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SOS, OSO

garyth123@flickr, CC by-nc-nd 2.0

garyth123@flickr, CC by-nc-nd 2.0

OSOs, or Open Source Officers, are “the Intelligence Community’s foreign media experts”, according to the CIA.

Isn’t it noteworthy that “open sources” only equal “foreign media” in that job description, even more so since Langley is obviously falling behind in an open source collection effort that deserves the name, as Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein just lately reminded us? Also is it worth mentioning that not systematically monitoring websites like Facebook and Twitter is primarily seen as a lack of collection, not of analysis. But eventually, Feinstein elaborates on analysis, too:

“I don’t believe there was any intelligence on what was happening on Facebook or Twitter or the organizational effort to put these protests together. […] I would call it a big intelligence wake-up. […] I think, you know, open source material has to become much more significant in the analysis of intelligence, particularly in the prediction area.”

One might argue if there’s also a non-prediction area in intelligence, but well, you might remember what I recently wrote about the boundaries of prediction. In this case now, the term “failure” is avoided by applying the euphemism “wake-up”.

So after all, it is certainly reasonable to ask if intelligence should be paying more attention to social media, online communities and the like. Yet, again and again, one should distinguish between cause and effect and be aware of a somewhat delicate delusion (or bias), which Evgeny Morozov calls “internet-centrism“, or the belief that online developments are triggering actual political events, and not just empowering them. With good cause, he warns:

To form sound policy, you need to start with people who actually know something about the history and environment of the region, and then have them try to second-guess what the impact of the Internet would be. You cannot start with Internet gurus, and have them establish a theory about the impact of the Internet on countries as diverse as Azerbaijan and Indonesia. Anyone who tells you that is a charlatan.

4 Comments

  1. DNI James R. Clapper’s take on recent failures, boundaries and wake-ups:

    “Recently, questions have been raised as to whether the Intelligence Community has been tracking and reporting on these events effectively. The answer, I believe, in short, is yes.”

    http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2011_hr/021011clapper2.pdf

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 08:38 | Permalink
  2. “The CIA, getting its information from reporters? Well here’s the scoop: it happens all the time.”

    http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_17402542#ixzz1ED6wGzuD

    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 08:26 | Permalink
  3. “Director of National Intelligence James Clapper defended the efforts of the open source center in tracking all media, but acknowledged more needed to be done.”

    http://edition.cnn.com/2011/POLITICS/02/16/senate.intelligence.mideast/

    Friday, February 18, 2011 at 07:57 | Permalink
  4. Both Soviet/Russian and Western intelligence services strive to learn the secret intentions, capabilities, and strategic plans of other states, but they don’t go about it in the same way. The Russians believe that such important secrets can and should be procured directly from the classified files in offices of the government in question and from informants among its civil servants. When the Russians suspect that another country is trying to form a coalition directed against the Soviet Union, they don’t seek information about it in newspaper editorials, panel discussions, or historical precedents, although all these sources may shed some light on the matter; they set out to steal the secret diplomatic correspondence between the conspiring states or to recruit an informant on the staff of the negotiators if they don’t have one there already. When the Russians want to know the number of bombers in the air force of a potential adversary, they get the figure, not by doing library research on the productive capability of airplane plants or assembling educated guesses and rumors, but by asking their secret informers within the foreign air force or war ministry and by stealing the desired information from government files.

    The American CIA and Military Intelligence (including the DIA), on the other hand, and to a certain extent the British MI-6, prefer to rely more heavily on legitimately accessible documents. The American intelligence agencies are said to monitor as many as five million words daily, the equivalent of 50 books of average length, from foreign radio broadcasts alone. From enormous quantities of open material like this, CIA analysts derive a lot of information about foreign countries, their economies and finance, their industries, agriculture, and trade, their population and social trends, their educational and political systems, the structure of their governments, their leaders’ past lives and present views, etc. Drawing on that colossal warehouse of encyclopedic data, intelligence officers write reports and compose national estimates of foreign countries for the benefit of policy makers.
    Admiral Ellis Zacharias, US Deputy Chief of Naval Intelligence in the last war, wrote that in the Navy 95% of peacetime intelligence was procured from legitimately accessible sources, another 4% from semi-open sources, and only 1% through secret agents. Another authority on American intelligence, Gen. William J. Donovan, who headed the Office of Strategic Services during the war, expressed the same predilection for “open sources” by saying that intelligence is not the “mysterious, even sinister” thing people think it is, but more a matter of “pulling together myriad open source or research facts, making a pattern of them, and drawing inferences from that pattern.” This predilection for open sources lies at the core of the American doctrine of intelligence. CIA veteran Sherman Kent, author of “Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy,” once observed 50 years ago that 90 percent of everything spies need to know is available openly. The bias towards open sources is the most powerful attitude within the CIA. For the past fifty years that predilection for open sources has proven to be another CIA failure.
    How can intelligence officers pick out, from the vast amount of encyclopedic data that flows in to them from library research, the key developments for their purposes? One of the chiefs of American intelligence, a distinguished professor and noted scholar, had this to say on the subject: “How can surveillance [of the world scene] assure itself of spotting . . . the really unusual? How can it be sure of putting the finger on the three things per week out of the thousands it observes and the millions that happen which are really of potential import? The answer is … procure the services of wise men and wise in the subject-and pray that their mysterious inner selves are of the kind which produce hypotheses of national importance. “
    In the Russian view, such an approach is but one step removed from mysticism and metaphysics. What if the “mysterious inner selves” of the researchers and analysts fail to produce the right hypotheses? How safe is it, in general, to rely on hypotheses in matters of such profound complexity as world politics, where nothing is stable and enemies of yesterday become today’s friends and fight together against their former allies? A hypothesis may be wisdom itself, yet turn out to be utterly wrong. Not only intelligence officers but statesmen of the highest caliber have time and again been proved wrong in acting on undeniably wise hypotheses.
    Angelo Codevilla, a Boston University professor who specializes in intelligence, says the motto for the CIA under Tenet was: “We may not always be right, but we are never wrong.” Never being wrong has become Tenet’s – and the CIA’s – raison d’etre, and the politics has paid off. Huge amounts of taxpayer money continue to be spent secretly by an agency with a record of tactical and strategic failures, the 9/11 failure fiasco chief among them. The CIA researchers are quite careless too:

