The U.S. intelligence community is belatedly recognizing that it has
failed to fully exploit the availability of open source intelligence
and that remedial steps to correct this problem should be "a top
priority for investment."
"Today, open source material of relevance to [intelligence] analysts
working in a dispersed threat environment is dauntingly voluminous,
and the Intelligence Community is not keeping up with it," according
to the "Strategic Investment Plan for Intelligence Community Analysis"
produced by the National Intelligence Production Board (NIPB) and
published this week by the CIA.
"Open source" here refers generally to intelligence-related
information that is not classified or otherwise subject to official
access controls. As a result it may be collected without resort to
"The NIPB has made the development of an Intelligence Community
strategy for open source a top priority for investment and concerted
action over the next few years," the Plan states. The Community "also
needs to exploit the Internet and other open media more effectively
This represents something of an about-face for U.S. intelligence,
which in recent years has considered open sources to be somebody
When George Tenet was asked at his confirmation hearing in 1997 about
the role of open source intelligence, he indicated that it was not a
priority. "We are an espionage organization," he said dismissively.
Even at that time, critics said he was confusing means (espionage)
with ends (intelligence).
"I don't want to be in the position where we lead people to believe
that we are going to be the open source repository for the entire
government, or pay to develop that kind of a capability," Mr. Tenet
told Congress. "I don't think it's our mission."
Given DCI Tenet's negative outlook, it is no surprise that "the
Intelligence Community investment in open source... has declined
radically in recent years," according to the new Strategic Plan, even
as the utility of open source intelligence was growing by leaps and
Under the new Plan, it appears that intelligence agencies will now
endeavor to make up for lost time, beginning this year with
development of "a Community-wide strategy for exploiting open source
The Strategic Investment Plan for Intelligence Community Analysis is
available on the CIA web site or here (a 3 MB PDF file):