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New Foundation Aims to Professionalize OSINT for the Intelligence Community

What’s happening?

Over the last few years, organizations like CSIS and the Defense Intelligence Agency have officially recognized the value of open-source intelligence (OSINT) in conjunction with more traditional, classified intelligence disciplines. The OSINT Foundation is the most recent move to integrate OSINT into the public sector.

The OSINT Foundation launched on August 1st, and its board includes several former intelligence leaders: Ron Burgess, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; Barbara Fast, former commander of the Army Intelligence Center; and Tom Fingar, former deputy director of national intelligence for analysis.

The Foundation was created partly in response to Congress’s calls for improved OSINT strategies and updated definitions around the practice. Its main goals are to:

  • Develop OSINT professionals in the United States intelligence community (IC).
  • Professionalize the OSINT workforce and create standardized tradecraft practices.
  • Establish broader recognition and acceptance of OSINT across US Intelligence agencies.
  • Publish OSINT standards and encourage OSINT education at post-secondary institutions.
  • Develop a program to offer basic OSINT fundamental skills and certification.

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What’s the impact?

The OSINT Foundation signals a significant shift for public sector intelligence professionals. First, while OSINT isn’t a new discipline, it has been largely practiced by individual craftspeople and enthusiasts, private investigators, and journalist groups like Bellingcat. An IC-focused foundation will help develop tradecraft and solutions that are specifically designed to support national security applications and policymakers.

Secondly, professionalizing OSINT will move the discipline beyond manual and ad hoc online investigations, embracing social network analysis and data science to understand trends at scale. This is crucial, considering one of the IC’s biggest challenges is battling data overwhelm.

In 2022, open-source content from social media has provided crucial insights into breaking events like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For example, public traffic data and social media helped investigators predict the invasion, identify Russian disinformation, and understand battlefield movements in near real-time. Organizations like the OSINT Foundation will help give policymakers an information advantage by improving the use of OSINT for emerging interests, like China’s malign activities

“The Intelligence Community must reorient to engage in a strategic competition with the PRC while countering China’s malign activities globally. To do so, it must continue to build open source intelligence capabilities and augment capacity.”

Senate Report 117-37: Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022: 

How can OSINT help?

In an executive survey sponsored by Recorded Future, experts across the intelligence community cited several valuable OSINT capabilities:

  • The use of AI to narrow in on relevant open-source information across the web.
  • The ability to track specific keywords, actors, and security issues across multiple web sources simultaneously.
  • Adaptive tools that can search and filter information quickly.
  • Solutions that identify trends and patterns within large volumes of open-source data.

These capabilities support analysts overrun by high data volumes and help deliver more timely intelligence. Echosec Systems recommends additional capabilities—procuring OSINT solutions that are easy to use and offer open-source data coverage beyond that commonly available through commercial, off-the-shelf data providers. These considerations will improve user efficiency and adoption, and help analysts avoid information gaps caused by overlooking covert, niche, and regional networks.

To learn more about OSINT solutions, practices, and data sources relevant to the intelligence community, book a call with Echosec Systems.