMonday.org, Open Source Intelligence by Stalder and Hirsh, 15 May 2002
- Forbes.com, When Everyone Can Mine Your Data by Taylor Buley, 11.21.08]
- , Open-Source Spying, article from the New York Times, about open sources and wikis
- Cnet.com, Maltego and the science of 'open-source' snooping by Matt Asay, November 25, 2008
- Scientific Publications
- Arthuer S. Hulnick: 'The Dilemma of Open Source Intelligence: Is OSINT Really Intelligence?', pages 229–241, The Oxford Handbook of National Security Intelligence, 2010
- Cody Burke: 'Freeing knowledge, telling secrets: Open source intelligence and development', Bond University, May 2007
- Florian Schaurer, Jan Störger: 'The Evolution of Open Source Intelligence', OSINT Report 3/2010, ISN, ETH Zürich, October 2010
- Mikel Rufián: "OSINT Training Workshop": OSINT Analyst: Advance Techniques, Tools and Training', Spain 2010
- Abdelrahman Rashdan: 'The Social Media OSINT Challenge to US Intelligence: Culture Not Gigabytes', in New Media Politics Rethinking Activism and National Security in Cyberspace. Ed. Banu Baybars-Hawks. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015
- An OSINT Deep Web Search for usersnames and email addresses
- An OSINT search of historic domain name whois records
- The Open Source Intelligence Resource Discovery Toolkit
- i-Sight's comprehensive list of OSINT resources
- The New Craft of Intelligence: Making the Most of Open Private Sector Knowledge
- Actual Intelligence Case Studies Leveraging Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)
- Sailing the Sea of OSINT in the Information Age
- The Intelligence Network
- OSINT discussion group at Yahoo!
- Open Source Center – U.S. government arm focusing on open source intelligence under the DNI
- The OSINT Catalogue of reports and books
- Collection and Use of Open-Source Intelligence – A to Z
- Open Source Intelligence (OSINT): Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, December 5, 2007
- Open Source Intelligence (OSINT): Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, January 28, 2008
- Advocacy and analysis of OSINT
- FindArticles.com[permanent dead link], FMSO-JRIC and Open Source Intelligence: speaking prose in a world of verse, Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, Oct–Dec, 2005 by Jacob W. Kipp
- Information Security