Open-source info may help establish integrated intelligence community

The development and sharing of open-source information may be the first area where real collaboration among agencies in the intelligence community is accomplished.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. ? Douglas Naquin, director of the Open Source Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the audience attending the GeoINT 2006 conference that John Negroponte, director of National Intelligence, believes that "open source can be the first manifestation of an integrated community."

In fact, the development and sharing of open-source information may be the first area where real collaboration among agencies in the intelligence community ? a requirement in the post-9/11 world ? is accomplished.

The OSC was established just a year ago, incorporating as its foundation the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, a division of the CIA. Its mission is to mine "the world's unguarded knowledge," from all the channels available ? the Internet, print, broadcast media, podcasts, anything that contains information, in any language, from any country ? and glean all the data contained there. The data is archived, and OSC analysts can then draw upon it in response to queries from all levels of government; Naquin said that in addition to the intelligence community, the center fields requests from the Defense Department, civilian agencies and state and local law enforcement.

In addition to fielding analytical requests, the center is looking to establish open-source "franchises" and providing training, technology guidance and best practices to other governmental operations that have their own needs for open-source information, Naquin said. There is such a large volume of information globally, this is one way to help cope with the magnitude of data, he said.

Historically, the intelligence community has not been that interested in publicly available information; the emphasis has been on developing covert information.

But "there just might be relatively ? relatively ? fewer secrets today," Naquin said. The advent of information channels such as blogs and YouTube increases the likelihood that something once considered secret will make its way into the public discourse, he said.

The center also has taken pains to establish metrics to validate its usefulness, Naquin said. For instance, he set a target for this year that 25 percent of all the analysts trained in using open source should come from outside the CIA.

"On Sept. 30 we met our target," he said.

Another measure is in information sharing. The center tracks how many datasets it buys on behalf of agencies, so the metric is the economy of scale ? how many agencies are saved the expense of purchasing the commercial data because they can access it through OSC.

The upfront aim of measuring the center's success may be paying off.

"This year... we have a plus-up in our base" budget, Naquin said. "The stars are aligned as well as they've been in my lifetime for open source."

Patience Wait is a staff writer for Washington Technology's affiliate publication, Government Computer News.