Intelligence and Intelligence Agencies
Ambassador David Fischer
There have been two major events recently that are responsible for a possible paradigm change in the world of intelligence. After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc information became available about societies that had long been behind a seemingly impenetrable veil of secrecy. This information exceeded in quality and quantity everything that the intelligence services of the West had amassed in the years of the cold war. And it was openly available.
The other factor was the advent of the Internet. Now everything that had been openly available, the information from newspapers, universities, telephone books, government agencies, commercial databases, satellite images, etc. could be found in one single place, with a few mouse clicks and from everywhere in the world.
In face of these changes, it is not surprising that many people ask the question whether it is still necessary to spend $30 billion a year to maintain an intelligence apparatus that tries to gain access to secret information. Former CIA director James Woolsey said that 95 percent of all economic intelligence comes from open sources. And Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan quotes George F. Kennan, who said in 1997 “that the need by our government for secret intelligence has been vastly overrated. I would say that something upwards of 95% of what we need to know about foreign countries could very well be obtained by the careful and competent study of perfectly legitimate sources of information open and available to us in the rich library and archival holdings of this country.”
There goes the story that author Tom Clancy was approached by the CIA, because they suspected that he had sources that channeled classified documents to him. But Clancy could prove that he had found all the military details he describes in his books entirely in open sources.
Robert D. Steele, who used to work for the CIA, says that only 1% of the budget of the intelligence community is used for Open Source Intelligence, or OSINT, while OSINT makes up 40% of the all-source intelligence product. Steele gives a good definition of Open Source Intelligence:
By Open Source we refer to publicly available information appearing in print or electronic form. Open Source information may be transmitted through radio, television, and newspapers, or it may be distributed by commercial databases, electronic mail networks, or portable electronic media such as CD-ROM's. It may be
disseminated to a broad public, as are the mass media, or to a more select audience, such as gray literature, which includes conference proceedings, company shareholder reports, and local telephone directories. Whatever form it takes, Open Source involves no information that is: classified at its origin; is subject to
constraints (other than copyright); is the product of sensitive contacts with
Steele runs the company Open Source
together with former intelligence official Mark Lowenthal. They are consulted
by various governments around the world in intelligence matters and claim they
are more successful in providing intelligence by relying on open sources than
the CIA with its army of spies. In a hearing before a government commission on
intelligence reform in 1996, Steele was challenged by retired General Lew Allen
to compete with his resources against the intelligence community. The challenge
was who could provide more useful information about the African country of
Why was the intelligence community
unable to make effective use of open sources? The World War II predecessor of
the CIA, the
In "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," John LeCarre has the master spy explain to his apprentice why purchased information -- though spurious -- gains easy acceptance at top levels of government while information gathered openly through diligent research -- though accurate -- is casually dismissed. "Ever bought a fake picture, Toby? The more you pay for it, the less inclined you are to doubt its authenticity." The CIA continues to believe rather in Covert Actions and clandestine methods of obtaining intelligence, instead of relying more on open sources. Moreover, in the past decades, more and more funds have been allocated to technical and covert methods of acquiring information and less has been spent to improve the analysis of open sources. And at the same time, the amount of information available has exploded.
And there is also the critique that
the FBIS focuses too much on print media and is not “cyberspace-ready”. An
intelligence official said “We are all still in the infancy of this world of
cyber-information. To tell you that we understand this completely and have this
licked – we are all making this up as we go along.”
The only effort undertaken by the CIA was to create an open source intelligence
network (OSIS), in which the burden of collection and analyzing openly
available information is to be shared with partners like
But does the growing popularity of OSINT mean that the CIA and the costly and risky “traditional” way of obtaining intelligence is obsolete? Let us take a look at the advantages and also at the limits of OSINT:
On the pro side of the equation is
the fact that there is more and more information publicly available, with the
Internet and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. When collection priorities in
recent years have not been high for a certain area (e.g. in the
OSINT is also quicker, cheaper and
does not involve a great risk for human agents and the nation’s reputation as
for example covert action. “Don’t send a spy where a schoolboy can go.”
