Can Open Source Intelligence Be a Non-Violent Alternative to War?

kentbye's picture
| | | |

Chris Messina and I were talking about how open source principles could be applied to national security and defense issues, and I mentioned that there was an effort for Open Source Intelligence.

I also speculated that eventually information could be used as a non-violent alternative for war. At the time, I was basing this prediction on my own observations for how information could be used for non-violent conflict resolution. I hadn't really come across a strong intellectual argument for how this new media revolution & advances in communications technologies could actually help bring peace and security to the planet.

But then I discovered a draft of Robert Davis Steele's book that will be titled "INFORMATION OPERATIONS: All Information, All Languages, All the Time" when I was checking up on the latest news from Steele's Open Source Solutions website.

This book was written by Steele, who is a former Marine Corps and CIA intelligence official -- and someone who has been advocating for Open Source Intelligence for the last 17 years. Steele writes, "information-sharing, exploiting all sources in all languages all the time, is the central tenet of defense in the age of information."

Steele argues that the United States is at a strategic dead-end with funding Cold War era war machinery...

"the United States of America finds itself with a military optimized for force-on-force confrontations between nation-states, and a national intelligence community optimized for stealing secrets through technical means, with an extremely narrow range of focus and almost no flexibility."

Steele cites the following government report concluding that we're spending way too much money on techno-gadgets without paying enough attention to how to make sense of this information overload:

"the major finding of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency Commission Report of December 1999, concluding that we have been spending tens of billions of dollars on esoteric collection systems, without a commensurate investment in information technologies for Tasking, Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (TPED)."

I also came to these same conclusions after working for 5 years as a defense contractor. We're dumping billions and billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars into technological systems to gather and hoard data, but we're doing a horrible job of making sense of any of it in a timely fashion. This is also what the 9/11 Commission and many other intelligence reform initiatives have concluded.

Steele thinks that our money would be much better suited by developing an open source intelligence network that would tap into the wisdom of the network considering that 90% of the relevant information is from unclassified open sources:

The vast majority of the information needed by DoD is unclassified, generally not online nor subject to deep web data mining, generally not in English, and generally not readily identifiable unless a witting willing volunteer from the owning organization “offers it up.” Roughly 90% of the information we need is unclassified, and available only from organizations that will not share that information with secret agencies. Civil affairs is the model to use.

Steele is advocating for a system that he calls "Open Source Information System—External" (OSIS-X) that would have educational institutions, NGOs, other governments and possibly even US citizens (i.e. bloggers and citizen journalists) contributing information to this network. He envisions forming symbiotic relationships with these groups making access to this OSIS-X publicly available to the academic institutions and NGOs -- and potentially to anyone via the Internet.

Steele reasons that:

The US focus is on sanitizing classified information of marginal value, or stone-walling the NGOs completely after first getting everything the NGOs have to offer. A much more productive approach is to jointly establish shared requirements, to share what each knows via overt means, and to gradually expand the circle of participants in an overt network so that more and more distinct entities are both contributing original information, and drawing upon the aggregate information, to which DoD can add considerable value by applying generic sense-making tools.

Steele elaborates on what the government would be looking for from this type of collaborative symbiosis:

Deep web content acquisition such as is not available from commercial aggregators is a major aspect of the open source information challenge, but it is not the only source. Private databases, especially NGO databases, niche and mainstream publications, gray literature, sermons, and street talk as well as new knowledge created by subject matter experts on demand, are part of this larger global pool that must be addressed in at least 33 languages all the time, and up to 185 languages some of the time.

There would inevitably be some skepticism from non-governmental institutions and other organizations contributing information to a government-sanctioned network like this -- especially regarding the inclusion of religious sermons and other privacy concerns. But Steele envisions that a new information ecology would form out of these OSIS-X partnerships:

OSIS-X will not only make sense of all that we can know, and prevent dots from being dropped in the future, but it will create an information ecology, and environment in which information attracts more and more information, makes more and more sense, and ultimately changes the American way of war and the American way of commerce.

There are two very important points here about this type of "information operation" (IO) that are brought out when Steele says, "IO is ultimately about using information as a substitute for conflict and as a means of creating wealth that stabilizes the now impoverished regions of the world."

Steele is saying that information has the potential to empower and enrich Long-Tail microeconomies within the unstable regions of the world, and that this is relevant because "It has been clearly established by numerous authorities that it is the combination of legitimacy and localized wealth creation that stabilizes and nurtures large populations."

Steele is also describing a complete paradigm shift for how we could think about conflict resolution with what he calls information peacekeeping, which would be an integral part of our information operations (IO). Steele explains his vision:

"Modern IO is the seed crystal for a total transformation of the American way of war, a new American way that practices information peacekeeping, and reflects a new commitment by America to stabilize the world intelligently rather than violently. It is a holistic mission that must be accomplished by the J-3 using a civil affairs mind-set, with the J-2 limited to internal validation and support. There are not enough guns on the planet to force our will upon other or to protect our quality of life for future generations. IO is the new way of war, and of peace."

