Open Source
Information Strategy
Leveraging the dynamic global information environment into innovative, real-time knowledge bases may help us maintain our competitive edge

By Edward F. Dandar Jr.

     Open source information strategy (OSI) includes four levels of effort offered to stay abreast of the exponential growth in the open source information arena.

     The first level is sustained, which provides the basic information on a given region, target, or area of concern. Level two is called the intensified level. This effort requires a detailed examination of the selected target and is based on potential "hot beds" of activity. Level three, directed, is a quick reaction response requiring maximum effort against an imminent trouble spot. Level four is cued, which focuses on unusual activities or events observed during the sustained level and indicates if a higher level of activity is required or other intelligence community sources tasked.

     A possible implementation approach for this strategy divides the four levels of effort between intelligence community personnel, industry, academia and DoD Reserve Components (RC). This division leverages both the strengths and availabilities within and apart from, the intelligence community.

     For example, a mix of industry, academia and RCelements might provide continuous coverage of events in a particular region or topical area (level one) and, on occasion, produce special focused studies (level two). If large, current databases were built and maintained by this process, intelligence community personnel would be best used by exploiting these open source information repositories, plus other classified sources, to respond to both ad hoc (level three) and indications and warning (level four) information requirements.

     In acquiring information above the sustaining level in the above approach, a caveat on limitations exists for customers. The two important limitations are the time allotted for ad hoc requirements and open source information availability. Availability will be partially based on the level of technology development and potential external information gateways in the country or area of interest. In cases where external access to the country is denied for publications, databases and online vehicles, local access to libraries and other open sources must be used.

     Of course, greater access to open source material offered for a variety of agendas and reasons puts a premium on critical evaluation and elevates the potential for deliberate and highly sophisticated deception. This problem rests with the analytical rather than the hardware and software components of open source information systems and processes. In addition, the fragility of access to some open source databases must be considered, since these may be quickly denied or lost to conflict, natural disaster, or simply system failure.

Road Maps to Information
     Open source information road maps identify the potential sources of information available on or in a target country or mission area. They are particularly pertinent to open source information acquisition through the Internet, where they identify relevant uniform resource locators known as URLs. They also identify such details as the general content of information found at each source, an assessment of its general level of accuracy and the timeliness of data normally found at each site.

     Open source information road maps help to develop information on a specific topic or target area of interest. It establishes directions for open source information acquisition processing and dissemination of evaluated information on specific intelligence community topics. Road maps become particularly important when planning for international political and/or military crises. Crises do not always occur overnight and are normally known about days, weeks or months in advance. Developing intelligence expert crisis teams which include community, industry, academic, RC and private individuals in advance ensures all available sources of information and expertise are exploited.

     The Intelligence Community Open Source Program Office performed a reconnaissance of the Internet through a commercial vendor from October 1995 to April 1996. The project members investigated the Internet as a resource for open source information pertaining to Africa and Latin America and researched the availability of commercial databases containing information on Latin America. The primary deliverables were a directory of bibliographic records of relevant sites and databases and a report detailing the vendor’s research methodology and findings.

     The study is one of the first known attempts to broadly explore the vast and inadequately charted Internet as a source of information of intelligence value. It was conducted at a time when the Internet was rapidly expanding its effect, especially on less developed areas of the world.

     According to a study entitled, "Electronic Sources," written by Information International Associates, Inc., Community Open Source Program Office, Africa/Latin American Project, investigators reached three conclusions.

     First, they decided the Internet is an increasingly valuable source of information for the intelligence community both from a content and a process point of view. Secondly, they concluded the Internet is unlikely to be a cost-effective tool for most analysts (except those who become specialized in the Internet) unaided by targeted and value-added directories. They agreed the cost per unit for developing value-added directories should decrease as the methodologies are further refined, making continued development more advantageous for coordinated intelligence community support.

     As the study continues, "The first conclusion is based on the speed and extent of migration of publishing (especially gray literature) to electronic networked media. The second conclusion is based on the fact that Internet is still very volatile in its nature and the search technology is not refined enough for the average user to use it economically. The third is based on the fact that a majority of the effort on this project was developing methods and applying existing standards which would not have to be repeated for further directory development. With some additional application of automated tools to open source information processes, the cost per directory or open source information road map should decrease over the next five years."

     The need for further macro and domain-specific road maps should be approached by building on lessons learned, methodology and recommendations from the Intelligence Community Open Source Program Office’s effort.

