Open source approach reshapes intelligence-gathering

New forms of intelligence-gathering?including the availability of open-source information on the Internet?are becoming increasingly important for fighting terrorism and may even reduce the need for more traditional collection efforts, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

The report, titled "Intelligence Issues for Congress," outlines the challenges in intelligence-gathering, analysis and dissemination facing the director of national intelligence and the 15 other federal intelligence agencies in the post-9/11 era, with a large part of the activity is focused on counterterrorism.

While the intelligence community traditionally has relied on signals, imagery and human intelligence, there is now a growing interest in open-source intelligence (OSINT) as well as in measurement and signatures analysis intelligence (MASINT) the report said.

Osint refers to an intelligence-gathering approach based on analyzing information collected from open sources?namely, from information available to the general public.

The rising dependence on open sourcing is partly due to a requirement for a broad range of information about many regions and subjects throughout the world, instead of the former concentration on military and political issues in a small number of countries, the report said. The need for translation and analysis has increased as well.

"Many observers believe that intelligence agencies should be more aggressive in using OSINT; some believe that the availability of OSINT may even reduce the need for certain collection efforts," the report stated.

Another intelligence discipline receiving greater emphasis in recent years is MASINT, which is a highly technical discipline used by the Defense Intelligence Agency and others in which complex analytical refinements are applied to information collected by signal intelligence and geospatial imagery.

"A key problem has been retaining personnel with expertise in MASINT systems who are offered more remunerative positions in private industry," the report said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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