In Defense of Open Source Intelligence

While intelligence academic courses and free range journalists are busy educating students and informing the general public of the benefits of open source intelligence, few intel agencies are ready to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk.

This article, for example, from the exposes the unwillingness of the Australian intelligence community to give up its fixation on secrecy and start employing open source methods to both its collection and analytical divisions. The author pays homage to U.S.’ pioneering spirit in this regard and laments Australia’s lagging behind.

The article states that according to a former senior defense intelligence officer, up to 95% of intelligence sought by governments was available from open sources, but Australian agencies focused on information obtained secretly.

Apparently the Aussie obsession with secrecy goes as far as barring intel officers from using the internet for security reasons, which in 2008 is not only ridiculous but outright irresponsible.

In my last class we had a rather extensive discussion on the type of biases we should be careful to avoid when producing an intelligence product, and obsession with secrecy was…surprise surprise…high up on the list.  (see full list below)

This is not to say that Australia alone should be criticized for making advances toward intelligence reform with the speed of glacials melting (perhaps no longer an apropriate analogy). Risk-aversed Europeans are also tagging along, obdurate to common sense appeals by various individuals and NGOs promoting the use of open source intelligence, not as a substitute to secrecy, but as an efficient and far more economical complement.

My two cents on this: (and I can’t speak about Australia as I’m not familiar with the situation there) the time wasted brooding over “disasterous” American foreign policies and various expressions of anti-Americanism, would be better employed in recognizing the U.S.’ leading initiative in the field of open source intelligence and adopting and promoting the use of open source on local ground.

 List of Biases and Misconceptions

1. Best-case analysis – optimistic assessment

2. Conservatism in probability – tendency to avoid estimating extremely high or low probabilities

3. Defensive avoidance – refusal to perceive and understand extremely threatening stimuli

4. Denial of reliability  – attribution of irrationality to others who are perceived to act outside the bounds of one’s own standards of behavior or decision-making (Opposite of rational-actor hypothesis, can result from ignorance, mirror-imaging, parochialism, or ethnocentrism)

5. Ethnocentrism – projection of one’s culture, ideological beliefs, doctrine, or expectations of others; exaggeration of the casual significance of one’s own actions

6. Evoked set reasoning – information and concerns, which dominate one’s thinking based on experience

7. Excessive secrecy (Compartmental-ization) – over-narrow reliance on selected evidence, based on concern for operational security; narrows consideration of alternative views.  Can result from or cause organizational parochialism
8. Ignorance

9. Image and self-Image – perception of what has been, is, or should be (image as subset of belief system)

10. Inappropriate analogies – bias of “representativeness” or the perception that an event is analogous to past events based on inadequate consideration of concepts or facts, or relevant criteria

11. Lack of empathy – underdeveloped capacity to understand others’ perception of their world, their conception of their role in the world and their definition of their interests

12. Mirror-imaging – perceiving others as on perceives oneself

13. Organizational parochialism – selective focus or rigid adherence to prior judgments based on organizational norms or loyalties

14. Over confidence in subjective estimates – Optimism bias in assessment

15. Presumption of unitary action by organizations – perception that behavior of others is more planned, centralized, and coordinated than it really is. Dismisses accident and chaos; ignores misperceptions of others

16. Presumption that support of one hypothesis disconfirms others – rapid closure in the consideration of an issue is a problem

17. Prematurely formed views – premature closure in the consideration of a problem

18. Proportionality bias – expectation that the adversary will expand efforts proportionate to the ends he seeks

19. Rational-actor hypothesis – assumption that others will act in “rational” manner based on one’s own rational reference

 20. Superficial lessons from history – uncritical analysis of concepts, events, superficial causality, over generalization of obvious factors, inappropriate extrapolation from past success or failure

21. Wishful thinking (Pollyanna complex) – excessive optimism, hyper-credulity

22. Worst-case analysis (Cassandra complex) – pessimism and extreme caution, based on predilection (cognitive predisposition), adverse past experience, or in support of personal or organizational interests or policy preferences

23. Willful disregard of new evidence – rejection of information that conflicts with already held beliefs.


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