OSINT can also serve as a “cover”. In a joint military operation, open source
information can be used as basis for intelligence support, when the real
intelligence capabilities of the
Lowenthal also says that OSINT can be more reliable and harder to manipulate than information from obscure secret sources. This might be true in case of a well-researched newspaper article in the New York Times, but it might not be true in the case of the Internet.
There are, however, limitations to
the usefulness of OSINT. Counterterrorism would be a good example. To gather
intelligence about the plans and whereabouts of Osama Bin-Laden, OSINT is
useless. The same is true for the remaining closed societies that don’t release
information to the public like the
There might also be the danger of revealing one’s interests and intentions when using OSINT, for example when asking a commercial information service for certain information.
And there are the structural and ideological obstacles in the intelligence community, which have already been mentioned. But the biggest problem remains the sheer amount of available information, a real “wheat and chaff” problem.
There are voices that question the claim that up to 90 percent of the intelligence needs could be satisfied using OSINT, for example John A. Gentry of the Federation of American Scientists. He says it is difficult to arrive at such a number. After all, intelligence does not necessarily equal information. This new popularity of OSINT was also a result of efforts of elements that would like to see the CIA abolished, according to Gentry. “To these people, the exaggerated claims of open-source intelligence proponents offer a convenient way not only to get more efficiency from government--the ostensible goal--but elimination of institutions they oppose for ideological reasons.” He says that the CIA is still essential for the national security and that the OSINT shortcomings could be overcome by the work of the new Community Open Source Program Office (COSPO), which also launched the OSIS network.
Even Steele agrees that OSINT cannot replace HUMINT/TECHINT, but still criticizes that the intelligence community had a bias for its own secrets and that it should make better use of commercial databases, business experts and academics (there is a problem here, however, as CIA officials are not permitted to employ academics as assets).
Another thing is that foreign intelligence services spying on the
It is time to take a closer look at the latest source of openly accessible intelligence, the much-talked-about Internet. Interestingly enough, Lowenthal claims that information from the Internet is responsible for only 3-5 % of the actual open source “take”. This is not so surprising when one takes into account that the medium is still relatively new, that effective techniques to exploit it have yet to be developed, and also the fact that doubts about the reliability of online information persist.
see the Internet not only as a chance to collect intelligence, but also as a
danger to their secrets. Secret information can be distributed
of the most outstanding changes that the Internet has brought about is that
formerly classified military satellite photography is now widely available
online. The ‘sellout’ of the former Soviet Union has not stopped at their spy
satellites and the Russian Space Agency’s (SOVINFORMSPUTNIK) KVR-1000 imagery
system offers 2-meter resolution images of vast areas of Europe. The private
company Orbimage has two imagery satellites that deliver 1-meter resolution
shots from all metropolitan areas of the
drawback of course is that these pictures are at least several years old; the
ones from former Soviet spy satellites are even dating back to the ‘80s. So
they are not suited for day-to-day intelligence but may well be used to get an
insight into restricted areas. Terraserver.com, for example, advertises their
photos of the alleged ‘Area 51’ base at
then there are huge commercial databases on the Internet about just every
topic, the most famous of them being Lexis/Nexis, where registered users can
search for national and international newspaper and magazine articles about
recent topics. Lexis/Nexis also offers extensive information about business
corporations, national and international law, medical research, biographies of
important personalities, as well as profiles and statistical data about every
country of the world and all
There are also a lot of websites that offer more or less complete links to news sources all over the world (e.g. www.newspapers.com). It used to take time and considerable amounts of money to acquire foreign newspapers from even the most exotic countries, but now many of them are readily available online.
There are also databases that contain all listed U.S. phone numbers, for example www.411.com. It is possible to search by name and street address, but a reverse phone number lookup is also permitted.
