Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The CIA and Open Source and Blogging, oh my

Boy, this is strange. I suppose Corporate Transparency as a meme is traversing into all corners of society, including the CIA. You think of the CIA as the poster child of secrecy and closed access. Well, actually, I'd think the NSA is even more the poster child, but then the NSA is so secretive nobody knows much about them, unlike the CIA.

Anyway, here's the deal:

CIA using its own blogs to gather, analyze information (By Susan B. Glasser, The Washington Post, November 27, 2005)

The article says the CIA has a blogging web site. It's tasked with publishing news tidbits from around the world. It is called the "Open Source Center" and began life in 1941 as the Foreign Broadcast Information Service. The tasking then was the monitoring and translation of "media" from around the world.

Given the discussion in the article they've changed focus somewhat. They're continuing to monitor and translate media, but broadened the media to include the newfangled stuff on the Internet. For example the article says they have a blog on blogging, that is, studying the blogging scene on the Internet.

The site is here: https://www.fbis.gov/

Curiously on my way into the site was a dialog saying my browser couldn't verify the identity of the site. You'd think the CIA with the full power and weight of the U.S. government behind it ought to be able to have a properly registered HTTPS certificate, yes?

To see them use the phrase "Open Source Center" tweaks me as it does timboucher.com. To me, one who works in the computer industry, "Open Source" has a specific meaning. Namely, an object developed in the open, whose documentation, workings, implementation and more are available to anybody, can be copied and modified by anybody. The term originated with computer software, but the process can be applied to anything.

I suspect the CIA has a different meaning in mind. I suspect for them "Source" means their Intelligence Sources, hence an "Open Source" might be a source from the open communications in the world such as news media or blogs. Hence a "Closed Source" might require the typical cloak and dagger operations you typically associate with the CIA.

In any case the web site has a banner saying

Welcome to the website of the Open Source Center. OSC provides foreign media reporting and analysis to policymakers, government institutions and strategic partners. We deliver targeted, timely and authoritative open source intelligence for analysis, operations and policymaking.

And further goes on to insist the site has protected access, and that access to the site will be monitored etc. All that's on the front page are these warnings, a login screen, and a "Request Account" screen. And clicking on that button tells me to indicate my affiliation giving me this list of choices:

  • US Government Employee
  • US Government Contractor
  • State and Local Government Employee
  • State and Local Government Contractor
  • BBC Monitoring Employee
  • Foreign Liaison with US Government

Sigh, I'm none of those. However the "BBC Monitoring Employee" choice is curious. Do you suppose the BBC is part of Big Brother after all?

Here's what GlobalSecurity.org has to say about BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk/top.htm)

The proliferation of radio and television broadcasting in recent years has significantly increased the importance of media monitoring as a prime source of economic and political open source intelligence. BBC Monitoring scans radio, television and news agencies in over 140 countries, providing fast, reliable information in a variety of ways. It provides a range of commercially available services, and operates in conjunction with the CIA Foreign Broadcast Information Service. The Research and Information Unit at BBC Monitoring is dedicated to collecting and verifying data on political parties, events and leading political figures throughout the world.

I find it curious the same use of the "open source intelligence" phrase as above. Perhaps my guess above was correct?