Review: No More Secrets – Open Source Information and the Reshaping of U.S. Intelligence

Hamilton Bean

5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular Integrative and Pioneering Work, July 27, 2011

This is a pioneering work that not only explains the true worth of open source intelligence, but also illuminates the institutional bias against it and the pathologies of a culture of secrecy. The use of primary data from interviews makes this an original work in every possible sense of the word. I strongly recommend the book to both professionals and to faculty seeking a provocative book for students.

The book opens with a Foreword from Senator Gary Hart, who cites Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s point that secrecy is used against the US public more often than it is used to withhold information from the alleged enemy. He also makes the observation that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the web occurred almost simultaneously (1990-1991). See Senator Hart’s three most recent books, The Thunder and the Sunshine: Four Seasons in a Burnished Life; The Shield and the Cloak: The Security of the Commons, and my favorite The Minuteman: Returning to an Army of the People. The concept of an “intelligence minuteman” is at the foundation of the Open Source Intelligence movement, and highly relevant to this book by Dr. Hamilton Bean.

In his Preface Dr. Bean makes the point that his book is about institutional change and resistance, and the open source intelligence story is simply a vehicle for examining both the utility of his methods with respect to the study of communications and discourse, and the ebbs and flows of institutional change.

I would be delighted if the author set out to write the sequel to this book, since there is so much more to cover. For example, Bean does not address the billions in open source waste across the Department of Defense; the ineptitude of the Department of State in open sources; or the successes and failures of both the rest of the U.S. Government, and the 90 nations that have created their own open source intelligence units (only 10 of which are respected by the CIA Open Source Center). The CIA culture could be examined further as well, where open sources are called “Open Sores,” and where few (similarly across all agencies) are actually interested in producing intelligence in the public interest.

Neither the intelligence world nor the world of open sources has come of age. We are merely at the end of the beginning, and I predict an Open Source Agency (OSA) will be established, under diplomatic auspices as recommended by Joe Markowitz and myself, and as approved twice by OMB. A new request is being presented to Hillary Clinton, who has the most to gain from such an initiative.

I’ll review some of the details that caught my attention. The book opens with a real treasure, the first documented call for an Open Source Agency (OSA), in 1969. Much later, starting from 1988, it took a dozen of us 15 years, and blood on the floor, to get an Open Source Agency mentioned as a live option on pages 23 and 423 of the 9-11 Commission Report. A fully functioning OSA would allow an honest President and an honest Congress to cut the secret world back to $25 billion a year from $80 billion plus; and even cut defense down to $300 billion while redirecting $200 billion to waging peace under diplomatic auspices; and reduce much else, especially the Department of Homeland Security.

QUOTE (3): “…systematically collecting open source information has not been a priority of the U.S. Intelligence Community.”

QUOTE (5): “Analyzing how these policy makers, officials, and executives have used speech and writing to promote and/or impede competing visions of institutionalized change offers a unique way of understanding the post-9/11 reshaping of U.S. intelligence.”

The author defines his objectives on page 12:

01 The influence of open source vis-à-vis the trajectory of post-9/11 institutional reform

02 The relationship between open source and organizational culture within the context of U.S. homeland security

03 The democratic dimensions of open source; specifically, the relationships among open source, institutional reform, and deliberation of US national security affairs.

He gets the Burundi Exercise mostly right, where I competed against the CIA, and won, in a timed effort to assemble the best information. The Aspin-Brown commission arranged for this test. He does not realize that the books were cooked after the fact. This was an overnight exercise, therefore the statement in the exercise report that open sources took longer to produce is a blatant fabrication. The report also fails to mention that clandestine and technical collection typically takes days to weeks to mobilize.

He gets Congressman Colonel Rob Simmons right, but does not focus enough on why Elliott Jardines was selected (as house-broken) and failed (broke both his promises to Steele). Doug Naquin does not get enough scrutiny, but the author does point out that the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) took a 50% cut in its budget starting from 1993–a year after I began this fight. They simply did not get it, and by the author’s account, neither does the Department of Defense, which is treating open sources as a technical collection and processing challenge instead of a multinational human collaborative networking challenge.

This book teaches me about neo-institutional theory, grouping nine kinds of institutional work (advocacy, defining, vesting, construction identities, changing normative associations, constructing normative networks, mimicry, theorizing, and educating) into three broad groups: political work, technical work, and cultural work. I would have added financial work, quoting Don Gessaman of OMB, “It’s not policy [or real] until it’s in the budget.” A complete analysis of the US Government budget on open sources has not been done and needs to be done, across ALL agencies and departments.

QUOTE (49): “National security” is therefore not an objective, universal, or stable phenomenon with fixed assumptions or expressions; rather, “national security” serves as a site of discursive struggle over the meanings and consequences of ambiguous events.”

One minor flaw in this book is its acceptance of “secrecy” and “intelligence” as interchangeable or symbiotically-related terms. In fact, this is the fatal cancer in the secret world. Mature intelligence addresses all topics with all sources in all languages and produces decision-support. Intelligence should be defined and measured by the production of tailored usable decision-support, not–as is now the case–by “budget share” and classified sources and methods that ultimately provide, “at best” 4% of what a major commander needs, according to General Tony Zinni, USMC (Ret).

QUOTE (62): “The biggest threat to open source [its institutionalization] is the closed source intelligence community. . . . there is no question that the secret side has interfered with the development of a full and complete open source capability.”

