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The magical idea of an OSA - Open Source Agency


The minutest appearance of a new 'intelligence entity, Open Source Agency (OSA), on page 413 of the 9/11 Commission Report, and carried into its Executive Summary on page 23, astonished me for three reasons:

  • that it every appeared in print at all given the resistance of the covert community to sanctifying open source collection
  • that it appears in a suggested reorganization chart but nowhere else in the entire document
  • that it is getting so little attention outside of those like myself that make their way via open source collection and analysis

An OSA is so long overdue, I wonder if its time has actually come. Time will tell but at least it crept into the final report albeit without attribution or additional comment. My firm makes its way as open source analysts, taking firm positions of questions put to us regarding assets in Africa and Asia where the answer usually comes down to "stay" or "run for the airport." We've no room for vacillation and we do it all from open source and sound analysis.  We know that it works.

Figures vary on the percentage of open versus covert sources, but 90+% figures consistently cling to the open source category. Yes, one must apply the same critical analysis as one would do with classified data, starting with validity of source and validity of datum from source, but the data is there and it is often free of a central overriding institutional filter. See my Value from the fringe: "committed" collectors and investigators.

The value of an OSA was noted by an anonymous author "still serving within the U.S. government":

My personal vision is: 1) small office of 300 officers outside of any intel agency (i.e., independent, far away from FBIS, CIA, and DoD); 2) would use only open sources to address national security challenges; 3) would provide liaison to academia, think tanks and private sector to contract out research and analysis; 4) would participate in the NIE process, but not be wrapped up in CIA/DIA/Intel bureaucracy... One of its fundamental purposes of this agency would be to compete with secret agencies on assessing national security issues. It should improve competitive analysis (e.g., Iraqi WMD). Further, start small (300 officers (not intel officers), $50 million) and focus on high value products that could be widely spread across government (i.e., insights into Muslim youth, motivations, aspirations, etc.).

I agree with Robert Steele that the dollars are "not sufficient to actually fund the collection of global multi-media multi-lingual information 24/7 and in 31+ languages at the five level of competency," but I would accept anonymous' idea of structure and a place to start. It actually strikes me as modeled on State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), a very successful group with a minimum of blinders. (Alternate view here.)

I find merit in the comment of Richmond L Gardner, charitably to my left, that:

If we had an OSA (Open Source Agency) in addition to the CIA, Congresspeople and bureaucrats could use those findings as a guide. If it's okay for the OSA to feature information in it's reports, it's by definition okay to publish it or do anything else with it.

The whole idea of the OSA in the first place is to study foreign policy problems using openly available information. They'd write reports exactly the way the CIA currently does, but all of the information they use must be publicly accessible.

I'd appoint people who were interested in making their reports as comprehensive and as detailed as possible, pressing against the sides of the envelope, as it were. But they'd also be aware of their limits...

When the CIA then follows up the OSA report, Congresspeople can keep an eye on whether the CIA is telling them truly secret stuff or whether they're being told things that should be coming from the OSA.

I recommend creating an OSA and putting it in an horserace with their covert colleagues. If the overt folks go off the rails due to their limited data, exploring the delta (difference) with their covert colleagues will be enlightening. I suspect that they will give as good as they get.

Chapter 13: How to do it? A Different Way of Organizing the Government
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (aka the 9-11 Commission)
22 July, 2004

OSS.NET Applauds Recommendation for New Open Source Agency in 9-11 Commission Report - It Appears on Page 413 Within Chapter 13 of Report
July 23, 2004

Secrets Out of Control
Just a Bump in the Beltway
July 13, 2004
Richmond L Gardner

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Infrastructure Defense Public  Strategic Risk Public  


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