Open Source

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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...

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Community Audio: Micah Sifry, Open Source Politics

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A discussion about Open Source Politics with Micah Sifry, who was the eCampaign director of the Andrew Rasiej Campaign for Public Advocate and is the executive editor of

Sifry wrote up a lengthy post-mortem on their attempts at conducting a network-centric political campaign, and I responded to it here. I had pitched their campaign with an idea to remix one of my video blog posts about balancing top-down control with bottom-up participation, but they didn't have the time to carry it through.

But I wanted to follow up with Sifry to find out how open source, collaborative media could interact with open source politics. This was one of the important insights from our conversation:

I think campaigns may be the last place where the innovations are going to start. Because the pressure of doing a campaign is so intense and there really are so many conventional ingredients that people feel that they have to do. And the innovations are going to come -- in the political arena -- they're going to come from the edges, and they're also going to come from, I believe, from ongoing issues. Organizations that work on issues or new organizations that are being create to work on issues because they have a longer life span. And they can be incubators for new ways for doing things that in some cases campaigns, you just don't have the time -- or at best, you have time to try one or two new things and then keep going.

So in a traditional politial campaign, by the time you've gathered together the professional instincts from the fundraising team, scheduler, field team, communications team, web team, campaign manager and pollsters, then there really isn't a lot of room left for thinking outside of the box.

Most of the radical innovations for network centric advocacy will probably come from long-term, issue-based campaigns and from organizations who are able to bring together existing networks to collectively scratch the same itch at the same time.

I hope that The Echo Chamber Project can provide some new ways for collaborating and communicating with rich media.

Sifry is also interested in having someone explain why Drupal is such an interesting platform, and to explain the practical needs of the developer community to the larger audience of the political technology community at Personal Democracy.

(70:55 / 22.6 MB / Subscribe to Community & Technology Audio)

Click here to listen to the MP3

(Photo Credit: Culture Kitchen)

kentbye's picture

Migrating Open Source Intelligence Insights Into Participatory Journalism

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I have argued before that the field of Intelligence Analysis can provide many insights for how journalism could do a better job at discovering, discriminating, distilling, and disseminating knowledge.

It seems as though Open Source Intelligence advocate and founder of Robert Davis Steele has also been suggesting that there be a migration of these analytical insights into the public domain:

Because the policymaker is inundated with contradictory information lacking methodical evaluation, a critical priority must be the transfer of the proven methods of classified intelligence analysis, to the world of unclassified information.

Steele calls it a "critical priority" to transfer these advanced analytical techniques and methodologies into the hands of ordinary citizens. This is part of Steele's larger vision for creating an open source network of NGOs, academic institutions, international organizations and potentially individual citizens that could tap into the wisdom of the electorate and create the "possibility of revolutionizing governance by revolutionizing what government can know, how it knows it, how it decides, and how it communicates both its decision and supporting information."

Steele suggests creating a public intelligence "skunk works" that would "focus on creating public intelligence sources, softwares, and services that elevate the utility of all information to all citizens all the time."

There are many unanswered questions for how Steele's vision will be implemented by the coalition of private corporations that he's building, and how much government support and cooperation he will eventually receive. But I would argue that the press should have some role to play in this type of coalition because it sounds very similar to the public interest mandate that the field of journalism aspires to fulfill.

The press is facing an economic and credibility crisis as they attempt to reinvent how they create and deliver their information products. Wall Street pressures are moving the newspaper industry towards implosion by forcing cutbacks and diminishing the amount of available resources for journalists to gather the news -- let alone introduce even more complexity to how they analyze and make sense of the endless stream of facts. But the industry is at a cross roads, and they must change or die.

There happens to be many similar dot-connecting challenges facing the US Intelligence agencies where reform has been hindered by an obsession with secrecy as well as the business models of vested interests that are more focused on "esoteric collection systems" than figuring out how to make sense of the hoards of collected data.

This post is intended to explore the parallels to these challenges and how solutions to all of these challenges can be found through the converging trajectories of Open Source Intelligence and Participatory Journalism. As Steele says,

It is essential that operational, logistics, acquisition, and other information be managed as a coherent whole, not in isolation from classified intelligence. Sharing and sense-making, not hoarding and secrecy, are the watchwords today.

