Secrecy News

Missing the Open Source Center / World News Connection

The decision by the Central Intelligence Agency to terminate public access to its translations of foreign news reports at the end of 2013 continues to reverberate among frustrated former consumers.

The translations had been performed by the Open Source Center (OSC) at CIA, and marketed to subscribers through the NTIS World News Connection (WNC). Their absence has left a felt void, particularly since the daily products had been continuously available to the public (by paid subscription) since 1974.

“The first three months of 2014 have seen so many crucial international stories that current WNC Daily Report public access could have helped to illuminate,” said one disappointed subscriber. “OSC short-sightedness is mind-boggling.”

An effort to reverse the CIA move and to restore public access is beginning to take shape, but the prospects for success are uncertain.

Besides translations, the Open Source Center also produces original analysis of open sources. Much of this material is unclassified and could be released. Occasionally, some of it leaks.

In a marvelous piece described (but not disclosed) by Michael Rubin in Commentary on March 19, the Open Source Center reportedly performed a critical analysis of the music that was performed at the Sochi Olympics and Paralympics.

“The Open Source Center’s Russia analysts… observed that during the Olympic Games’ closing ceremonies, Russian authorities played an instrumental version of a song that called for Alaska’s return to Russia.”

A Wall Street Journal op-ed by Samantha Ravich and Carol Haave praised the value of open source intelligence and called for new investment in this area (“Nukes and ‘Snowden-Proof’ Intelligence,” March 17).

“Crafting new analytic methods for acquiring and exploiting… open-source scientific literature is crucial for understanding the pace, scale and scope of other countries’ nuclear-weapons aspirations,” they wrote, while open source intelligence “can often give us better insight into foreign leaders’ motivation and intent” than some other modes of collection and analysis.

But today’s CIA has proven to be an unreliable custodian of the open source intelligence enterprise, having deprived the public of access to its products for the first time in four decades. If there is ever to be a resurgence of open source intelligence, it probably ought to be managed and housed far from CIA.

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