Home Open Sourcing U.S. Intelligence Needs

Open Sourcing U.S. Intelligence Needs

The ideas powering the open source movement have spread from programming to publishing and beyond. The idea of it having penetrated the world of foreign intelligence might seem unlikely, but it has, with the Central Intelligence Agency’s Open Source Center.

“OpenSource.gov provides information on foreign political, military, economic, and technical issues beyond the usual media from an ever expanding universe of open sources. Our website contains sources from more than 160 countries in more than 80 languages and hosts content from several commercial providers, as well as content from OSC partners.”

Open Source Closed

Before you get excited about joining “the OpenSource.gov community to get access to the latest open source reporting and analysis,” you should know . . . you can’t. The OSC is open only to U.S. government employees, contractors, foreign liaisons and employees of the BBC Monitoring Service.

Interested civilians are, instead, referred to the U.S. government’s World News Connection, which is described as “(a)n extremely valuable research tool for anyone who needs to monitor non-U.S. media sources.” Information on the site, which is translated into English or comes from English-language sources, is run by something called the National Technical Information Service. Although it is powered by information provided by the OSC, you do tend to wonder what’s been omitted.

You also have to ask why is information that is publicly-sourced off limits to non-governmental visitors? Is there an admixture of secret materials? Is the analysis classified. The site lists the type of information available.

  • Reporting and Analysis: More than 9 million products dating back to the mid-1990’s
  • Digital Video: Live foreign TV broadcasts, video reports, compilations, and internet clips
  • Translations: Sources in more than 80 languages
  • Geospatial Products: Media mapping, hot-spot and network analysis
  • Topical and Regional pages: More than 80 actively updated pages containing worldwide coverage, reports and analysis on regional developments, terrorism, narcotics, and proliferation
  • Commercial Databases: Analytic content from commercial research databases on a wide variety of topics are available to select account holders
  • Blogs and Wikis: Blogs written by topical experts and a collaborative wiki space on MediaPedia to share media expertise

The Walled Garden for Which It Stands

The idea of openness is a one-way street with most governmental organizations and those who work within their structures. I had the opportunity to observe that first-hand as a speaker at the Conference on Blogs and Democracy, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the C.I.A. There, a number of us argued for the practicality of participation and dialog globally to communicate the benefits of democracy. The post-conference discussion, communicated via a dedicated website, was suddenly and permanently shut off to all outsiders. In this case, every single speaker was an outsider.

Unfortunately, the largest walled garden in the Internet world today remains our government.

We have contacted the Open Source Center to ask them why information gathered from open sources is not available for non-government employees to consult. If you work in or for the government and have an opinion on this, please chime in.

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