Wrapping Intelligence Around the Open Source Whirlwind

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In the internet age, the digital breadcrumbs humans leave in their wake can be harnessed – the geotag on a tweeted photo, or the time stamps on a YouTube video upload. This open source, publicly available material, once scorned by the secret-stealers of the intelligence community, is rising in value as it is in volume. Open source intelligence (OSINT) is increasingly leveraged by intelligence agencies around the world to quantify, contextualize and even predict international events.

  • Open source intelligence draws from publically available material, including traditional mass media – television, radio, magazines and newspapers – academic journals; books; conference proceedings; reports from think tanks, industry, civil society, and government; social media; and geospatial information such as maps and commercial satellite imagery.
  • In the United States, the CIA collects, produces and distributes open source intelligence through the Open Source Enterprise (OSE), established in 2015 under of the Directorate of Digital Innovation.
  • While the practice of open source intelligence collection has changed significantly since the advent of the internet and real-time, user-generated content, its roots in the U.S. intelligence community go back to World War II, to the Office of Strategic Services’ Research and Analysis Branch and Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service, which monitored the Axis’ state-run radio channels, analyzing tone, syntax and other linguistic and cultural tells.

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