Open Source Intelligence (OSINT): Issues for Congress

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It does not have its own agency, however, units are scattered within the Department of Defense and the State Department. 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.

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 Library of Congress sponsors the Federal Research Division FRD which conducts a great deal of tailored open-source research on a fee-for-service basis for the executive branch. Prior to the establishment of the National Open Source Enterprise, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service FBIS , established in , 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 current Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence is assigned executive agency for this program to the Defense Intelligence Agency. The Department of Homeland Security has an active open-source intelligence unit. Additionally, fusion centers around the US are increasingly utilizing OSINT to support their intelligence generation and investigations. 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.

This related industry, servicing the court system, is apart from the above Business Intelligence sector. 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.

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. According to the Director, psychologist and forensic interviewer at MN-Behavioral Intelligence Agency, OSINT data base has to be critically filtered and analyzed before it can be applied within investigative interviewing and interrogation.

First category is open source tools to query multiple search engines simultaneously as IntelTechniques or search engines that provide the results separately as All in One or DuckDuckGo. This category also includes social media search engines and search engines of domains and people as Pipl. Second category is designed for big data analytics platforms as DataWalk which allow to automatically combine OSINT insight with local, internal data for further visual analysis and search for hidden connections across billions of records.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. Learn how and when to remove these template messages. This article is written like a personal reflection, personal essay, or argumentative essay that states a Wikipedia editor's personal feelings or presents an original argument about a topic. Please help improve it by rewriting it in an encyclopedic style. Relying on classified information immediately limits those with whom an analyst can discuss issues and creates a wall between those with access and those without it.

Intelligence analysts must, by law, exclude outsiders without clearance from access to classified information; but in this way they create an exclusive club that inhibits the use of relevant and potentially significant expertise. Also, as noted earlier, many intelligence analysts trust only classified information. They may put excessive confidence in such materials, perhaps in the belief that they have been closely vetted and validated during the collection process.

This stamp of approval for classified information, and the bias favoring it over other sources, can cause analysts to be closed off to data emerging from researchers who use open sources. To some extent, resistance to the use of open source information may be more prevalent among analysts whose careers began during the Cold War when the focus was on secretive nation states with sophisticated military capabilities. Analysts who have entered the workforce in more recent years will have had routine access to open source information in academic environments or in previous professional assignments.

A major component of the open source initiative has, nevertheless, been an effort to ensure that open source experts are available and utilized in all intelligence agencies and at the same time avoid unnecessary duplicative efforts. This effort has concentrated on enhancing expertise within the NOSC and in offering training for open source experts in other agencies. In many cases, however, the number of persons whose job responsibilities focus on, or include open source information to a significant degree have not been consistently identified.

The ODNI's budgetary authorities may permit decisive support to the open source effort. Dedicated open source positions at appropriate paygrades could do much to ensure the visability of the open source effort. With information expected to be available from individual agencies and reviewed by the ODNI, budgets submitted by the DNI each year could include more detailed information on specific open source analyst positions in each agency.

Congress would then have the opportunity to review these efforts through the budget process to ensure adequate, but not redundant, open source capabilities. Some argue that open source billets should be identified not only in national intelligence agencies but also in military intelligence agencies. Information sharing, based on state-of-the-art information technology, is another important part of the effort. The Open Source Center manages this effort for the entire Intelligence Community as well as homeland defense partners at the state, local, and tribal levels.

The goal is to maximize connectivity throughout the Government and to supercede separate agency-based system that have incompatible formats and extensive duplicative materials. Individual agencies may continue to maintain independent open source databases, but the goal is that they are maintained in formats that can be accessed by analysts at other agencies.

The private sector without the same kinds of security concerns as the Intelligence Community has led the adoption of technologies that are also critical to intelligence. Two areas show particular promise: first, machine translation of foreign languages; and, second, tools designed to prioritize documents in their native language without the need for translation.

This effort depends heavily on the expertise and initiative of commercial enterprises to develop useful and cost-effective technologies. In the CIA developed In-Q-Tel to provide a means for business firms to work with intelligence agencies on comparatively small contracts. The effort has been widely praised but has been largely focused on classified technologies. A similar approach, but one focused solely on unclassified open source technologies has been proposed for implementation by the ODNI. One of the most important sources of information from non-governmental sources private sector contributors is commercial imagery that is purchased by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Commercial satellites provide extensive overhead coverage of targets throughout the world to supplement imagery from government satellites. In some cases it has also meant that overhead imagery of significant quality is available to anyone with access to the Internet. Although the background and extent of this use lies beyond the scope of this Report, the use of commercial imagery has had a major influence on the intelligence community, especially on the procurement and operation of government satellites.

