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Open source intelligence (also open-source intelligence) (OSINT) is

[i]ntelligence derived from publicly available information, as well as other unclassified information that has limited public distribution or access.[1]
produced from publicly available information that is collected, exploited, and disseminated in a timely manner to an appropriate audience for the purpose of addressing a specific intelligence requirement.[2]


Intelligence analysts have long used such information to supplement classified data, but systematically collecting open source information has not been a priority of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC).

In recent years, given changes in the international environment, there have been calls, from Congress and the 9/11 Commission among others, for a more intense and focused investment in open source collection and analysis. OSINT is increasingly important given requirements for information about many regions and topics (instead of the former concentration on political and military issues affecting a few countries).

At the same time, requirements for translation, dissemination, and systematic analysis have increased, given the multitude of different areas and the volume of materials. The availability of OSINT also raises questions regarding the need for intelligence agencies to undertake collection, analysis, and dissemination of information that could be directly obtained by user agencies.

OSINT is an essential contextual and foundation element for classified intelligence operations. Overt human sources can help target and validate clandestine human intelligence (HUMINT) sources. Overt broadcast information can be used to better understand covertly collected signals intelligence (SIGINT). Commercial geospatial information, especially wide-area surveillance imagery, can be used to significantly enhance the value of the more narrowly focused covert imagery intelligence (IMINT) capabilities. OSINT can also make contributions to the emerging discipline of Measurements and Signatures Intelligence (MASINT), to Counterintelligence (CI), and to Operations Security (OPSEC).[3]

The National Security Act of 1992 began the reformation of the U.S. intelligence community resulting in the establishment of the Open Source Office and subsequently the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Open Source Center (OSC) in 2005.

Sources for intelligence information[]

OSINT draws from a wide variety of information and sources, including the following:

  • Mass Media: Newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and other computer-based information.
  • Public Data: Information derived from government reports; official data, such as data on budgets and demographics; hearings; legislative debates; press conferences, speeches, directories, organizational charts, marine and aeronautical safety warnings, environmental impact statements, contract awards, and required financial disclosures, and other public sources.
  • Gray Literature (or Grey Literature): Open-source material that usually is available through controlled access for a specific audience. Gray literature may include, but is not limited to, research reports, technical reports, economic reports, travel reports, working papers, discussion papers, unofficial government documents, proceedings, preprints, studies, dissertations and theses, trade literature, market surveys, and newsletters. The material in gray literature covers scientific, political, socioeconomic, and military disciplines.
  • Observation and Reporting: Information of significance, not otherwise available, that is provided by, for example, amateur airplane spotters, radio monitors, and satellite observers. The availability of worldwide satellite photography, often in high resolution, on the Web (e.g., Google Earth) has expanded the public's ability to acquire information formerly available only to major intelligence services.

Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004[]

Congress in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, identified open source intelligence as a "valuable source that must be integrated into the intelligence cycle." The Act recommended that the Director of National Intelligence establish an Open Source Center, and this was done in November 2005. The Center's mission is to

advance the Intelligence Community's exploitation of openly available information to include the Internet, databases, press, radio, television, video geospatial data, photos, and commercial imagery. It would build on the established expertise of the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), which has provided the U.S. Government a broad range of highly valued products and service since 1941."[4]


  1. NATO Standardization Agency, NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions 2-O-2 (2008) (full-text).
  2. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006.
  3. NATO Open Source Intelligence Handbook, at 3.
  4. See Pub. L. No. 108-458, Dec. 17, 2004, §1052, 118 Stat. 3683, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Press Release, Nov. 8, 2005 (full-text).


See also[]