CIA Director: Open Source a ‘Tremendous Advantage’

CIA Director John Brennan

CIA Director John Brennan J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Combining data sets offers a clearer picture of an event, John Brennan said.

The CIA gained a major intelligence advantage by embracing something available to everyone: open source data sets.

The agency operates the intelligence community’s Open Source Enterprise and has been hiring open source specialists to analyze public data sets and combine them with classified data.

“It's been a tremendous, I think, advantage as far as trying to fulfill our various missions,” said CIA Director John Brennan.

Brennan made the remarks at an Intelligence and National Security Alliance event on July 19, where he discussed the CIA’s modernization efforts. Housing the Open Source Enterprise within the CIA’s new Directorate of Digital Innovation allows a combination of the right personnel and tools to get a more accurate analysis of world events, Brennan said.

“We're trying to deploy more and more of these open source specialists into our mission centers,” he said. “Having the ability to leverage those – the open source environment and the open source tools — and bring it together with your clandestinely acquired information is just so enriching in terms of how we're able to understand and create new knowledge.”

Combining the data sets offers a clearer picture of an event, he added.

The CIA’s push to emphasize open source tools and analysts mirrors other efforts going on within the IC. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, for example, is gobbling up imagery from DigitalGlobe, Planet Labs and Skybox Imaging to “see even more,” according to Deputy Director Sue Gordon. NGA officials, including Director Robert Cardillo, have trumpeted the need for NGA to invert its geospatial collection efforts to primarily open source efforts.