AOH :: ISN-1701.HTM

A T-Shirt-and-Dagger Operation

A T-Shirt-and-Dagger Operation
A T-Shirt-and-Dagger Operation

Forwarded from: William Knowles 

November 13, 2005

WASHINGTON - A DOCUMENTARY on Italian television on Tuesday accuses
American forces of using white phosphorus shells in the assault on
Falluja last year not just for nighttime illumination, their usual
purpose, but to burn to death Iraqi insurgents and civilians. The
mainstream American news media, whose reporters had witnessed the
fighting and apparently seen no evidence of this, largely ignored the

But on the Internet home page of the Open Source Center, a new 
American intelligence unit that keeps an eye on the global flood of 
nonsecret information, a report on the documentary was featured 

"We posted it because it was getting significant play on the Web and 
in foreign media, which means it could influence public opinion," said 
Douglas J. Naquin, director of the center. The Web site - open to 
government workers and contractors - included links to the video and 
to foreign news reports about it from the BBC in London to The Daily 
Times in Pakistan.

In the jargon-happy world of spying, Humint is human intelligence, or 
the recruitment of foreign agents; Sigint is signals intelligence, or 
eavesdropping; Imint is imagery intelligence, or satellite 
photography. But those costly disciplines are best for obtaining 
well-hidden nuggets: plans for the next Qaeda attack, or the state of 
North Korea's nuclear program.

By contrast, Osint, or open-source intelligence, is a low-cost way to 
try to understand the Islamic militancy that fuels Al Qaeda or to 
track subtle shifts in the public statements of Kim Jong Il, the 
eccentric North Korean dictator. It gleans insights not just from 
foreign newspapers and television, as its less ambitious predecessor 
did, but from the ballooning riches of the Web and such diverse 
sources as Palestinian rap and Indonesian T-shirts.

The creation of the center, announced last week, might seem like it 
comes late in the game, given that the Web has been a resource for 
years. Indeed it reflects a growing consensus that open-source 
intelligence has been neglected, in part because it lacks the 
attraction of stolen secrets. 

"Collecting intelligence these days is at times less a matter of 
stealing through dark alleys in a foreign land to meet some secret 
agent than one of surfing the Internet under the fluorescent lights of 
an office cubicle," Stephen Mercado, a C.I.A. analyst, wrote last year 
in the agency's in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence. The 
presidential commission on intelligence regarding weapons of mass 
destruction agreed, recommending last summer a major expansion of the 
open-source collection.

John E. Pike, who follows American intelligence agencies at a Web 
site,, that itself is a rich compilation of 
open-source material, noted that the use of public information had 
grown since the 1940's, when the government's Foreign Broadcast 
Information Service began translating media. He said the greatest 
challenge for the center, which replaces F.B.I.S., would be to select 
what is most revealing. "It's like drinking from Niagara Falls," he 

Some might question what can be learned from inflammatory T-shirt 
slogans or Web scribblings. But officials say such easily collected 
items help fill in the intelligence mosaic, allowing agents and 
eavesdroppers in the other intelligence spheres to focus on the truly 
hard-to-get secrets.

Open-source officers scan technical journals for evidence of 
suspicious work on toxins or germs that might be used in an attack. 
They follow trade publications to identify companies capable of 
supplying parts to illicit nuclear programs. They lurk in 
foreign-language chat rooms, hunting for insights into shifting public 
opinion. The center's officers have found that Farsi, the language of 
Iran, is among the top five languages used by bloggers, who can be 
quite informative. Snapshots posted on Iranian blogs show how young 
women are following or flouting ruling clerics' strictures on head 
coverings and skirt lengths - not exactly a code-cracker, but one 
gauge of the public mood. 

"There's not much difference between working with a disgruntled 
military officer as a clandestine agent and reading what a disgruntled 
military officer posts on a blog," Mr. Naquin said.

The center's Web site has a page cataloging the 93 public appearances 
this year of Mr. Kim by date, location and companions. It archives his 
statements and video going back a decade, and devotes a section to his 
health. The mercurial autocrat's nuclear ambitions make any hints 
about his intentions and future of intense interest to United States 

Similar pages track Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose 
savvy use of the news media makes them natural open-source targets. 
Even as Mr. Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, has eluded capture, 
his group has issued daily Web reports on its attacks, often with 
video. Some of the posted information, albeit unvetted, would be a 
coup for any secret agent. On Friday, for instance, a Web communiqu=E9 
described in detail the hotel bombings in Jordan, giving the 
nationality, gender and noms de guerre of the attackers.

"Communications are the nervous system of the entire SAC organization,
and their protection is therefore, of the greatest importance. I like
to say that without communications, all I control is my desk, and that
is not a very lethal weapon."      ---      General T.S. Power U.S.A.F

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