Interviews from an Open Source Intelligence Conference

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I attended a conference on Open Source Intelligence and collected over 3 hours of interviews from the 10 of the presenters. My citizen journalism coverage was looking through the following two lenses:

* What types of insights could intelligence analysis provide to journalism?
* How can information and communications technologies be used to help avoid and prevent armed conflict?

UPDATE:Here is a 90-second video introduction to these interviews

Music: On The Moon (Trip Hop mix) by disharmonic

FYI:You can use this feed to download all of the interview audio.

More information below...

Here are the 10 people I interviewed:

Congressman Rob Simmons Congressman Rob Simmons Chairman of the Homeland Security Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee
Robert David Steele Robert David Steele Open Source Intelligence Evangelist, Retired CIA Case Officer
Michael Andregg Michael Andregg Intelligence Reform Consultant and Professor of the Causes of War
Photo Not Available Carolyn Stewart Retired Colonel with Military Intelligence
Mats Bjore Mats Bjore Retired Lt. Colonel with Swedish Military Intelligence & Founder of Infosphere & Silobreaker
Ralph Peters Ralph Peters Retired Army Lt. Colonel, Author and New York Post Columnist
Robert Young Pelton Robert Young Pelton Adventurer, Journalist and Author of "The World's Most Dangerous Places"
Stephen E. Arnold Stephen E. Arnold Technology Consultant and Author of "The Google Legacy"
Peter Morville Peter Morville Information Scientist, Information Architecture Pioneer & Author of "Ambient Findability"
Elliot Jardines Elliot Jardines Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Open Source

* What type of people attended this conference?
There were over 300 people from within the intelligence community, retired analysts, other corporate contractors as well as other attendees who were interested in the concept of open source intelligence.

One of the common values that seemed to unite all of the attendees was the perspective that classified sources of information do not necessarily mean that the information is any more relevant or useful than information that can be collected from open sources (i.e. newspapers, Internet, academic literature, reports from non-governmental organizations, etc.)

Another common value seemed to be that open source intelligence provides a more collaborative and transparent environment for generating knowledge. There were many people who have been fighting the compartmentalization of intelligence for many years.

Open Source Intelligence has also been traditionally underfunded and undervalued within the intelligence community, partly because of the vested interests of defense contractors have been influencing the political decision makers, who have been continuing to invest in very expensive satellite equipment and other types of fancy signals intelligence collection technologies.

Robert David Steele has been advocating for Open Source Intelligence for the last 18 years, and there has finally been the first government official assigned within the intelligence bureaucracy to lead the government's open source intelligence collection efforts. Elliot Jardines has been assigned as the first Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Open Sources, and I was able to interview him at the conference.

I went in with a specific hypothesis that intelligence analysis has a specific tradecraft that could easily process and help make sense of facts and information over long periods of time. I've written about some of these techniques here and listed some references here.

I was surprised to learn that a lot of the sense making capabilities come from the more qualitative aspects of interpreting information. When comes to understanding other cultures and societies, it is often much better to talk to many different subject matter experts and gather a wide range of perspectives and worldviews than it is to try to break a problem into component parts and try to quantify the individual pieces.

It is my sense that the quantitative tools and tricks of the trade within the intelligence agencies are too reductionistic for practical sense making purposes because they don't actually help explain the nuances or complexity of cultures.

As Charles Cameron, a former Arlington Institute analyst, described to me last year:

"It's my contention, however, that they are heavily weighted towards the quantitative, and are not of much help in dealing with the subtle complexities that arise when people, their motives, histories, traditions, beliefs, emotions, reluctances, denials, prejudices, clarities and insights are involved."

So even though the US intelligence agencies do a great job of collecting and gathering dots, but they have a much more difficult time connecting these dots back together in a useful or predictive context.

In Robert Steele's conference presentation, he describes some of the characteristics these "dots" that intelligence agencies are collecting:

* Dots don't know they are secret until some human decides this.
* Dots gain value from swarming, lose value within compartmentalization
* Dots gain value from history and context.
* Dots gain value from speed of delivery.
* Dots in a foreign language are smarter.