Generally, the Internet gives companies and also intelligence agencies the tempting possibility to create broad profiles of individual persons. Everybody who moves through the World Wide Web leaves traces, personal data and addresses, especially when shopping online. And also traces about his or her hobbies and interests, even sexual preferences. Many companies own loads of information about their customers and often sell these informations. There are already personal-information-brokers online, e.g. infousa.com.
Leaving the realm of the serious information providers, there are a lot of rather dubious sources that can be found online as well. But what they offer makes them even more interesting. “The Anarchist’s Cookbook” or “The Terrorist Handbook” fall into that category. They can be found on a number of “underground” websites (e.g. http://www.weirdpier.com/?anarchy) and read like terrorist do-it-yourselves. They include guides how to commit credit card fraud, how to counterfeit currency, how to build massive explosive devices using just diesel oil and fertilizer, how to build rockets and cannons and all sorts of other mischievous things. Although it remains questionable whether all these guides really lead to the ‘desired’ results, it is nevertheless unsettling to know that this know-how is available to virtually everybody now. Even the knowledge how to build an atom bomb has become public domain (although it is hard to verify whether it is accurate) and more or less serious guides are offered on a number of websites.
government agencies, the World Wide Web has brought about a new level of
transparency, or so at least it seems. There is hardly any agency, from the
department of state to the FBI and the CIA
that does not offer extensive information about its mission and its employees.
Since the Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1966, and especially after
the end of the cold war, a lot of formerly classified documents have become
available, and there are numerous government websites that offer downloads of
such material. The
Moreover, many elements of the military are on the web. Every branch of the military brags about its latest technology, tanks, aircraft, submarines. Although “real” secrets are not revealed there, still much more is shown than during the Cold War. And maybe this openness is also caused by a need for Public Relations, as military enlistment is declining in the face of the continuing economic boom.
Most U.S. Navy ships, for example, have their own websites. 20 years ago, hostile countries had to send spies or use satellites to determine where American aircraft carriers were at the moment – now they can conveniently look it up on the website of the Navy. (http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/news/.www/status.html)
again, as the Navy controls this information, it can just as easily manipulate
it as well, to mislead potential adversaries. But there are also independent
military researchers that offer their services online, for example Jane’s
Information Group. And one should not forget the growing number of “Stealthwatchers” that thrive on the
Internet. They suspect military conspiracies everywhere and have created their
own “intelligence” networks, trading dubious reports of U.F.O. sightings and
secret hypersonic warplanes that the
The “Drudge Report” (www.drudgereport.com) has become famous for being the first news source to break the story of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair. But it also serves as a good example that WWW-information should be taken with a grain of salt. Apart from wire service news, freelance journalist Matt Drudge publishes all the gossip that he can get a hold of, without seriously checking its accuracy. Sometimes it is the truth, more often it is not. Major newspapers, in contrast to that, demand the same standards of reporting from their online versions as they do from the printed version, and accuracy is also high when using one of the commercial databases or Lexis/Nexis.
But then there are millions of websites out there that are run by private persons or obscure organizations. It is hard to verify the truth and neutrality of their content. Caveat lector, “reader beware,” should be the principle.
open nature of the Internet makes it possible for everybody to publish
information to a
It is therefore important to find out about the credentials of an author. Who is he, what does he really know about a certain subject, what might be his underlying bias? Looking at the URL of a site or looking up the server’s owner (Network Solutions’ WhoIs directory) might also give a clue.
