Steven Aftergood: Open Source Intelligence Act III

Steven Aftergood

Phi Beta Iota:  Act I was 1988-1993.  Act II was 1993-2011.  Act III began with the publication of NO MORE SECRETS with a Foreword by Senator Gary Hart (D-CO).

Below the line in full (or click on links to originals):

OPEN UP OPEN SOURCE INTELLIGENCE

THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF OPEN SOURCE INTELLIGENCE

 

OPEN UP OPEN SOURCE INTELLIGENCE

If the Obama Administration wants to advance the cause of open government, one particularly fruitful way to do so would be to share unclassified open source intelligence publications with the public.

The Federation of American Scientists offered that suggestion in response to a White House call for public input into the development of the pending Open Government Plan.

“The U.S. Government should adopt a policy of publishing all non-sensitive products generated by the Director of National Intelligence Open Source Center,” we wrote. “Doing so would serve to enrich the online domain with uniquely high-value content on a broad range of national security and foreign policy topics. It would foster increased public awareness and understanding of national security and foreign policy affairs. And it would provide the public with a tangible ‘return on investment’ in this vital area of national policy.”

The U.S. Open Government Plan is being developed as part of the multi-national Open Government Partnership that is to be launched next month.  The White House solicited public input to the process in an August 8 blog posting.

THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF OPEN SOURCE INTELLIGENCE

The battle for public access to open source intelligence may have been lost before most people even knew it began, judging from the new book, “No More Secrets: Open Source Information and the Reshaping of U.S. Intelligence” by Hamilton Bean (Praeger, 2011).

“No More Secrets” is an academic work, not an expose.  But it is an exceptionally stimulating one that brings the theoretical principles of organization management and communications theory to bear on intelligence policy in original and insightful ways.

As Bean shows in depth, the meaning of “open source” has been fiercely contested, beginning with the very definition of the term (which generally refers to policy-relevant information that can be acquired legally).  Other disputed questions include, Whom does open source serve?  Is it only for policy makers, or also the public?  Who should perform the open source mission?  Should it be housed within the intelligence community or outside of it?  Which aspect of “open source intelligence” dominates?  Is it the logic of openness or the logic of secrecy?

For the most part, these questions have now been answered, at least provisionally.  Open source intelligence is for policymakers, not the public.  It is part of the intelligence community, not separate from it.  The logic of secrecy, not openness, is primary.  “Intelligence officials have successfully marginalized” those who would argue differently, Bean says.

Among several fateful turning points in the current institutionalization of open source intelligence, Bean highlights a conflict between Robert Steele, a former CIA officer and Marine Corps open source advocate, and Eliot Jardines, who served as the senior ODNI official on open source.

While Steele favored an open, expansive and inclusive vision of open source intelligence, “Jardines sought to institutionalize the collection and analysis of open source within the U.S. intelligence community in ways that did not overtly challenge the dominant institutional logic of secrecy.”  In 2005 or thereabouts, Jardines won that battle, and “those who share Steele’s vision of an independent open source agency find their ability to affect change similarly constrained,” the author says.  (Steele’s own review of the book is here.)

Of course, there is no reason why the status quo must be perpetuated indefinitely.  In fact, Prof. Bean notes, “many stakeholders… are still, to this day, actively struggling to institutionalize their preferred meanings of open source….”

Secrecy News is cited a couple of times in the book and the Federation of American Scientists makes an appearance in this peculiar sentence:  “A principal reason that WikiLeaks, Public Intelligence, Cryptome, and FAS are controversial is because they threaten to rupture distinctions between open and secret information and destabilize conventional notions of authority, expertise and control.”

Aug 25

Comments are closed.