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OSINT
March 9, 2014 6:05 PM   Subscribe

Inside The One-Man Intelligence Unit That Exposed The Secrets And Atrocities Of Syria's War
He had no formal intelligence training or security clearance that gave him access to classified documents. He could not speak or read Arabic. He had never set foot in the Middle East, unless you count the time he changed planes in Dubai en route to Manila, or his trip to visit his in-laws in Turkey. Yet in the 18 months since Higgins had begun blogging about Syria, his barebones site, Brown Moses [previously], had become the foremost source of information on the weapons used in Syria's deadly war. Using nothing more sophisticated than an Asus laptop, he had uncovered evidence of weapons imported into Syria from Iran. He had been the first person to identify widely-banned cluster bombs deployed by Syrian forces. By The New York Times' own admission, his findings had offered a key tip that helped the newspaper prove that Saudi Arabia had funneled arms to opposition fighters in Syria.

How an unemployed blogger confirmed that Syria had used chemical weapons.

The type of work that Eliot Higgins is doing is called open-source intelligence, or OSINT.
What is OSINT? "Finding, selecting and acquiring information from publicly available sources and analyzing it to produce actionable intelligence." via wikileaks.

It's becoming rather big. From the CIA, an in-depth look: Sailing the Sea of OSINT in the Information Age
Is OSINT Really Intelligence?
CRS: Open Source Intelligence (OSINT): Issues for Congress [PDF]
A consensus now exists that OSINT must be systematically collected and should
constitute an essential component of analytical products. This has been recognized
by various commissions and in statutes. Responding to legislative direction, the
Intelligence Community has established the position of Assistant Director of National
Intelligence for Open Source and created the National Open Source Center. The goal
is to perform specialized OSINT acquisition and analysis functions and create a
center of excellence that will support and encourage all intelligence agencies.
The predecessor of the National Open Source Center was the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service

Office of the Director of National Intelligence: Spies give way to 'sexy' social media -"Open source intelligence — generally regarded as information gathered through methods other than clandestine activity — is the 'hot new field' in the intelligence community, said Patrick O'Neil, director of analytic development at the Open Source Center (OSC) in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence."
In OSINT, All Sources Aren't Created Equal

Online Strategies: Internet Tools And Resources For Open-Source Intelligence is one of many toolsets.
Public Intelligence:
This site is an attempt to compile and defend public information using software and methods which are open source and available to the public at large. It is our hope that by making such information available and demonstrating the power of a public resolved to inform itself, we may engender a more informed and proactive populace. Within our first two years of operation, we have already received more than twenty threats and takedown notices from government agencies and corporations around the world for publishing documents discovered via open source methods available to any member of the public. No information has ever been removed or censored.
A very big PDF hosted on wikileaks that has a great many links, one of which is MetaFilter.

Many private companies are getting into OSINT as well. One is Recorded Future, which recieved funding from the CIA's and USIC's venture capital arm. Esquire wrote about it in The Future Is Recorded
The world is overflowing with free and open information, and a person equipped with the right tools to sift through that information and perceive the patterns and connections swirling below the surface might be able to see what’s coming before it arrives. The future is already recorded, if you only know where to look.
They have a blog, called Analysis Intelligence.
Incidentally, The Math That Predicted the Revolutions Sweeping the Globe Right Now


CIA: Reexamining the Distinction Between Open Information and Secrets
We need to rethink the distinction between open sources and secrets. Too many policymakers and intelligence officers mistake secrecy for intelligence and assume that information covertly acquired is superior to that obtained openly. Yet, the distinction between overt and covert sources is less clear than such thinking suggests. Open sources often equal or surpass classified information in monitoring and analyzing such pressing problems as terrorism, proliferation, and counterintelligence. Slighting open source intelligence (OSINT) for secrets, obtained at far greater expense when available at all, is no way to run an intelligence community. Also, we must put to rest the notion that the private sector is the preferred OSINT agent. In the end, I would contend, the Intelligence Community (IC) needs to assign greater resources to open sources.
"80% of necessary information can be gained through open-access methods" - purported AQ training manual
posted by the man of twists and turns (12 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Intelligence is not the information, but rather making sense of disparate and often bad information. Let's not get too excited. Trainspotters have been coming up with some very deep, and often very wrong, conclusions for decades.

And I hate to get all Le Carre here, but these well-meaning folks have often been used as scapegoats and dupes. There is a reason that traditional intelligence groups are interested in this new twist on an old story.

This guy has made a real difference. But for every one of him, there are hundreds of those guys you occasionally run into that are sure Obama is a one world govt black helicopter flouridator.

You don't have to work for the CIA to be a decent analyst. But they do cultivate analytical techniques, and exist in a useful system of checks and balances. The lone data miner often makes a terrible analyst.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:44 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]


there are hundreds of those guys you occasionally run into that are sure Obama is a one world govt black helicopter flouridator.

You should see the links I omitted.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:53 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]


We live in strange times for this sort of thing. The "one person with a laptop digging up major stuff no one else is finding" sort of template reminded me a lot of this story, although that's obviously much smaller stakes and scale.

It's still pretty impressive that we live in an age where a single person with little specialized equipment, knowledge*, or access can play this game on a major scale though.

*ok, debatable on this one but you get what i'm saying
posted by emptythought at 7:02 PM on March 9


You don't have to work for the CIA to be a decent analyst. But they do cultivate analytical techniques, and exist in a useful system of checks and balances. The lone data miner often makes a terrible analyst.

Well, sure. It's like science would be if almost everyone with an institutional affiliation couldn't publish and left the field open to the remainder.
posted by jaduncan at 7:05 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]


Great post. Thanks, the man of twists and turns.
posted by homunculus at 9:14 PM on March 9


Great post. The food scarcity link is good. It all comes back to global warming.

Brown Moses is a good guy I've conversed with him. He is named for the Frank Zappa song..
posted by stbalbach at 11:02 PM on March 9


When one person with an analytic mind, an openness to multiple hypotheses, and a fairness in considering each, can spend time on a topic, they may find true things that others have overlooked.
posted by zippy at 12:20 AM on March 10


When one person with an analytic mind, an openness to multiple hypotheses, and a fairness in considering each....

and using Youtube videos and Wikipedia as primary sources of fact, you can make any fiction seem real.

I wonder if Brown Moses wears Brown Shoes.
posted by three blind mice at 2:48 AM on March 10


Youtube videos and Wikipedia as primary sources of fact, you can make any fiction seem real
The US government didn't even bother to use these to pass on false information such as WOMD which plunged America into a war bankrupting the country to the benefit of the Cabal.
Often the truth is right in front of us just camoflagued by noise.
Long live the amateurs. The problem is then getting the story out as the ruling heirarchy controls the media.
Great post. Thanks. I've forwarded it to a few non mefites.
posted by adamvasco at 4:53 AM on March 10


I didn't know there was a name for what most of us end up doing in the meatier FPP threads. Thanks for the heads up O mantot!
posted by infini at 12:38 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]




Related post on the Good Judgement Project.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:19 AM on April 2


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