Monday, May 19, 2008

Intelligence Odds and Ends

WARNING

WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ IS CONTROLLED UNCLASSIFIED INFORMATION ENHANCED BY SPECIFIED DISSEMINATION. SHOULD YOU NOT RECEIVE THIS MESSAGE PLEASE INFORM THE NEAREST ARMED FORCES RECRUITING OFFICE.

The Washington Post today reported that President Bush recently signed a directive establishing that the Pentagon may start using a new category of information it does not want the American public to know about – what is called “open source.” This means that what is being reported has as its origin a “source” – newspaper, magazine, e-mail, text-message web site, telephone call, telegraph or semaphore signal, or face-to-face conversation – that is accessible to the general public or to significantly large numbers of the public.

I was pleased two years ago when the intelligence community decided to establish a center for receiving and analyzing information available to the world at large. Open source can sometimes be the missing piece of a puzzle that confirms or debunks classified materials or even the first evidence of an adversary’s change in policy or programs.

But the House Armed Services Committee is worried that some who collect open source material are becoming careless. Whether one is in deep cover seeking the most important secrets of an adversary or picking up a publication that has the verbatim text of a five-hour rant of another country’s ruler, there are basic counter-intelligence principles that all collectors should observe. After all, an adversary always wants to know everyone who might someday be gathering information on capabilities and intentions to add to their big picture.

If the Post story is accurate – or even close to being accurate – and should this directive survive the change in administrations next January, Bush not only will have trebled the national debt, come within a cat’s whisker of destroying the ground forces, and flattened two other countries, he will also have quite possibly have frozen the functioning of the foreign relations federal bureaucracy that will be unable to communicate military and other state secrets because no one will know what “classification” or “non-classification” label to use.

Maybe this is not entirely bad?

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