What: An Open Source Agency (OSA) is a legal, ethical intelligence-gathering and decision-support capability, relying exclusively on sources and methods that are open. It is a support hub serving all elements of the federal government and the nation as a whole. It is an essential means for tracking the information explosion in all the hundreds of languages we do not speak. Open source principles ensure OSA’s dedication to intelligence that is not secret, not expensive, and fully sharable, i.e. democratic.
Intelligence begins as a process: requirements definition, collection management, source discovery and validation, multi-source fusion, machine and human translation and analysis, visualization of complex ideas, and timely appropriate delivery of decision-support. Intelligence ripens into decision-support. Not all intelligence has to be secret. Secret intelligence deals with narrowly defined security threats and relies upon narrowly defined sources, often covert. Open source intelligence deals with broadly defined challenges and opportunities, and draws upon a much wider range of sources.
Open Source Analysis of Challenges. Three major challenges demand America’s persistent attention.
- Major Global Threats. The UN High Level Panel (Brent Scowcroft was the US representative) defined ten major threats to humanity. Poverty undercuts human capital and economic capital. Infectious Disease undermines human capital. Environmental Degradation threatens environmental capital. Seven other threats endanger civic capital: Inter-State Conflict, Civil War, Genocide, Proliferation, Terrorism, Transnational Crime, Other Atrocities. Open source intelligence gathering is an excellent means for understanding these and similar challenges.
- Major Local to Global Core Policies. From local to national to global, policies today are not harmonized, and even within individual departments, different elements support competing policies and expenditures (for example, one conversing water the other approving water for tar sand extraction; another protecting the prairie dog as a threatened species, while a counterpart pays to eradicate the prairie dog as a pest. Twelve core policies requiring shared information and inter-agency as well as multinational sense-making have been identified from past presidential “mandate for change” volumes. They are Agriculture, Diplomacy, Economy, Education, Energy, Family, Health, Immigration, Justice, Security, Society, and Water.
- Major Global Challengers. Growing economies and large populations define these as nations of particular interest: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and Wild Cards such as South Africa and Turkey.
Open Source Analysis of Opportunities. America’s long-term goal is to function as a fully competent nation in an increasingly competent world. Open source intelligence will help stakeholders of all kinds to understand better the opportunities that arise from a national commitment to a competent future, and will substantially elevate the clarity, diversity, and integrity of the national deliberative dialog.
Stakeholder Breadth. For purposes of this discussion, we loosely categorize American society according to: Civil Society, Commerce, Non-Profit/NGO, Media, Academic, Government, Law Enforcement, and Military. Today these institutions and their respective constituencies lack the ability to do as well as the culture in favor of information-sharing and collaborative sense-making. This imposes very heavy social and economic costs on the Republic as a whole. Open source intelligence draws from all these perspectives, integrates their viewpoints, and facilitates entrepreneurship, wealth-creation, and overall American competence. The key difference is that this new approach is integrative instead of isolationist, focused on the public interest at large rather than stovepipe stakeholder interests.
Why I (General Relevance): Open source intelligence is more compatible with America’s founding principles than secret source intelligence. The secret approach to intelligence will continue to have a role – ideally a steadily shrinking one – but most of the intelligence America requires in future decades will be more effectively gathered through open source means and methods. Open source methods are more affordable; they are less vulnerable to secret manipulation; they are more compatible with America’s central principles of transparency and accountability. An Open Source Agency will put America on the path toward wiser methods of fulfilling the nation’s needs across education, intelligence (decision-support), and research. Immediate benefits to the incumbent Administration include:
- Direct focus on the identification of cuts in government beginning with phased cuts to secret intelligence (can be cut from $80 billion a year to $20 billion a year) and to national defense (from $900 billion a year to $300 billion a year), while also identifying needed shrinkage in government to end the current and continuing practice of borrowing one trillion dollars a year.
- Direct focus on a national jobs and job retraining program that pays the 22% now unemployed, and continues the salary for one year of the 22% (estimated) that need to be removed from the rolls of federal, state, local, and related contractor positions—in one fell swoop the President can show that he is both trimming the government while leaving no cut employee behind, and re-educating America for the 21st Century.
- Direct focus on Open Government and Citizen Engagement, with Participatory Budgeting being the major outcome of a nation-wide program to identify the true costs of every product, service, and behavior.<
Why II (GSA Relevance): There is no more important—nor any more absent—service of common concern than decision-support. The US Government is an industrial-era hierarchy of loosely-connected stovepipes that do not share a common software system, a common data management system, or a common information discovery and sense-making system. In the 21st Century, GSA could make a huge difference by serving as the proponent for Best Practices directly, and the Open Source Agency indirectly.
How: In 1995 the Aspin-Brown Commission received compelling testimony on OSINT and in its recommendations in 1996 said that OSINT should be a “top priority” for attention by the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), and a top priority for funding. The commission’s recommendations were largely ignored. In retrospect, placing Open Source Intelligence under the DCI would have been a judgment error under the best of circumstances. An Open Source Agency (OSA) will serve the nation best as part of the Department of State. In 2000 the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved creation of an OSA as a presidential initiative, with an Initial Operating Capability (IOC) of $125 million a year toward a Final Operating Capability (FOC) of $2 billion a year. In 2004-2005 Congressman Rob Simmons (R-CT-02) pursued various initiatives on the Hill, and co-drafted with Robert Steele a Smart Nation Act that he intended to introduce following his re-election; his reelection bid fell short by 80 votes. More recently, Joe Markowitz, the first and only Chief of the Community Open Source Program Office (COSPO) and Robert Steele briefed Kathleen Peroff, the Associate Deputy Director for National Security at OMB, and secured provisional approval for OSA startup funding, contingent on Cabinet Secretary sponsorship.
Where: A property known as the South-Central Campus, north of the Lincoln Memorial and west of the State Department, is a natural. The South-Central Campus was originally donated to the CIA by a wealthy widow and more recently turned over to the GSA by Jim Woolsey. This location would place it adjacent to the Department of State as well as the US Institute of Peace (USIP), and it places it in close proximity to the George Washington University (GWU), strengthening that organization’s national and international stature [now ranked 90-110 nationally, 201-300 globally]. This location also places a new OSA close to the John F. Kennedy Center where daytime conference space and daytime parking would strengthen OSA’s abilities to host federal, national, and international conferences.