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Report: Counterterrorism should focus on open source intelligence

The new administration must broaden the scope of its counterterrorism activities, including a focus on collection of domestic and open source intelligence as well as traditional foreign intelligence, the Defense Science Board said in a report outlining the key priorities for incoming leaders.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The intelligence community has acknowledged the need to share information and has improved collaboration among agencies, but it's not enough, the board said. "The No. 1 issue in counterterrorism is that we are information-limited," the report stated. "Many nostrums for improving intelligence in support of counterterrorism focus on 'connecting the dots' on the presumption that we have all the dots. We do not, nor are we sufficiently astute and aggressive enough in collecting them."

The report, "Defense Imperatives for New Administration", released on Nov. 4, said combating terrorism requires putting domestic intelligence collection on par with foreign intelligence. The creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which placed all intelligence agencies under an umbrella organization, was supposed to achieve this parity. But the science board said, "successive directors of national intelligence have been slow to embrace domestic intelligence, and that must be remedied."

The report slammed the agencies for their disdain of open source intelligence, saying that since the Sept. 11 attacks "every commission and every observer and critic of the intelligence community" has touted the value of such information channels.

"Much of what we know about terrorist groups comes from open sources," the board said. "Much of what we do not know and need to know is to be found in open sources." But the intelligence community "retains a propensity to undervalue and shortchange" them, the report said.

The increased use of the Internet and related technologies by terrorists makes collecting open source intelligence easier, the report said, adding that it can be done at bargain prices. Speaking at the September ODNI Open Source Conference in Washington, CIA Director Michael Hayden said the global explosion of Internet-based new media has made these sources invaluable to intelligence agencies.

The board said the new administration should develop a collection architecture that shifts the traditional Cold War focus on fixed installations to people and activities "hiding in plain sight." The report noted that "more than ever, collection needs to be close-in, covert and must achieve deep penetration."

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