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OSINT is an Essential Part of Intelligence Training and Intelligence Analysis

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is all around us. OSINT is exactly what its name implies—intelligence that is open to everyone. Our age is the “information age” so OSINT may be more useful than it may appear. What people, organizations, and governments post on websites, or the informational footprint they leave on the World Wide Web, is actually useful information. Indeed, that information is revealing something about actions and intent. Perhaps deceptively simple, OSINT is nonetheless important for intelligence analysis.

Other counties, such as China, are quite adept at OSINT. The work China has put into OSINT underscores its importance. The many reported cyber attacks and hackings attributed to China highlight the effort China has put into OSINT and their presumable head start in this area. China has ostensibly taken OSINT very seriously since the 1980s. They have made a science out of information collection that can serve as intelligence. China has realized that there is a vast reservoir of highly accessible information that can be used to answer specific questions (i.e., intelligence questions).

Contrasting with the apparent high value placed on OSINT by the Chinese, U.S. Intelligence does not appear to be as organized in its OSINT collection and utilization. This is so even considering that many high ranking individuals have spoken out on the importance of OSINT. Indeed, the Robb-Silberman Commission recommended that OSINT be given its own place or directorate within the intelligence community. That recommendation, plus the clear fact that adversaries to the U.S. take OSINT so seriously, is compelling evidence that U.S. Intelligence should continue to develop its OSINT collection and utilization capabilities.

It makes sense to develop the OSINT capability because of the value it adds to the intelligence portfolio. OSINT can provide insight into the mindset of a society. The information available to the public can be of a provocative nature that can incite violence or that can reinforce hostile action towards the U.S. For example, terrorist organizations have used the internet to further their propaganda. Moreover, it is quite possible to follow the development of a social, political, or cultural trend by paying attention to what is stated on the internet, blogs, and the media. Following OSINT in this way provides the added benefit of not offending political borders; thus, there is much less political risk by using OSINT.

Those partaking in studies in intelligence are well served by attending a university that treats OSINT as a valuable part of the larger intelligence picture. Intelligence training that incorporates OSINT into its curriculum will give the student insight into an area of intelligence analysis that will only continue to expand in the internet age. To be sure, intelligence training that does not teach about OSINT stands to leave the student in the dark.

Intelligence analysis, intelligence training, and studies in intelligence will see more and more incorporation of OSINT into their reports and curriculum. As stated earlier, this is because the world is so interconnected through the internet. For the student looking to embark on studies in intelligence, he or she should consider a university that incorporates OSINT.