Who needs 007 when you have the Internet

Posted: April 2, 2008 in Uncategorized

Today’s spies find secrets in plain sight

By Peter Eisler, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON β€” For 40 years, U.S. presidents have begun each day with a top-secret, personal briefing on security threats and global affairs obtained largely from covert spy missions, clandestine satellite surveillance and other highly classified intelligence sources.

Now, however, the President’s Daily Brief and other crucial intelligence reports often rely less on secrets from risky espionage missions than on material that’s available to just about anyone.

Intelligence officers have gleaned insights on Iran’s nuclear capabilities from photos on the Internet. They’ve scooped up documents, including a terrorist training manual, at international conferences and public forums. They’ve found information in foreign university libraries and newscasts.

Such material is known as “open-source intelligence” or, in the acronym-laden parlance of the 16 federal agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, OSINT. The explosion of information available via the Internet and other public sources has pushed the collection and analysis of that material to the top of the official priority list in the spy world, intelligence officials say.

The change hasn’t been easy in a bureaucracy that often measures success by its ability to steal secrets. Federal commissions repeatedly have criticized the intelligence community for not moving more quickly and aggressively to exploit open-source information. (more…)

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