     The 1998 CIA World Fact book, for example, informed us that the United Kingdom gained its independence on January 1, 1801. The correct date was a wee bit earlier–1087 to be exact. The Fact book also notified an astonished world that listens regularly to the BBC World Service that Britain has no short wave broadcast stations. When London’s Daily Telegraph inquired about the misinformation the CIA blithely responded, “We never comment on intelligence matters, or lack of intelligence matters.”
     In 1950 the Agency failed to anticipate North Korea’s invasion of South Korea and then compounded that oversight by failing to anticipate China’s intervention.
     In 1961 the CIA’s intelligence leading up to the Bay of Pigs invasion was so defective that John Kennedy shunned its advice for the rest of his life. Which was a good thing because in 1962 the CIA continued to deny that Russia intended to install missiles in Cuba up until the very moment photographs revealed they were already doing so.
     In 1979 the CIA failed to predict the fall of the Shah of Iran and later that year, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
     In 1985 the CIA’s top analysts concluded that the USSR was a “very stable country”.
     In 1988 the CIA assured the White House that Iraq was so exhausted from its war with Iran that it was not contemplating any further military excursions into nearby countries.
     The appallingly shoddy nature of the CIA’s work has become even more apparent in recent years. In 1998 the Agency convinced the President to bomb a Sudanese business it insisted was manufacturing chemical weapons for terrorists. Turned out the laboratory was doing exactly what the government and its owners said it was doing–making medicines.
     In fact, 1998 was a banner year for CIA gaffes. The Agency was literally asleep at the switch when India detonated several nuclear weapons. The intelligence staff learned about it when the rest of us did, when they woke up and turned on the morning news.

    Each CIA failure has spurred a major investigation and fierce criticism by its Congressional overseers. Each time the CIA has promised to do better, and Congress and the White House have responded by increased the Agency’s budget. That pattern continues.
    After the India nuclear testing fiasco, two congressional oversight committees blasted the CIA. A few months later the President rewarded the CIA for its ineptitude by requesting a $3 billion increase in its budget. Congress was initially willing to accept that figure. But that was before the CIA’s disastrous error in Yugoslavia. Now the Senate is reportedly considering an even more substantial increase in the CIA’s budget!

    For decades, the CIA has been producing intelligence analysis and estimates, insufficient for the needs of American governmental policy makers. Any number of critics has complained about, “…the very low state of American intelligence …and (warped) intelligence judgments. There was any number of…examples…” The agency usually doesn’t mention RESINT (research of open sources), research intelligence, which is second only to TECHINT, in CIA use.
    The agency has rarely deviated from a dependence upon TECHINT combined with open source research for the basis of its “finished intelligence.” When deviations occur they are apt to be spectacular, for example: “…the CIA went to elaborate lengths to obtain and examine Nikita Khrushchev’s excrement during his 1959 visit to the US…”
    Western Intelligence Agencies Love Analyzing Soviet Shit?
    • Count Alexandre de Marenches, who was director of the French CIA equivalent, the Serve de Documentation Exterieure et de Contre-Espionage(SDECE) told TIME magazine on April 4, 1994: “…France was curious about the exact state of Leonid Brezhnev’s health…Marenches found an ingenious way to get information. ‘He was staying at the Hotel d’ Angleterre in Copenhagen during a state visit,’ the count recalls. ‘Our people rented the suite under his and dismantled all plumbing. They intercepted his toilet flushings and sent the sample to Paris for analysis.’…”
    The CIA demanded its own report of the French finding which CIA ANALysts perused with constipated gusto.
    • It doesn’t take a trained psychologist to spot the institutional psychopathology that is represented by a patterned interest in an enemy’s fecal matter. Such obsessions stem from several sources including: fear of the opposition, awe of the opposition, the desire to do something that is not dangerous, the need to express subordination and a deep-seated belief that the agency examining their opponent’s shit, feels that it is on the same level.
    What is ingenious about digging in someone’s shit? It is the behavior of losers.

    That CIA fecal analysis, if it followed the standard intelligence production patterns, would have probably favored the Soviet side of Kruschev’s bowel movements. General Daniel Graham, former Director of DIA and a member of the B-Team noted that CIA analysts “have for many years bent over backwards to downplay the Soviet military buildup…”
    For about a century, first Soviet and now the Russian (HUMIT) espionage totally humiliated the confused, chaos, fuzzy thinking and desperate disloyalty that characterizes the OSINT/SIGINT CIA.
    In the past 70 years the CIA has obtained almost no usable intelligence although it spends multi-billions a year (actually more than the $14 billion that it admits) with no Return on that Investment to US taxpayers. Yet now the most ignorant and ideologically bereft still support the CIA because of its pro-Marxist-Capitalist ideology. Look at the vacuous one liners on this site that support the CIA without any real evidence to reinforce their views.
    I criticise practically everything the CIA does, someone who understands espionage can do that.
    I am targeting the CIA’s OSINT, bias against HUMINT, their “intelligence cycle,” their analyst centered journalist-propaganda approach, their support of the oil cartel and the bankruptcy of their eternal amateurism.

    Monday, October 31, 2011 at 21:30 | Permalink

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