A new U.S. Army Field Manual is intended to advance the development and use of open source intelligence (OSINT), which is intelligence that is derived from publicly available data legally obtained.
“The value of publicly available information as a source of intelligence has… often been overlooked in Army intelligence operations. This manual (pdf) provides a catalyst for renewing the Army’s awareness of the value of open sources; establishing a common understanding of OSINT; and developing systematic approaches to collection, processing, and analysis of publicly available information.”
The growing military appreciation of open source intelligence arises from the ever-increasing quality of public sources and the evident limitations of traditional classified approaches.
“Open source research is the most effective means of retrieving authoritative and detailed information on the terrain, weather, and civil considerations as well as external variables that affect or influence the operational environment,” the manual states.
Yet “our reliance on classified databases… has… often left our soldiers uninformed and ill-prepared to capitalize on the huge reservoir of unclassified information available from open sources.”
OSINT is naturally not the solution to all problems or without limitations of its own, the manual says.
“More than any other intelligence discipline, the OSINT discipline could unintentionally provide indicators of US military operations [to hostile observers].”
Furthermore, “Deception and bias are of particular concern in OSINT operations. Unlike other disciplines, OSINT operations do not normally collect information by direct observation of activities and conditions within the area of interest.”
Characteristically, perhaps, the new Army manual on OSINT is marked “for official use only” and it has not been approved for public release. As such, it would not have qualified as an “open source.” Until now.
A copy of the manual was obtained by Secrecy News and posted on the Federation of American Scientists web site.
See “Open Source Intelligence,” U.S. Army Field Manual Interim FMI 2-22.9, December 2006 (161 pages, 2 MB PDF).
The management of open source intelligence activities across the U.S. intelligence community was addressed in a July 2006 Intelligence Community Directive (ICD 301) on the National Open Source Enterprise (pdf).