if it is an organization: What are their interests? Who funds them? Are they
affiliated with a government? Companies use websites for PR, and often websites
of autocratic foreign governments or government controlled newspapers offer
little more than propaganda. When the Internet became popular, a lot of people
believed that it would make life harder for dictatorial governments. Opposition
voices could not be silenced anymore, they could publish information without
being censored from anywhere in the world (e.g. dissidents in
FAS’ Gentry says “beyond the accounting, there are concerns of bias that may be somewhat different than those analysts traditionally have encountered. Information enters the public domain because someone thinks others want to read or see it. That means there are selection processes that could reflect commercial or ideological interests and a variety of biases. There is no quality control on the information; it can reflect opinion, rumor, propaganda, or disinformation. Easily found information quickly and voluminously enters the public domain, while tough, complicated issues tend to be short-changed.
biased content can come in disguise. Some “hate sites” use an educational cover
to feign authenticity, according to the
even with official websites, not everything is as reliable as it seems. Hackers
have proven time and again that they can alter the contents of official sites,
most recently in the Kosovo War. Serbian hackers not only attacked NATO’s
e-mail system, they also planted messages like “Kosovo is
With all the downsides of the Internet considered, it might nevertheless turn out to be a valuable tool for intelligence agencies in the future. Advanced computer systems might help to sort through the growing mountain of available open source information. “A clever computer programmer in the immediate future will unleash electron based ‘cyber-agents’ to recover more vital information in a day than a thousand fictional James Bonds could recover in a lifetime.” Although these claims seem a little too optimistic, especially because they don’t address the issue of reliability, it sure hints at a trend.
On the Collection level, online information might also change the way HUMINT works. Targets for recruitment as spies used to be singled out by relying on informants and intuition, to find out for example if somebody had financial problems, was a drug addict or was disgruntled with his career. In the future, “digital spies” might be able to perform credit checks online, trace job-change patterns, recover spending habits or retrieve medical files about a person, so that an intelligence service can create a pool of potential recruits.
Communication between an agent and his handlers, one of the most dangerous parts of any spying operation, can be significantly facilitated. Vulnerable and risky methods like “brush passes” or “dead drops” might be replaced by e-Mail communication, hidden in the flood of everyday messages and elaborately relayed around the world to mask the true identity of the sender. Advanced encryption technology can be used as well (the wide availability of powerful encryption methods is already being criticized by the NSA, as it takes supercomputers and considerable time to decode a state-of-the-art encrypted message. Messages could also be embedded into unsuspicious television or music data being transferred. Plus, electronic communication is much faster than any of the traditional “tradecraft” methods used before.
The implications in the field of Analysis have already been hinted at. Supercomputers and neural networks can combine information from all sorts of open sources to come to fascinating new conclusions, e.g. predicting a weather pattern and the resulting grain harvest in another country years in advance.
On the other hand, the new technology also benefits Counterintelligence. While it used to be relatively easy creating a person’s “legend” by forging birth certificates, ID cards or even placing employment records, this, too, has changed. A NOC, an agent using a non-official cover while staying in a foreign country, used to be able to convincingly confirm his identity with a home driver’s license and maybe a business card stating his profession. Nowadays, however, it is much easier for Counterintelligence agents to undertake extensive background checks. The Internet can be used to track the traces of a person, check property tax records, voting records or professional association membership. For the intelligence agency that sent the NOC to alter all that information accordingly will be very difficult.
It seems that the emerging global information society offers both great chances as well as certain risks for Intelligence Agencies. The reliability of information as well as the security of networks are important issues. It seems safe to say, however, that Open Source Intelligence will play a greater role in the future, not only for the CIA, but also for intelligence services spying on the U.S.
An L.A. Times article from 1998, found using Lexis/Nexis, gives a good account of Operation Rosewood. It was the codename for the acquisition of the operational files of the East German foreign intelligence service, the Hauptverwaltung Aufklaerung (HVA) of the StaSi. In the chaotic weeks and months after the collapse of the German Democratic Republic in 1989 the files were sold by a Russian or East German to the CIA for about $1 million to $1.5 million. They contained, most importantly, in three separate card files the cover names and real names of almost all HVA agents. The HVA maintained an extensive spy network, with agents working in military commands (even in NATO Headquarters), in businesses, the media, intelligence services and political parties. Their main target was Western Germany, and it has been estimated that up to 40,000 West Germans have worked for the HVA at one time or another.
