Open source intelligence analysis is based on information that is openly available to the public. Information on a subject of interest is gathered from online sources, newspapers, pictures, videos, grey literature, and white papers and is analyzed to provide more details on that subject. Open source intelligence (OSINT) provides just one part of all-source intelligence and has been around for centuries, from the Revolutionary War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
OSINT continues to play a major role in the Intelligence Community (IC) and should be a continued focus within studies in intelligence. More emphasis has been placed on open source intelligence collection in recent years because of the large amount of information accessible in the public domain. Open source intelligence analysis is conducted throughout many of the agencies in the IC but the major collectors are the Foreign Broadcast Information Service and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center. In November 2005, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Open Source Center (OSC) was established, with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) charged with its management.
There are two main parts of open source intelligence analysis: research and analysis. Research relies heavily on information technology systems and analysts must collect, filter, and analyze the vast amounts of data available. This proves to be a daunting task in itself, extracting the relevant data of interest. The analysis is no different than analysis in other intelligence disciplines. Effective analysis requires thinking analytically, which Richards Heuer, Jr. identifies as a skill that can be taught, learned, and improved upon with practice. These two main parts, research and analysis, can be focused on with studies in intelligence, applying advanced research and analytical skills to better prepare future analysts.
Other key factors that have implications on OSINT's research and analysis are language and cultural expertise on the particular region of the subject. For example, a direct translation of a foreign official may imply one thing, but a person with the language and cultural expertise may be able to more accurately translate the actual meaning and intention of the statement. The translation from the expert could have different implications than the direct translation.
A hypothetical example of the role open source intelligence analysis factors into the intelligence process is the recent Syrian state media report stating that hundreds of foreign "jihadist" fighters have infiltrated Syria in the past two years. Further open source research and analysis can provide additional details on the subject. Identifying multiple independent sources during this process can fill gaps in information, or discover additional requirements that could be collected through other intelligence disciplines, such as SIGINT or HUMINT.
The further integration of open source intelligence analysis into studies in intelligence will prove to be a valuable skill for students focused on any area within the intelligence curriculum. The advanced research and analytical skills will broaden students' knowledge and ability to advance through the IC. The value of OSINT will continue to gain importance as more and more information is published in print and online media.
Dan Sommer works for Henley-Putnam University, a leading educational institution in the field of Strategic Security. For more info on Henley-Putnam University, studies in intelligence, open source intelligence analysis, visit us online at http://www.Henley-Putnam.edu
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