[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[infowar.de] CSM 08.01.07: The Wikipedia way to better intelligence
from the January 08, 2007 edition
The Wikipedia way to better intelligence
Open-source information gathering can rival, if not surpass, the
clandestine intelligence produced by government agencies.
By Douglas Raymond and Paula Broadwell
SAN FRANCISCO; AND CAMBRIDGE, MASS. ? The US State Department's effort last
month to issue a travel ban on 12 Iranians suspected of supporting that
nation's nuclear program wasn't big news at first. Shortly thereafter, it
was revealed that the analysis supporting the ban was provided not by the
CIA, but by a single junior analyst using Google searches.
The lesson? Advanced technology and Web-savvy citizenry now make it
possible for open-source information gathering to rival, if not surpass,
the clandestine intelligence produced by government agencies.
Indeed, open-source methods have already proved their worth in
counterterrorism. Shortly after Sept. 11, Valdis Krebs, a security expert,
re-created the structure and identities of the core Al Qaeda network using
publicly available information accessed from the Internet. He started with
two 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who were
identified from a photograph taken while they attended a meeting with known
terrorists in Malaysia in 2000. By scanning public sources for information
linking these suspects to others, he re-created the social network
identifying all 19 hijackers and described their relationships to their
coconspirators, including the identification of Mohammed Atta as the
A US-based research center, the Search for International Terrorist Entities
(SITE) Institute, monitors the public communications of terrorist and
extremist websites and has successfully penetrated password-protected Al
Qaeda-linked sites. SITE has successfully accessed terrorists' propaganda,
training manuals, and communications, offering insight into their
activities that is difficult to obtain elsewhere. According to a Marine
colleague who just returned from Iraq, information on the SITE website was
used within hours of posting to prevent a terrorist attack in Iraq,
demonstrating that third-party analysis has become a key component of
A third example comes from a new database at the Jebsen Center for Counter-
Terrorism Studies at Tufts University's Fletcher School in Medford, Mass.
Researchers there have collected historical data on the life paths of
hundreds of terrorists and analyzed their letters, wills, and interviews.
This information, based on open-source data, is being used to identify the
factors that tend to predict terrorist acts.
Technology that lets anyone analyze data
While motivated citizens and academics have often been able to generate
analysis that rivals that of government experts, the difference today is
that technology such as wikis and blogs allows thousands to contribute to
an analysis. Readers can then "vote" the most accurate and relevant
information to the top, giving them enough credibility to be taken
seriously. Take, for example, the Wikipedia entry of Moqtada al-Sadr. Mr.
Sadr's entry in this free encylopedia that anyone can edit has been
modified approximately 500 times by about 50 people in the past three
years. These motivated authors have expanded the entry and corrected
hundreds of one another's errors and omissions. Thousands read the profile
and hundreds of others have linked to it, making it the first entry in most
search engines' results.
Blogs are another tool for massive parallel analysis and collaboration - a
search for blogs dealing with terrorism generates nearly 1 million results.
While most bloggers generate little of value to intelligence analysis, the
collaborative nature of the technology gives greater weight to the better
analyses, pushing them to the top. Additionally, the increasing reliance of
terrorist groups on the Internet provides these amateur intelligence
specialists with tomes of data that will make it easier to understand
terrorist goals and objectives, improving their ability to conduct pattern
analysis. The result is that analysts have increasingly better access to
data, and the consumers of their work have better tools for distinguishing
great analyses from those that are merely good.
A disconcerting fact about the Iranian travel-ban event is that the State
Department had repeatedly requested that list of names from the CIA, but
was refused for reasons of secrecy.
How US intelligence can adapt
To be fair, the US intelligence community has taken some first steps in
adopting collaborative technology by creating an "Intellipedia" - a secret,
internal version of Wikipedia. However, the strength of Wikipedia is not
the technology, but the massively collaborative effort that the technology
enables. US intelligence agencies must adopt this collaborative spirit and
become more adept at incorporating the increasingly valuable analysis
produced in the public domain with their internal efforts. America will be
a more secure country once it discards the notion that secrecy is equal to
strength and begins harnessing the power of 100,000 bloggers.
? Douglas Raymond is a former US Army captain, former member of the 66th
Military Intelligence Group, and currently a term member of the Council on
Foreign Relations. Paula Broadwell is a PhD student in counterterrorism
policy studies at Harvard University and the deputy director of the Jebsen
Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies at Tufts University's Fletcher School.
To unsubscribe, e-mail: infowar -
- infopeace -
For additional commands, e-mail: infowar -
- infopeace -