Pilot Projects
     There are four purposes of open source information pilots. The pilots develop macro or micro information road maps and produce domain specific products. They also establish directories of government, industry, academia, and other private subject matter experts. Further, they contribute to reengineering the open source information business process by automating as much of it as possible. Automation is accomplished through the insertion and integration of the best available software products.

     The illustration proposes a new, automated open source information business process. The process reuses and enhances information brought into various intelligence community domain repositories through electronic profiling, normalizing, tagging and indexing. The role of the intelligence community information specialist and/or vendor expands to more post-processing of acquired data by filtering it through available visualization and pre-analysis tools. This new process provides the all-source analyst with a pertinent open source information working file. The intelligence community end goal is the rapid access, processing and integration of open source information into timely, all-source products or validated open source products for public or coalition force use.

     In a paper titled, "OSI Acquisition and Exploitation Pilot (OAEP)," from the Computer Sciences Corporation, and in discussions with several vendors, a focused approach to intelligence operations is best. The primary intelligence operations contained within open source information pilots should focus on enhancing one, possibly more, components. These components are: acquisition (road map strategies), data pre-processing, data manipulation, pre-analysis processing, knowledge base development and transmission of results to the all-source analyst(s).

     Pilot projects also provide a controlled way of testing the use of non-intelligence community resources to satisfy community open source information requirements.

Selecting Expertise
     A prospective open source information vendor or reservist supporting the intelligence community should possess certain expertise. The expertise must include extensive experience and understanding of the intelligence arena, various regions of the world and specific topical expertise pertinent to customer needs. These organizations or individuals should have access to trained information specialists and/or intelligence analysts with a wide range of experience in applications software. Individuals must keep current with new developments in database applications, information retrieval methods, fusion, validation of information and collection. Small, high-quality consultant teams and/or larger vendors should provide a list of experts and specific skills available to fulfill tasks.

Statement of Work Considerations
     The following are some of the questions that need to be addressed in developing a statement of work before employing a vendor in executing an open source information pilot project.

1. Which non-intelligence community resources can potentially address this problem?

  • Other DoD/government research and analysis organizations separate from the intelligence community
  • Corporate researchers and market analysts
  • Academic researchers
  • Other nongovernment researchers
  • Reserve/National Guard intelligence units and individual mobilization augmentees

2. How will information providers be selected (include the evaluation criteria for selection)?

3. How will information providers be tasked?

4. How will information providers be compensated (by retainer, hourly wage or finished product)?

5. How is the value versus cost of these products assessed?

6. What are the deliverables, time frames, and costs?

7. How are finished products delivered (hard copy, hypertext markup language (HTML), multimedia, etc.) and disseminated for use by intelligence community analysts?

8. What measurement criteria and other evaluation mechanisms will be specified in advance?

     While technology can offer help to the intelligence community facing a torrent of open source information, outside resources can provide essential support in dealing with the open source acquisition and exploitation issue. The potentials and limitations of concurrently employing technology and of open source information vendor solutions can best be determined by a series of carefully designed, controlled, limited and assessed pilot projects.

     In addition to implementing the available solutions cited, increased focus is needed in guiding the (1) re-engineering of intelligence community analysis, collection and production processes for the 21st century, and (2) re-training of intelligence community work force away from the lingering Cold War business mold to enhanced exploitation of information era resources.

     Many of the intelligence business skills and trainers needed to make this 21st century transformation exist within the commercial and academic arenas. However, the current intelligence community work force culture provides some serious challenges which must be met if we are to adequately meet the information needs of our customers. Working closely with business, academic, and reserve colleagues on open source information road maps and other projects should facilitate the needed intelligence community work place transformation.

     Forging improved government partnerships with industry and academia also should contribute to developing and identifying the "best of breeds" in emerging information technologies. Their timely insertion into community open source information programs, and subsequent evaluation, should contribute to establishing a broader based community of open source information strategies and exploitation capabilities. Government, with business and academia, must seize this window of opportunity for leveraging the dynamic global information environment into innovative, real-time knowledge bases to maintain its competitive edge in global economics, technology and information.

     The author acknowledges the specific contributions and editing support provided by Richard Peze, of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, Intelligence Systems Support Office; Alan D. Tompkins of Computer Consultants; Dr. Graham H. Turbiville, Jr., Army Foreign Military Studies Office; and Robert D. Steele of Open Source Solutions, Inc.

     Ed Dandar is a civilian employee of the Army Intelligence and Security Command assigned to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, Intelligence Systems Support Office. Please send comments to him at: [email protected]

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   Last Updated: July 02, 1997