These granular dots that are collected through classified sources and methods are just raw nuggets of information, and the "knowledge" is added to them when analysts are able to make contextual links and qualitative associations between these dots.

So it seems as though that journalism and academia actually has a lot to teach the analytical tradecraft of professional intelligence. The openness and transparency of journalism and the scientific method creates generates knowledge from the feedback and conversations that are started -- while the sense making capabilities of classified world of intelligence analysis is limited by the obsession with secrecy and a closed infrastructure that blocks the flow of information and context between compartmentalized silos.

Intelligence agencies have to pay subject matter experts while experts will talk to a journalist or other academics for free because there is an open exchange of information and knowledge. The public exposure also helps create a positive reputation of expertise, and more of an exchange of social capital.

I still think that there is a lot of potential for a finding a hybrid between combining more sophisticated analytic tools with interviewing a large set of domain experts. In our interview with Stephen E. Arnold, he describes how technology is going to continue to help analysts on the front-end and the back-end of the sense making process -- and he points out that he doesn't see technology completely replacing the sophistication of human analysis and judgment.

So openness, transparency, authenticity and a dedication to education seem to be the key differences that allow journalists and academics to create symbiotic relationships and better networks of distributed knowledge than the governmental intelligence agencies. And I see that my collaborative filmmaking schema could actually provide an interesting catalyst and mechanism for making this distributed knowledge more explicit by aggregating additional context and meaning from a diverse audience on the 50+ hours of multimedia sound bites.

I discovered that there is a difference between "Information Peacekeeping", "Peacekeeping Intelligence" and "Information Operations."

"Information Peacekeeping" is how information and communications technologies can be used to avoid and prevent conflicts by creating the means for the creation of indigenous knowledge and wealth creation. This is a term that Robert Steele has coined and a concept that I talk more about in this post: "Can Open Source Intelligence Be a Non-Violent Alternative to War?"

"Peacekeeping Intelligence" is the information that is used by military forces after conflict has already broken out, and peacekeeping military operations have come in to stabilize a region.

And Information Operations are the combination of Strategic Communication with a foundation from Open Source Intelligence. The intent of information operations is to explain and offensively communicate US Foreign Policy and our National Security interests.

Robert Steele sees US National Security as being fundamentally interconnected with Global Security, and that the free and open distribution of information helps to stabilize countries and avoid and prevent conflict.

"Information Peacekeeping" seems to be quite separate from the mandate that have been given to the US intelligence communities or the Department of Defense with regards to Open Source Intelligence. It is certainly a related concept and a potential application of Open Source Intelligence, but the application of OSINT products in this way would probably fall underneath the umbrella of diplomacy and the State Department. There are also some who suggest that there needs to be a new institution like a Department of Peace that would be explicitly tasked with coming up with these types of best practices for avoiding and preventing conflict.

In a lot of ways, I'm trying to achieve a lot of the goals of "Information Peacekeeping" with The Echo Chamber Project in that I'm trying to create mechanisms for people to be able to explore and experience complex issues in a comprehensive way that promotes critical thinking and education.

More Information:
* Powerpoint Presentations from the conference

Praise for this effort

I have never, in 18 years of OSINT advocacy, seen a more professional and intelligent endeavor to understand and report on what we are trying to do. This is absolutely world-class, and my admiration is unbounded. This creative individual has a lifetime free pass to our conferences. His technical, legal, and people skills are of the highest order.

kentbye's picture

Wow -- Thanks Robert

Wow -- Thanks Robert,
You've certainly been working at this for a long time, and I was glad to be there and help capture where you've been and where you're going.

I think that there is still a lot that journalism can learn from OSINT, and as I release more of my collaborative technologies I intend on following up with you more about how journalism and OSINT can do a better job at tapping into the collective wisdom of many different people.

I think that you more than anyone else I've interviewed so far can help figure out how to make that happen.

Thanks again!