As the world of social media continues to grow and morph into a dazzling array of new formats and capabilities, the U.S. intelligence community is looking for new ways to take advantage of this seemingly inexhaustible but unmanageable wellspring of open source information.
Although open source intelligence (OSINT), which also includes media and other public information, has long been recognized as an important way to gain intelligence insights, that understanding was galvanized by the Arab Spring of 2011, which showed how web postings by people in the Middle East could help analysts predict and track the tumultuous events of that year.
The problem for the IC, of course, has been that the amount of data generated by the hundreds of millions of people—which must be monitored both for the open declarations of terrorists and other adversaries, as well as for legitimate but potentially explosive shifts of public opinion in countries around the world--would take an army of analysts. Moreover, the social media universe itself is constantly in flux, with sites opening and withering away rapidly due to changes in technology and consumer preference.
In response, both government and industry have pursued a number of approaches to making more effective use of social media information. Companies have developed a wide range of technology to automatically collect, screen, analyze, validate and identify the location of origin of open source data.
If the technological approaches to open source intelligence vary, however, there is a consensus on its importance.
“OSINT has a role in every phase of the intelligence cycle; it can tip the customer off to a new collection requirement as well as be used to corroborate, de-conflict and re-construct information from other domains. With the increasing use of mobile devices and social media, much of the focus has been on monitoring open source data for situational awareness. It is often the first indicator that an event of significance has occurred, and the only source of information in denied areas,” noted Eileen Ratzer, program manager for the Advanced Analytics Lab at BAE Systems.
“OSINT analysis has always been an important, though sometimes underappreciated, discipline. Technology enables us to collect and manipulate open source data information in ways we never could before. Having a team of analysts who can efficiently filter, monitor and analyze open source information means broader and deeper understanding on a global scale. OSINT can easily be shared with other stakeholders. If properly formatted, it can be easily integrated into any number of all-source workflows,” added Dan London, a sales, marketing and customer support executive for the company.
“Open source intelligence is important because it is inspired from the world at large--a wider contribution base brings faster solutions and more volume of data that can be shared quickly and easily,” said Shawn Masters, vice president of solution engineering for Novetta. “It is readily available and continuously improved by countless developers. Open source intelligence offers the right technology to increase information and data to support decision making and deal with increased risk.” ♦
- Issue: 2/3
- Volume: 13