Open Source Info

By Edward F. Dandar Jr.

    Changes in the world today affect how people access and use information. This information revolution goes beyond the wide scale use of personal computers to encompass a growing use of wide-area, large-scale computer networks which provide the infrastructure for international information access and sharing. Although this global information infrastructure is in its infancy, it is providing new frameworks and approaches for obtaining information.

    Corporations must use these tools to be competitive via electronic information access and transactions. Nations must employ these tools to develop the needed information infrastructure for providing healthcare, education, economic viability and national security.

    This infrastructure, although spreading unevenly throughout the world, enables domestic and cross-border information transmission in minutes. Borders separating states have become more permeable and information can enter or leave without a "visa."

    The global information infrastructure is being used increasingly in diplomacy. Academia, governments and activists, use it as an educational tool, as well as groups whose goals and methods transcend legal norms of international behavior. The new communication and information technologies can promote new forms of grassroots international cooperation and advocacy or increase social fragmentation within state borders or between countries.

    The increasing availability of information sources and services and accompanying rapid information technology developments (highlighted by the "year of the Internet and Web" in 1995) provide the opportunity and challenge for all who use it. Leaders must completely re-think how information processing tasks are performed. This re-thinking requires vision and decisive leadership during the next few years.

    Our ability to exploit new information access technologies and information stores is complicated by difficulties in transforming organizations (and people) from the "old" way of doing business to new ways. The associated re-engineering challenges are significant within the intelligence community.

    Within the intelligence community, the need to exploit increasingly large volumes of disparate information is paramount. Analysts face greater workloads from a variety of reasons. Analysts must deal with the increased number of issues to address, increased amounts of managed information (particularly from open sources) and the resource constraints imposed by a steadily reduced work force and competing tasking.

    The direct availability of essential information in original languages, replete with cultural and societal perspectives and biases, place a greater emphasis on the specialized regional and language training which analysts require to make rapid, effective use of material. In addition, they must work within a fragmented systems environment with uneven connectivity to resources and with widely varying practices, methods and tools for managing, accessing and exploiting needed information.

    In this environment, analysts’ requirements go beyond simple information access. The need is for an integrated information environment where analysts can seamlessly exploit information repositories, expert knowledge and necessary tools and services. This environment would facilitate collaboration across the intelligence community, industry, and academic work groups and provide a basis for sharing and disseminating information products to consumers and decision makers.

    The rapidly expanding global information environment challenges the government’s information exploitation resources. Intelligence analysts cannot be experts in all political, economic, technological, military operations other than war and major regional conflict areas. They cannot master the languages in which high quality open source information is quickly accessible. Analysts must obtain information continually from a wide variety of sources to respond in a timely manner to the critical information needs of decision makers. Given the preponderance of information sources, the intelligence analyst does not have the time, expertise or training to continuously and exhaustively collect information on multiple targets of interest.

    Two critical problems face intelligence analysts in the global information environment: easy access to open source information and tools which allow analysts to deal with the volumes of information. The Report of the Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community describes today’s open source information challenges and shortfalls.

    Industry and academia can provide intelligence analysts access to a wider range of open sources and experts to further augment the current exploitation process. However, even the typical commercial information broker’s open source acquisition and exploitation business process needs change. The process needs re-engineering and automation to handle the increasing volumes of disparate and globally distributed multimedia and multilingual open source information.

    Within the intelligence community, maturing analytical software products from various organizations are being integrated into the Pathfinder/Sentinel analysts’ tool box for both strategic and tactical users. The intelligence community’s TIPSTER program involves at least 15 projects with industry and academia aimed at improving text processing capabilities. (More information can be found within the Technology Navigator "alpha test" site on the Internet at: http://www. See the "About" information papers section of this site.) As these research and development investments mature, they will become available in both government and commercial products. In addition, collaborative work and sharing of open source information can be enhanced by establishing an intelligence community open source directory service. This requires adopting necessary intelligence community-wide information access and sharing policies.

    Solutions exist where significant enhancements to operational capabilities can be realized with incremental improvements and insertions of technology. Where those incremental gains are possible, we must ensure policies do not inhibit improved capabilities.

    Intelligence experts must continue exploring other open source information acquisition and exploitation alternatives, such as the use of commercial vendors, universities and military reservists. The intelligence community should explore simultaneous employment of these resources. These external internal community assests are uniquely capable of handling the information explosion and support a number of intelligence community and military core business areas.

    Editor’s Note: The next INSCOM Journal will explore the unique qualifications of open source vendors, universities and military reservists in providing assistance to the intelligence community.

    Ed Dandar is a civilian employee of the Army Intelligence and Security Command and is assigned to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for Intelligence and Security, Intelligence Systems Support Office. Comments can be provided to him at: [email protected]

Return to Home Page Go to Journal Contents

   Last Updated: April 30, 1997