The U.S. government has long relied on open-source intelligence (OSINT) and thought deeply about how it fits in the intelligence community (IC) enterprise. The rise of social media and digital society and the exponential growth of publicly available information (PAI) requires rapid and agile advancement in OSINT. When integrated with classified information, OSINT enables the IC to deliver more insights to a broader range of customers for crucial missions. While OSINT isn’t always highlighted to the public and there is no Jack Ryan of OSINT (yet), a little historical context can illuminate three foundational ways to build even better OSINT capabilities now.
Recurring media narratives often cite the need to use more OSINT, the need to correct a cultural bias favoring classified sources, and the need for OSINT to receive greater support. In fact, these perspectives aren’t new—they predate today’s digital age. In 1997, only 2% of the global population used the internet: A congressional panel on government secrecy highlighted the unprecedented power of open sources to support decisions. Too often, the panel wrote, the U.S. secrecy system was ignoring this information revolution.
Today, the importance of OSINT is impossible to ignore. Just look at the Russia-Ukraine War. The pace of public reporting has accelerated greatly since the 1940s, when the CIA launched the Foreign Broadcasting Intelligence Service (FBIS), initially by another name, to track foreign media content. Unlike other intelligence disciplines, however, OSINT doesn’t have a dedicated agency. Rather, the CIA runs what’s called the Open Source Enterprise (OSE) as the IC OSINT functional manager, and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) as the defense intelligence enterprise manager for OSINT.