U.S. spies are looking increasingly online for intelligence and they've become major consumers of social media.
By Thomas Claburn
February 6, 2008
In keeping with its mandate to gather intelligence, the CIA is watching YouTube.
U.S. spies, now under the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), are looking increasingly online for intelligence; they have become major consumers of social media.
"We're looking at YouTube, which carries some unique and honest-to-goodness intelligence," said Doug Naquin, director of the DNI Open Source Center (OSC), in remarks to the Central Intelligence Retirees' Association last October. "We're looking at chat rooms and things that didn't exist five years ago, and trying to stay ahead. We have groups looking at what they call 'Citizens Media': people taking pictures with their cell phones and posting them on the Internet."
In November 2005, the OSC subsumed the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service, which housed the agency's foreign media analysts. The OSC is responsible for collecting and analyzing public information, including Internet content.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists project on government secrey, posted transcript of Naquin's remarks on his blog. "I found the speech interesting and thoughtful," he said in an e-mail. "I would not have thought of YouTube as an obvious source of intelligence, but I think it's a good sign that the Open Source Center is looking at it, and at other new media."
Not everyone in the intelligence community sees the value in open source intelligence. "[W]e still have an education problem on both ends, both with the folks who are proponents of open source but perhaps don't know exactly why, and folks internally who are still wondering why I am sitting at the same table they are," said Naquin.
But further acceptance of open source intelligence, of the Internet and social media, seems inevitable in the intelligence community if only because traditional media is becoming less relevant. "What we're seeing [in] actuality is a decline, a relatively rapid decline, in the impact of the printed press -- traditional media," said Naquin. "A lot more is digital, and a lot more is online. It's also a lot more social. Interaction is a much bigger part of media and news than it used to be."
Despite its name the Open Source Center hasn't proven to be particularly open with its findings. "One area where Mr. Naquin's Center falls short, in my opinion, is in public access to its products, which is very limited," said Aftergood. "I know that there are some copyright barriers to open publication of foreign media items. But there shouldn't be any such barriers to release of the Center's own analytical products. And yet they are hard to come by. I hope this is one aspect of the Center's activities that will be reconsidered."