For most other open source information, the U. Government is only an incidental customer and in some cases an undesired one. The Defense Department has long been an important center of open source information. With the services of U. Although the introduction of web-based information sharing systems makes it possible to share such information with other DOD and IC users, incentives to share information have not always been present.

The effort resulted in the establishment of the Defense Open Source Council. The Council was tasked with establishing open source requirements and developing an open source strategy for all DOD components. The conference aimed to improve support to military users, encourage information sharing, and inaugurate a long-term mutually beneficial relationship. However, many of the conference attendees reportedly concluded that open source collection is poorly funded, and the personnel involved in DOD open source efforts often lack training in media analysis and foreign language capabilities.

Furthermore, it was concluded that "there is no clear external point of contact or central responsibility for [open source] support for the military. Although there is greater coordination between the NOSC and DOD offices in acquiring materials to reduce duplication, it is not clear that the inherent challenges in training intelligence personnel in open source collection and analysis have been eliminated. Although information is shared more extensively and certain open source functions have been rationalized, 47 the open source efforts are in large measure are conducted in isolation from the NOSC and even other DOD entities.

In the FY the Defense Authorization Act Congress found that the Intelligence Community "has not expanded its exploitation efforts and systems to produce open-source intelligence," and directed DOD to prepare a plan for funding a "robust" open source intelligence capability under the oversight of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. DHS, which is by statute both an intelligence and a law enforcement agency, is an important consumer of open source information and potentially able to make far more extensive use of it given the disparate extent of DHS responsibilities.

Currently, DHS is focusing its open source effort on working in cooperation with state and local entities. The goal is to establish open source collection with in the various component agencies of DHS, relying on the Open Source Center for technical support and training. We're looking at putting together a cadre of governmental specialists, as well as contractors from my office, to work as a virtual satellite bureau of the open-source center that is run by the CIA to ensure that we meet the requirements not only of the federal government for homeland security open-source information but that we also make available this information and we push it down to the states.

The states also. Open source acquisition and use at DHS appears to be in the formative stages, a situation similar to that existing at many agencies. There is an acceptance of the need for greater use, but the infrastructure is incomplete and observers believe that full utilization of available sources has not been obtained.

One of the key challenges to managing the use of open source is the absence of widely accepted measurements or metrics. Intelligence Community managers seek quantifable measures for day-to-day administration. Counts are made of the occasions in which open source analyses have been included in the President's Daily Brief, one of the Intelligence Community's most important products. Other products are published by the Open Source Center based solely on open source information and disseminated to intelligence analysts and outside experts. Use of the website opensource.

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Inasmuch as open source information is used by all-source analysts in connection with information from classified sources, it is difficult to measure how much open source information contributes to a specific intelligence product. It is anticipated that open source information will increasingly be relied upon given its greater availability, the nature of issues that today's analysts must cover, and the heavier emphasis placed on it by senior intelligence leaders. The ultimate metric for the Intelligence Community is, however, the quality of analysis. Today's analysts work with the awareness that products reflecting ignorance of information contained in open sources will discredit the entire intelligence effort.

This will be especially the case when intelligence products are made public and are scrutinized by knowledgeable outside experts. Congress has been an important advocate of greater use of open source information; as noted above, it created a statutory requirement for increased use of open source information.

In addition to ongoing oversight, some observers suggest that there are also a number of specific issues that Congress might address to further the goal of its greater use. These issues include:. It is not clear that there are adequate reporting mechanisms to allow Congress to evaluate the implementation of mandated open source efforts. This creates uncertainties about how the mandate is progressing.

For example, while the DNI currently has the statutory authority to ensure the effective execution of the budget, including open source activities, throughout the Intelligence Community 50 , the reality is that funding allocations may be affected by requirements imposed by agency heads including the DCIA. Some observers suggest that open source positions and budgets need to be effectively "fenced," or protected, to ensure that congressional mandates are implemented.

This concern has been expressed in regard to open source efforts in the various agencies and even to the NOSC itself. The extent to which different priorities of CIA managerial officials and the NOSC leadership have complicated open source efforts is unknown, but oversight committees may wish to verify the current IC approach is adequately implementing the congressional open source mandate. One way is to examine specific budget areas in which spending on open source currently can be identified. Similar information for open source efforts in other agencies may be more difficult to identify.

It is not known if relevant detailed budget information on open source efforts is included in the classified budget justification books that are presented annually to the intelligence and appropriations committees. A requirement that a Congressional Budget Justification Book CBJB be submitted specifically devoted to open source could provide detailed insights into open source operations and capabilities throughout the Intelligence Community. An open source CBJB would provide the information base on which more detailed open source oversight could be exercised.

