From: Steven Aftergood
Sent: Sunday, August 21, 2011 8:31 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: proposal for Open Government Plan

I would like to offer the following proposal for consideration in the U.S. Open Government Plan.

The Proposal: The U.S. Government should adopt a policy of publishing all non-sensitive products generated by the Director of National Intelligence Open Source Center. Doing so would serve to enrich the online domain with uniquely high-value content on a broad range of national security and foreign policy topics. It would foster increased public awareness and understanding of national security and foreign policy affairs. And it would provide the public with a tangible "return on investment" in this vital area of national policy.

Background: The DNI Open Source Center (OSC) produces thousands of discrete products each day, including translations of foreign media reports as well as original analyses of current events and emerging trends in international affairs. Only a small subset of these materials -- mainly translations -- are made available to the public (through paid subscription to a service called the World News Connection). This proposal would expand free public access to OSC products by promoting dissemination of original OSC analyses that are not sensitive.

Caveats and Limitations: This proposal is only aimed at disclosure and dissemination of "non-sensitive" OSC products. Such products may be sensitive for several reasons. In a minority of cases, they may be classified national security information. In many other cases, the documents may be copyrighted because they are derived from, or include, copyrighted material generated by private parties. In still other cases, the OSC publications may be "decision-sensitive," i.e. they may pertain directly to policy decisions that are pending before policymakers. Under those circumstances, their disclosure might prejudice the policy process or perturb it in undesirable ways. This proposal would exclude all three types of sensitive material from routine public disclosure: Only material that is neither classified nor copyrighted nor "decision sensitive" would be subject to routine publication. I have posted (without OSC cooperation or approval) a small selection of OSC products that illustrate their diversity and potential value here:

Costs: The costs associated with this proposal should be minimal since the proposed policy would not require the production of any new publications. Only OSC products that are undertaken and completed in the performance of the OSC mission would be eligible for public disclosure online. No new publications would be mandated. There would be some administrative costs associated with selecting or exempting reports for publication, and for hosting them on a publicly accessible server.

Counterarguments: Since this proposal does not include classified or copyrighted or decision-sensitive materials, there are no strong counterarguments to adopting the proposed publication policy. A weak counterargument might be made that public distribution of OSC analytical products could hamper the desired integration of open source intelligence into the tightly insulated world of classified intelligence. But I believe such a speculative claim is outweighed by the benefits to the public interest from publication and dissemination of the non-sensitive OSC reports.

Supporting Precedents: The World Factbook published by the Central Intelligence Agency demonstrates the feasibility and utility of publishing open source intelligence material, as well as the significant public appetite for it. This CIA document must be the single most popular intelligence product in the history of the U.S. government. Although it is not beyond criticism or correction, the World Factbook has served to educate and inform members of the public for four decades. It is a template for a much more ambitious and extensive open source intelligence publication program -- which should now be undertaken.

Thank you for considering this proposal.

Steven Aftergood
Federation of American Scientists
1725 DeSales Street NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036

email: [email protected]
voice: (202)454-4691