The files had been immediately shipped to Langley in 1989. When the West Germans realized what had happened they demanded the files back, but were only allowed to take handwritten notes about the identity of some agents in 1993. Since then, the CIA has declined all requests to return the files. This has sparked quite some tensions between the U.S. and Germany, as many believe that there might still be former spies in influential positions in the German society.
The name of the Angolan intelligence service is “Direção de Informação e Segurança de Angola” (Directorate of Intelligence and Security; DISA). This information is available at Jane’s IntelWeb (http://intelweb.janes.com/resource/Agencies_table.htm) and can be found using the search terms “Angola Intelligence Service” in Metacrawler.
Kevin Aiston is desk officer for Rwanda. His name could be found using the search terms “Rwanda desk officer” in the search form of the State Department’s Homepage (www.state.gov), which turned up a recent press release in which he was referred to under that title. Tom Rotan is desk officer for Bolivia and Deborah Klepp is desk officer for Kazakhstan. Although the Department’s Homepage only lists the names of the higher-ranking officials, there is a list with the phone numbers of the country desk officers. Upon calling there and asking for the names, that information was given without hesitation.
The two most important military installations in Utah are Hill Air Force Base near Ogden on the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake, and the Dugway Proving Ground, approximately 40 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Both installations maintain pages on the Web which can easily be found at Yahoo searching for “military bases utah”. Hill AFB offers a lot of information about its purpose. It is an Air Force Materiel Command base and services F-16 and C-130 aircraft. It is also responsible for logistics management of the Minuteman and Peacekeeper ICBMs. The site also includes visitor information. The Dugway website contains maps of the area and visitor information and gives a lot of information about the purpose of the installation, the testing of chemical and biological weapons.
There are several smaller installations, for example Camp Williams, used by the Utah National Guard and located halfway between Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake, or the Tooele Ordnance Depot just south of the Great Salt Lake. There are also huge military areas that are not accessible for the public, the Hill AFB Bombing and Gunnery Range on the Western board of the Great Salt Lake and the Lake Wendover Bombing and Gunnery Range south of that.
The locations of all these installations can easily be found out using online maps at www.randmcnally.com or with any other topographical map or roadmap.
There has been a lot of discussion within government agencies whether or not to release the actual figures of the intelligence budget. The funds allocated to the intelligence community are hidden in the budgets of dozens of departments and programs. The numbers have been released for the first time for the fiscal year 1997, where the budget was $26.6 billion. In 1998 it was $26.7 billion. This information can easily be found in the Frequently Asked Questions section of the CIA’s homepage: http://www.odci.gov/cia/public_affairs/faq.html. The president, who had supported the disclosure for those years, decided to not release the figures in three consecutive years. The concern was that this would have allowed enemies of the U.S. to analyze budget trends and possible changes in intelligence programs, according to CIA director George Tenet.
The budget of the various intelligence agencies, however, has not been disclosed. “The Administration intends to draw a firm line at the top-line, aggregate figure. Beyond this figure, there will be no other disclosures of currently classified budget information because such disclosures could harm national security,” according to the DCI. Members of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) estimate the CIA’s annual budget to be about $3.1 to $3.2 billion. The budget is said to be hidden entirely in the “Special Support Projects” line item in the Procurement section of the Air Force budget, as the outlay pattern of that item indicates that it is used rather to constantly maintain an agency than for periodic procurement purposes.