Across the book the author excels at contrasting the relative failure of the “in-house” model for meeting open source needs (only for the secret side and not for sharing with the public) and the “alternative vision,” persistently acknowledged by a surprising diversity of serious elements. The author is particularly complementary of the Defense Science Board’s continuing emphasis on open sources, not perhaps aware that Joe Markowitz is always the author of those words.

A second minor flaw in this book is its unwitting acceptance of self-serving comments within the secret world to the effect that open source intelligence is nothing more than “information.” Joe Markowitz and I agreed in the mid 1990′s that open source data, open source information, open source intelligence, and validated open source intelligence (only an all-source analyst can do the latter) are four different things. “Intelligence” is the process of requirements definition, collection management, source discovery and validation, multi-source fusion, human and technical analytics, and presentation and dissemination, all to the end of answering important questions from specific decision-makers or decision-making groups. Much if not most of the secret world does not actually do most of this–the secret world is driven by dollars for collection, nothing for processing, and slight regard for humans. It certainly is not at all focused on optimizing decision support.

I like very much the author’s discussion of how the inclusion or exclusion or citizens–of the public–is the litmus test for the soul of open source intelligence. This is of course one of the most important areas where US secret intelligence has failed. The author summarizes the bottom line: as kludged by the US government, open sources have been fenced inside the secret world, focused only on external threats, and in essence–my word, not his–neutered.

QUOTE (89): …from the relative “incoherence” of open source discourse and the influence of “competing” discourses at the operational levels of homeland security organizations.

Across the national security world, despite lip service by senior leaders on open source information being essential, the culture is still deeply committed to the “need to know” default.

QUOTE (99): …one contractor claimed that some agencies are using open source contractors in order to “check the box.”

On pages 126-127 the author provides a fine additional strategy for checking abuses of power (in this case, Dick Cheney taking us to war on the basis of 935 documented lies that were not challenged at the time by anyone in the secret world, the media, or in Congress). He calls it “open the lid.” It consists of three questions:

01 Will the intelligence community share open source analysis (on a given issue) with the public?

02 Does the intelligence community possess credible open source reporting that contradicts its official position on this issue?

03 If someone has credible information that supports or contradicts the intelligence community’s position, how can that person provide that information to the intelligence community?

The author is a tad naïve in thinking that the White House gives a hoot about intelligence. They tend to be satisified with a director of intelligence like George “Slam Dunk” Tenet, who was willing to prostitute himself. Charlie Allen sent in line crossers. Saddam Hussein’s son defected. The working level secret world knew with great certainty that Hussein has destroyed the stocks, kept the cookbooks, and was bluffing for regional influence sake. This is a major reason why open source has to be outside the secret world and even outside the government. Whoever is in charge of open source has to have the brains to get it right and the balls to make it public.

The final chapter is entitled “Open Source, Democracy, and the Future of U.S. Intelligence.” It is a marvelous chapter, one that could and should be used as a stand-alone reading for courses across the spectrum of both the humanities and the social sciences.

His concept of open source intelligence evokes the idealized principles of a democratic society. I agree: open source intelligence “ruptures” the “container” of national security affairs–it is a counter-power; the hostility of the US Government to informed citizens cannot be under-stated; open source intelligence in the US Government remains, as Bean documents, “largely ad hoc, uneven, and uncoordinated.”

The appendix on Open Source Contexts and Practices is very brief but a solid addition to the book, and teaches me that there is an Agriculture Global Intelligence and Forecasting (GIF) Team. We need such teams in every department and every agency and every service, and even more, we need a single integrated strategic center as David Abshire, Tony Zinni, and I have each in our own way sought to inspire over the past quarter century–a long time during which we have not had a “Smart Nation.”

I have absolutely no doubt that the author has several more really great books in him, and I certainly hope that his second book will cover Whole of Government open source intelligence, and his third Multinational, Multiagency, Multidisciplinary, Multidomain Information-Sharing and Sense-Making (M4IS2).

This book has been an enormous surprise to me. I recommend it very strongly and without reservation, not because it validates my vision, but because it illuminates new methods of studying communications and discourse, and documents once again why secret mind-sets cannot be trusted with open sources.

A longer version of this review, with additional quotes and the graphic on Intelligence Maturity, will be published in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.

Below I use the remaining allowed links to complement this author’s work. He is on target and it is vital that the public and the “eight tribes” of intelligence (academic, civil society, commerce, government, law enforcement, media, military, and non-governmental/non-profit) attend to his findings.

What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States
The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country
A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship
Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life
Secrecy: The American Experience
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA

Phi Beta Iota:  A longer version of this review, with additional quotes and the graphic on Intelligence Maturity, will be published in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.

See Also:

2010 The Ultimate Hack Re-Inventing Intelligence to Re-Engineer Earth (Chapter for Counter-Terrorism Book Out of Denmark)

2010 INTELLIGENCE FOR EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability

2010: Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Trilogy Updated

2009 DoD OSINT Leadership and Staff Briefings

Vote and/or Comment on Review

See Also:

Review (Guest): No More Secrets – Open Source Information and the Reshaping of U.S. Intelligence

Steven Aftergood: Open Source Intelligence Act III

Open Source Agency: Executive Access Point

Marc Andreessen: US Education Crisis–Young and Old

2012 Manifesto for Truth: Expanding the Open Source Revolution (Evolver Editions, July 2012)

Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Intelligence (Most)