Intelligence turns to open market for data

Social networking sites, blogs and chat rooms unveil classified information for analysts.

The global explosion in Internet-based new media has made open source information invaluable to intelligence agencies, CIA Director Michael Hayden said on Friday at the ODNI Open Source Conference in Washington.

Sections of the president's daily intelligence brief are "derived exclusively from open source intelligence" Hayden told the conference, which attracted more than 3,000 attendees from intelligence agencies, academia and industry. Those sections bear the stamp of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's Open Source Center.

Development of an open source intelligence organization was one of three key objectives for the ODNI when it was created in 2005, Hayden said, just behind the establishment of a central clandestine service branch and a security branch within the FBI. The Open Source Center, which is managed by the CIA and serves the entire intelligence community, has paid rich dividends since it went into operation in November 2005, he noted.

ODNI built the center around the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service which monitors overseas radio and television programs, and today uses that core capability to pump more than 300 foreign TV broadcasts into intelligence operations centers, Hayden said.

Doug Naquin, director of the Open Source Center, said media monitored by his analysts include blogs, chat rooms, and social networking sites such as YouTube and MySpace.Hayden said such media allows intelligence analysts to engage in the kind of social interaction with foreign societies that he had to do in person while serving as an Air Force attaché in the mid-1980s.

Monitoring these sites requires analysts to develop modern technical and analytical skills to integrate information derived from these sources, Naquin said.

Besides trackingnew media sites, analysts must be able to figure out how participants interact in a chat room, for example, and understand the networks they use, he added. Analysts also must keep up with new forms of technology such as mobile phone cameras, Naquin said, anddetermine how they can be used to influence public opinion.

Glenn Gaffney, deputy director of National Intelligence for Collection, said agencies should recruit young analysts from what he called the "mash-up generation" who can integrate data from disparate text, data and video sources. The insights derived from such an exercise can make "open source the first source", Gaffney said, adding that these employees have the technical skills lacking in older generations of analysts.

Adversaries have learned to use new media to spread disinformation, and Naquin pointed out that "information does not have to be true to have an impact." Joe Goldberg, a CIA veteran who now serves as the director of business intelligence for Motorola noted an erroneous news story on the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sun-Sentinel Web site on Monday, which said United Airlines had declared bankruptcy.

That story turned out to be six years old, but by the time United managed to get the facts out, the value of its stock had dropped 75 percent, he said.

Though open source information is unclassified, Naquin said the insight the Open Source Center derives from it is often so revealing that "we are pressed to classify it." Open source intelligence has become such a "formidable asset," Hayden said, that even though its origin is unclassified, "our interest in it is not."