GG Only – OSINT (1)

Week 1 Discussion Forum

What is Open Source Intelligence? How has the history of information availability and information literacy affected OSINT?


For this forum, you are to answer one of the questions listed below. This original post must be a minimum of 500 words.  Additionally, you must post two (2) peer reviews on a classmates original post.  Please be courteous and succinct in your response.  The goal is to extend the conversation through your observations and experience.

1) What is OSINT? Is OSINT really intelligence?
2) How has the history of information availability and information literacy affected OSINT?
3) What principles does Clive Best use to differentiate OSINT as a unique intelligence discipline?

Instructions: Your initial post should be at least 250 words. Please respond to at least 2 other students. Responses should be a minimum of 200 words each and include direct questions.


Student Response #1:

Open source intelligence (OSINT), can be defined as intelligence collected through unclassified means such as news outlets, Internet, reports, interviews or any other public means of acquiring information.  This, OSINT must be available to the average person(s) to be considered “open” source.  There are many reasons to consider OSINT an official part of the intelligence community.  Because of constant changes throughout the world, it is important to be able to convey what is happening to our government leadership and its citizens.  Because our intelligence agencies do not have sources in every facet of the world, we must rely on information we collect through open source intelligence.


     Open source intelligence also gives our intelligence community a way to effectively and truthfully (to the best of their ability) relay to the nation with out compromising our classified sources of intelligence.  It can also help the government make decisions to give its people the appearance of action, even though actual classified intelligence might not indicate actions are needed.  The truth is that by reading headlines of open source medias.  One can put together a sense of what is happening throughout the world.  Once you know how to read between the lines you can more so than not, see that there is much more to the story.


     Open source intelligence CAN be damaging to the United States and its allies.  Just because one piece of open information is considered public, does not mean that many pieces of information could not be sensitive.  For instance, if a M1 Abrams (US tank) mechanic uploaded the repair manual for the tank on to a website, even though most Army manuals can be found on line, this does not mean the manual contains nothing that can be deemed as “sensitive”, even though it is not technically considered classified.  I bring up this example on purpose because this exact situation happened a couple years ago.  The concern was that by publishing these manuals of our battle equipment, our enemies might be able to identify weaknesses in our tanks, planes, trucks etc.  So it IS possible that by collecting multiple open source products, that you could actually create or re-create something classified.  


     During my time in Army counter-intelligence counter-terrorism we used open source information to compare and confirm classified intelligence.  I am not saying that if the two did not match up then we discredited the classified intelligence, but it was just another way to try to confirm what we already knew.  I think one of the biggest open sources used by anyone is imagery.  Since the creation of “Google Earth” the civilian imagery industry has boomed and many more companies have come out with their own mapping programs.  There are now multiple open sources to obtain aerial photos from all over the world.  I can remember printing off maps from Google Earth because at the time their imagery was clearer than ours….at the time.


     In conclusion I can personally attest to the importance of open source intelligence collection and its relevance.  Just because something may be reported in a news outlet first, does not mean it is any less true than classified information.  The biggest difference between open source information and classified is where the source originated from.



Student Response #2:

OSINT is a form of intelligence collection, otherwise known as open source intelligence. It has become one of the most popular forms of intelligence collection, ranging around 80% of today’s available intelligence1, due to its easy accessibility without violating civil liberties. This has a lot to do with today’s society and their dependency upon social media and the information they freely display to the world. If the analyst knows what path they are going to take for the intelligence collection, they can easily trace their findings based off of open source intelligence. Additionally, there are many sensitive documents leaked to the public due to dishonest federal (amongst other government agencies) workers who conduct acts of espionage. This is a serious issue because these documents are not only leaked to the American public, but also our adversaries.


OSINT is a pertinent source of intelligence collection as any other. It provides necessary information that can assist in compiling a report to better understand the subject at hand. Due to the public’s high use of social media, and the major power source of the internet, analysts and collectors are able to gather intelligence that can be traced worldwide, leading to the ultimate power hub in which the collectors are searching for. Many believe OSINT to not be a “true INT,” however it is as true as any other. It takes strategy and planning to execute the collection, and the analysts must know what they are looking for; much like SIGINT and HUMINT. In my opinion, OSINT is much more beneficial in terms of intelligence collection because of the different angles that can be used to collect intelligence. Also, it in no way violates civil liberties that many Americans are currently standing up for due to recent leaks from Edward Snowden and the NSA. OPSEC is something the public needs to better understand for this purpose, but at the same time it can help the intelligence community and their ability to obtain information that may be useful in combating foreign attacks.


I don’t think a lot of people realize that by adding a GPS to your phone and checking into your favorite restaurant for dinner gives everyone, including the adversary, an idea of your location and it is free knowledge. If an OSINT collector has a lead and can associate a subject with who they are investigating, this assists them in furthering their investigation.


Although OPSEC should be something stressed to the American public, it is also an issue that other countries have problems with, making U.S. intelligence collection beneficial worldwide. If the information is freely given then it can be traced just as easily. OSINT is a very important asset to the intelligence community and will only continue to be as long as information is given without a second thought. Within an instant someone can know your family’s names, where you were born, what you like, who your best friends are, etc. OSINT provides intimate details to an individual’s life, and can be extremely useful to whomever is collecting that information; whether it be the U.S. intelligence community or the adversary.

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