Another opportunity occurs when the DNI submits to congressional intelligence committees an annual report reviewing analytical products. Arguably, these annual reports should address the use of open source information. However, oversight committees could ask for additional information on open source utilization if needed. And finally, an approach that might be considered in some situations would be a request for an alternative analysis of a specified topic solely based on open sources in order to compare it with all-source analyses. The Intelligence Reform Act specifically provided for alternative analyses 51 and, in some cases, it might be appropriate to have alternate analyses based solely on information in the public record.

Such an effort could demonstrate the additive value of specific forms of classified information.


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If a product based on open sources was essentially consistent with an analogous analytical product based on classified sources, then the former would have the useful advantage of being more easily provided to Congress and the public. A difficult issue for those responsible for acquiring, analyzing, and disseminating open source information within the Government is the extent to which such activities can be carried out in accordance with the provisions of laws governing copyrights. Much of the open source information acquired by intelligence agencies is in the "public domain" i.

In other cases, as with certain commercial databases, rights to the information have been obtained by contract in accordance with usual government procurement procedures. In many other cases, however, agencies acquire copyright information without the authorization of the copyright holder as of course millions of writers and researchers also routinely do. In using such copyrighted information, intelligence agencies, like other users of public information, are governed by the doctrine of "fair use" based on common law and codified in the Copyright Act of 17 USC Further complications arise in regard to works published in foreign countries whose governments may or may not adhere to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works which provides international protections for copyrighted material.

Open source information

A detailed analysis of the implications of copyright law on the open source intelligence effort lies beyond the scope of this Report, but it is clear that the Intelligence Community's desire to "buy it once and only once" may be in conflict with the goal of copyright holders to ensure that payment for the use of their products by multiple government agencies is not avoided. Some may argue that Congress should consider an amendment to copyright law that would cover the open source efforts of intelligence agencies. Removing uncertainty of the extent of copyright would facilitate open source efforts and facilitate the widest possible use of the information by public officials.

On the other hand, such an initiative could infringe upon the legitimate rights of copyright holders including the profits they could reasonably expect from copies sold to the many government offices. This approach would attempt to guarantee that open source resources would be managed by practitioners with significant expertise that could not be redirected for a single agency's temporary higher priority. Given the availability of information systems that extend throughout the Intelligence Community, an Open Source Center directly under the DNI arguably could meet the needs of analysts at all levels even if it had no agency homebase.

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The advantage of placing the NOSC directly under the DNI would be to enhance the prestige of the open source discipline by raising its profile, fencing the funding, and ensuring its independence from shifting priorities within the CIA where human intelligence collection inevitably makes heavy and continuing demands on senior officials. A disadvantage would be the need to establish an administrative infrastructure that would to some extent duplicate that which already exists within the CIA.

As part of the CIA, the NOSC is constrained in collecting information that will be used for law enforcement purposes in accordance with the provisions of the National Security Act precluding CIA involvement in law enforcement activities. For instance, collecting media accounts in foreign publications or websites that provide information about potential terrorist activities that involve persons physically present in the U.

Congress also has broader reaching options. The Bush Administration's approach to open source intelligence is based on establishing standards and best practices at the National Open Source Center, and encouraging through various means, greater acquisition and use of open source information by analysts in all agencies. Although there has been little opposition to this approach expressed by Members of Congress, some outside observers have advocated alternative approaches. A more radical, approach would be to establish an Open Source Agency completely outside the Intelligence Community in addition to the existing Open Source Center.

The goal would be to provide open source information not just to intelligence analysts but to all elements of the Federal Government including congressional committees. It is envisioned that the new agency would be an independent Federal agency under the Secretary of State and similar to the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Such an entity could also be established in the Defense Department outside of intelligence agencies with special responsibilities for supporting multilateral operations involving a number of countries some of whom might not be intelligence partners of the United States.

This initiative could be based on an assessment that open source information, systematically collected and analyzed, is important for all government efforts including those that cannot realistically be supported by the Intelligence Community. A particular advantage cited by advocates is that open source intelligence could support the conduct of U. Proponents of this plan argue that open source information is essential for virtually all governmental functions but that the explosion of available information has not been matched by concerted efforts to acquire and analyze it.

The goal would be to establish a center of expertise for the entire Federal Government and to make available to the public free universal access to all unclassified information acquired through this initiative. At present, information provided by the NOSC is available to all government agencies, but it is designed to support the Intelligence Community. Intelligence analysts have long used such information to supplement classified data, but systematically collecting open source information has not been a priority of the U.

Intelligence Community IC. However, some still emphasize that the primary business of intelligence continues to be obtaining and analyzing secrets. A consensus now exists that OSINT must be systematically collected and should constitute an essential component of analytical products.