The opposite of information hoarding is collaborative participation, and the opposite of secrecy is transparency. Blogging is pushing journalism to be more participatory and transparent while Steele's Open Source Intelligence initiatives are doing the same in the national security domain. In both cases, the cooperative principles of Open Source holds the keys to unlocking these potentials of the wisdom of the crowd and the trust of the electorate.

The post looks at the following issues...


kentbye's picture

Community Audio: Chris Messina, Applying Open Source Strategies

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A broad discussion about how open source principles could be applied to media, politics and national security with open source advocate Chris Messina. I also give an brief update with where I'm at with The Echo Chamber Project.

Messina and I met in Portland, Maine over Thanksgiving break, and we recorded 80 minutes of our conversation.

Chris and I also previously had a 50-minute Skype discussion a few weeks ago, but there were some audio issues that I believe stemmed from Messina's microphone.

Messina has been involved with, Flock, CivicSpace, Drupal and the Barcamp conference modeled after open space.

(78:55 / 22.6 MB / Subscribe to Community & Technology Audio)

Click here to listen to the MP3

(Photo Credit: dmc500hats)

Also, I had an earlier conversation with Chris, but be warned that the audio is a bit low due.

kentbye's picture

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

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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...

kentbye's picture

Propaganda versus Open Source Intelligence


The LA Times and Knight Ridder have done stories this past week on how the Defense Department has been paying Iraqi newspapers to run US propaganda.

At first I was surprised to see that there were conservatives who were defending the use of propaganda since it seems a bit hypocritical to publicly advocate for democracy while privately paying for propaganda.

Some of the arguments are compelling within the context of a traditional war. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find some even more compelling arguments for using information as a non-violent alternative to military force made by Robert David Steele. Steele has been advocating for Open Source Intelligence for the last 17 years, and I quoted his statements to counter some pro-propaganda arguments in this blog post.

There is a compelling argument for propaganda during war, but Bob Steele makes an even more compelling counter argument for modern information operations (IO) which is the following:

"Modern IO is not about the old messages of PSYOP, but rather about empowering billions of people with both information tools and access to truthful information. It is about education, not manipulation. It is about sharing, not secrecy. It is about human understanding to create wealth and stabilize societies, not about the threat of violence and the delivery of precision munitions. IO substitutes information for violence."

Education would be to accurately represent the merits and disadvantages of BOTH sides of any argument.

You don't get this with Propaganda. You only highlight the benefits of your idea and the disadvantages of the other idea while suppressing the disadvantages of your idea and the advantages of the other ideas.

And so it is an issue of proportionality and emphasis that makes propaganda deceptive and manipulative.

So while you may be able to gain some short-term advantage with propaganda as a communications strategy, in the long-run it's a losing battle in winning the hearts and minds of the people as well as empowering them with the critical thinking skills necessary to be able to govern themselves as a viable democracy.

There's also a lack of transparency that eventually makes your strategic message less credible as soon as people realize that they are being propagandized and not educated.

In war, you could make an argument that the benefits of that short-term time period are critical to the mission. And that may be true.

But as soon as you reach a critical mass of Iraqi citizens who realize that they're not getting a full picture of reality, then the messenger really starts to loose credibility.

In an online draft of his book called "INFORMATION OPERATIONS: All Information, All Languages, All the Time" Bob Steele advocates that Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) should be the backbone to any type of Information Operations (IO) -- and that Strategic Communications has to be based upon this "ground truth."

"IO content can be thought of in two parts: Strategic Communication (the message) and OSINT (the reality). The first cannot be effective without the second. It is not possible to craft the right message, nor to deliver that message to the right person at the right time in the right context, without first understanding “ground truth” at a sub-state level of granularity (tribes, villages, neighborhoods). OSINT is the horse seeing the path, Strategic Communication is the cart carrying the message. One before the other."

The problem with propaganda is that is prioritizes strategic communication above and beyond the ground reality.

kentbye's picture

Interview Audio, Doc Searls, Doc Searls Weblog

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Here's an interview with Doc Searls of Doc Searls Weblog & senior editor of Linux Journal on May 16, 2005 talking about open source communities, and how collaborative principles apply to the future of media, politics and culture.

Since I'm working on this open source documentary about the media, then I wanted to get some insight into what makes open source communities work.