Brown, Justin, “Internet transforms culture of spying”, in: The Christian Science Monitor, April 6, 2000
Cohen, Adam, “School for Hackers”, TIME Magazine, May 22, 2000
Gentry, John A., “A Framework for Reform of the U.S. Intelligence Community”, chapter 5, http://www.fas.org/irp/gentry/chapter5.html
Hoge, Warren, “Britain Closes Website with Spies’ Names”, The New York Times, May 14, 1999
Kirk, Elizabeth E., “Evaluating Information Found on the Internet”, http://milton.mse.jhu.edu:8001/research/education/net.html
Leavitt, Paul, “CIA Budget does not have to be disclosed”, USA Today, November 23, 1999
Loeb, Vernon, “Intelligence Can Be an Open Book Test; Firm finds Market for Publicly Available Information”, in: The Washington Post, March 22, 1999
Lowenthal, Mark M, Intelligence. From Secrets to Policy, Washington D.C.: CQPress 2000
Marriott, Michael, “Rising Tide: Sites Born of Hate”, The New York Times, March 18, 1999
Melton, H. Keith, “Spies in the Digital Age”, CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/experience/spies/melton.essay/
Moynihan, Daniel Patrick. Secrecy. The American Experience, New Haven: Yale University Press 1998
Nelson, Lars-Erik, “Little Guys Counter CIA’s Outdated Intelligence Ways”, in: New York Daily News, December 16, 1996
Steele, Robert D., “Open Source Intelligence: What is it? Why is it Important to the Military?”, http://www.oss.net/Proceedings/97Vol1/Appendix_A.html
White, Robert E., “Call Off The Spies”, The Washington Post, February 7, 1996
 Moynihan, Daniel Patrick. Secrecy. The American Experience, New Haven: Yale University Press 1998, p. 227
Moynihan also accuses the Intelligence Community of “Overclassification.” He argues that classification is often arbitrary and violates constitutional rights of the American citizens. He headed a Senate commission that looked into the matter of government secrecy and demanded a thorough reform of classification practice, now that the Cold War has come to an end.
 Steele, Robert D., “Open Source Intelligence: What is it? Why is it Important to the Military?”, http://www.oss.net/Proceedings/97Vol1/Appendix_A.html
 The reminiscence to the World War II-OSS is interesting.
 Loeb, Vernon, “Intelligence Can Be an Open Book Test; Firm finds Market for Publicly Available Information”, in: The Washington Post, March 22, 1999, p. A17
 Nelson, Lars-Erik, “Little Guys Counter CIA’s Outdated Intelligence Ways”, in: New York Daily News, December 16, 1996, p. 27
 Brown, Justin, “Internet transforms culture of spying”, in: The Christian Science Monitor, April 6, 2000, p. 1
 Lowenthal, Mark M, Intelligence. From Secrets to Policy, Washington D.C.: CQPress 2000, p. 70
 White, Robert E., “Call Off The Spies”, The Washington Post, February 7, 1996, p. A19
 Steele, Robert D.
 Loeb, Vernon
 Steele, Robert D.
 Steele, Robert D.
 Hoge, Warren, “Britain Closes Website with Spies’ Names”, The New York Times, May 14, 1999, p. A14
 And one can really see a military base there (although there are no U.F.O.s on the runway, unfortunately).
 E.g. http://home.clara.net/nybbles/oldestuff/vik/nuke/index2.html, a rather not-so-serious version can be found here: http://www.winn.com/bs/atombomb.html
 The CIA even has a website for kids – from secrecy to PR.
 Kirk, Elizabeth E., “Evaluating Information Found on the Internet”, http://milton.mse.jhu.edu:8001/research/education/net.html
Many news sources that offer links to external websites concerning a particular topic (e.g. the Washington Post or the New York Times) include information about the credibility and bias of these sites.
 Marriot, Michael, “Rising Tide: Sites Born of Hate”, The New York Times, March 18, 1999
 Cohen, Adam, “School for Hackers”, TIME Magazine, May 22, 2000, p. 60
 Melton, H. Keith, “Spies in the Digital Age”, CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/experience/spies/melton.essay/
 Melton, H. Keith
 Leavitt, Paul, “CIA Budget does not have to be disclosed”, USA Today, November 23, 1999, p. 9A