Is this a sign of what "defense" might look like in the information age and the 21st Century? It's definitely time for our political culture and defense strategy to start catching up with the technical innovation and new media revolution. Steele says,

In an era when information converted into intelligence and knowledge is a substitute for wealth, violence, energy, water, and everything else, only the: the United States of America has the power to execute this practical vision. DoD is the catalyst for its achievement.

Now it may seem odd to house something like this within the Department of Defense considering the recent reports of the military planting propaganda within the Iraqi newspapers. But Steele argues in a November 25th blog post that

[The CIA] leadership and its bureaucratic drones refused to consider the possibility that in a globalized world, open sources of information might actually be more important, more timely, more accessible, than narrow secrets.

So Steele argues that the CIA has no leadership potential in the realm of open source intelligence because:

the leadership of the U.S. Intelligence Community remains convinced that they are in the business of secrets for the President, and there is but lip service given to meeting the needs of all federal agencies at all levels, and no respect at all for the value of public intelligence.

As a result, Steele's vision has been mostly ignored by the politicians and decision-making intelligence bureaucrats for the last 17 years, but he's finally making some headway with a coalition of technology corporations and other institutions who can help manifest his visions for a publicly available OSIS-X system. Steele argues that

Since DHS and its constituencies cannot afford the high-end systems that DoD has been funding for itself, and DoD cannot afford to pay for 50 to 5,000 [inter-operable command & control, communications, and computing system] nodes across America, there is only one option: an open source software solution that allows everyone to tie in to a new Open Source Information System-External (OSIS-X), and the melding of OSIS-X into an Application-Oriented Network (AON) that permits the sharing of secret information on a by-name basis regardless of nationality 24/7.

Steele is still advocating for this OSIS-X system to be federated between the Departments of Defense, State, Commerce, and Treasury, and others. Again, he is also suggesting that this type of system to be symbiotically integrated with other academic institutions and NGOs. But I think for something like this to be really successful, then I would think that it needs to be open and available to anyone.

I imagine that there are many unresolved issues with copyright and some additional resistance from the database and defense contracting incumbents. But it is hopeful to see that Steele is making progress in building his coalition for making something like this happen.

I intend on getting in touch with Steele in regards to how my collaborative investigative journalism and other ideas for how to integrate intelligence analysis insights into journalism, but I just wanted to digest and share some of his visionary ideas first.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For more information and references detailing how information could be used as a non-violent alternative to war, then I would recommend following up on the following references that Steele lists in one of his footnotes:

At http://www.usip.org/virtualdiplomacy/publications/papers/virintell.html and published with the same title two years later in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, at http://tinyurl.com/8teqf. Other later chapters and articles addressing the common theme of information strategy in relation to national security included “Information Peacekeeping: The Purest Form of War”, Chapter 7 in Lloyd J. Matthews (ed.), Challenging the United States Symmetrically and Asymmetrically: Can America be Defeated? (Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, July 1998), pp. 143-171; “INFORMATION PEACEKEEPING: The Purest Form of War,” in Douglas Dearth and Alan Campen, CYBERWAR: Myths, Mysteries, and Realities (AFCEA Press, June 1998)); “Eyes Wide Shut,” WIRED Magazine (August 1997); INTERVIEW “Intelligence Strategique aux Etats-Unis: Mythe ou Realite?” Revue Francaise de Geoeconomie (Spring 1997); “Open Sources and Cyberlaw,” Fringeware (#11, April 1997); “The Military Perspective on Information Warfare: Apocalypse Now,” Enjeux Atlantiques (#14, February 1997); “Creating a Smart Nation: Information Strategy, Virtual Intelligence, and Information Warfare,” in Alan D. Campen, Douglas H. Dearth, and R. Thomas Goodden (contributing editors), CYBERWAR: Security, Strategy, and Conflict in the Information Age (AFCEA, 1996); “Creating a Smart Nation: Strategy, Policy, Intelligence, and Information,” Government Information Quarterly (Summer 1996); and “Reinventing Intelligence: The Vision and the Strategy,” International Defense & Technologies (December 1995), bilingual in French and English; “Private Enterprise Intelligence: Its Potential Contribution to National Security,” paper presented to the Canadian Intelligence Community Conference on “Intelligence Analysis and Assessment,” 29 October 1994. Reprinted in Intelligence and National Security (Special Issue, October 1995), and also in a book by the same name, 1996.

open information for the people,.

the PNAC group has to go and now,. count me in on the open source networking for intelligence integration into collective decision making for our next system of social organisation.

Extremely good review

This is one of the most intelligent coherent reviews of my experience and thinking that I have ever seen. Well done! Please come speak at IOP '07 (www.oss.net/IOP).