Coincidentally, the group formerly known as Pajamas Media had their launch today and are now known as Open Source Media -- and I have a little rant about OSM™'s privacy policy which seems to be in complete opposition to the values of open source (via The Talent Show).

(24:42 / 7.1 MB / Subscribe to Interview Audio)

Click here to listen to the MP3

kentbye's picture

Lessons Learned From Open Source Politics

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Micah Sifry from the Andrew Rasiej New York City Public Advocate Campaign just posted long write-up with a lot of lessons learned from their open source political campaign -- a campaign that was ultimately not successful.

I had been in contact with the campaign after successfully pitching them on an idea to remix citizen videojournalism reports as part of their communications strategy to catalyze people living outside of New York City to encourage their NYC friends to vote for Rasiej.

They were going to use some of the footage from my second video blog, and vlogger Ryanne Hodson was going to recontextualize it to use for their campaign. Then we would promote both versions driving Internet traffic to both of our projects.

However, the Rasiej campaign was not able to follow through on this idea since they became overwhelmed in the chaos of the last weeks before the election.

In his post-mortem analysis, Sifry questions the feasibility of conducting an open source political campaign.

I submitted the following reply to his post by saying that I thought that more innovations happen within the collaborative media realm before we see any radical shifts in our political culture.

My intention is that Raseij supporters could support The Echo Chamber Project as a way to build up the necessary Drupal infrastructure to facilitate a open source communications strategy by producing collaborative media.

More details below...

kentbye's picture

Using Citizen Journalism to Open Source Political Campaigns

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I sent the following proposal to Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej to open source the national aspects of their campaign for New York City Public Advocate by remixing citizen videojournalism reports into their communications strategy.

This could provide a viable model for how traditionally top-down driven political campaigns could release some control by collaborating with issue-based advocates on more detailed, Long-Tail messages that go beyond the least common denominator audience.

I heard from David Weinberger that Rasiej was having a conference call last Wednesday for political bloggers, and some other surprise guests.

I joined this conference call where Rasiej said that they needed help spreading the word to New York citizens to vote for him on September the 13th.

Rasiej talked about the national implications of his campaign for how Wi-Fi in NYC would be a cultural and political trendsetter for other cities to do the same -- as well as how he intended to use technology to facilitate grassroots activism and bottom-up democracy.

The only problem was that Rasiej campaign hasn't had time to craft this message on their own, and so they asked bloggers to make the case for him.

It just so happened that I had just completed my second video blog episode where I had already made the connection for how technology is changing media, politics and leadership.

So I suggested that they remix my second vlog episode by cutting out my message out and inserting their own. Using the Creative Common-Attribution license encourages people to do this type of remixes as long as they provide a link to and an attribution in their video.

This would encourage both of us to promote our respective vlog entries to our network of contacts.

And it also allows us to experiment with how citizen journalism and activism could be used to collaborate with political campaigns.

Below is the more detailed pitch that I sent to the Rasiej campaign laying out my vision for how this type of collaboration between citizen journalists and political campaigns could work. They gave it the green light, and the remix will start being produced next week by vlogger Ryanne Hodson.

Hey Micah and Andrew,
During the conference call yesterday, I noted some pressing desires for your campaign, and I think that I have some innovative solutions to some of them.

I talked with vlogger Ryanne Hodson, and she is willing to remix the following five-minute video on how technology is changing media & politics into a shorter vlog entry that communicates how your campaign can catalyze a larger movement of grassroots, participatory democracy.

This would require gathering a few sound bites with Ryanne, and then having her edit these juxtaposed with the sound bites that I've already gathered from experts at the Personal Democracy Forum.

Here is link to the 5-minute video

Below are more details on how these SOLUTIONS can fill your DESIRES and accomplish your BOTTOM LINE.

kentbye's picture

Echo Chamber Project Vlog Episode 2: Media & Politics

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Here is the second Echo Chamber Project video blog entry

Description: Technology is transforming media & politics, and large-scale collaborative media can provide some insights into grassroots leadership and bottom-up democracy.

Featuring: Chris Nolan, Jeff Jarvis, Doc Searls, Scott Heiferman, Markos Moulitsas, Mindy Finn & Kent Bye.

(5:08 minutes / 12.6 MB)

Download Quicktime

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Listed below is a full transcript of this video with additional links...

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