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Homeland Security and Open Source

A couple of days ago, the role and importance of open source intelligence was discussed in great detail by my colleagues in Open Source Intelligence - A ThreatsWatch Symposium.

So it shouldn't be too surprising that the Department of Homeland Security has been criticized for not meeting open source standards as established by the Homeland Security Act of 2002. In July 2008, the House passed a bill, H.R.3815 that required the DHS Secretary to establish an open source program.

The Democratic Majority Staff of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, at the request of the Chairman, Congressman Bennie Thompson issued this report.

"The Department is far behind the rest of the Intelligence Community in implementing a comprehensive open source intelligence program," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the Homeland Security Committee. "I am convinced that the department must make a concerted effort to understand their intelligence needs and produce intelligence products that provide actionable recommendations for the cop on the beat."

This is an issue that crosscuts homeland and national security. While no system is perfect, and sometimes sensitive information becomes open through human error, more often, information is only sensitive in the hands of analysts who can put it the information in context. Analysts in states' fusion centers analyze information from multiple sources and juridictions. One of the more striking findings of the report is that respondents do not see DHS as a source of reliable open source information.

In the absence of a robust DHS program, the disparity in where law enforcement officers go to access open source intelligence could not be starker – most tellingly revealed when respondents were asked which Federal agency they relied upon most for actionable unclassified intelligence. Out of 329 respondents, 227 or 69% said the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) met their needs. Just 58 law enforcement officials or 17% of the respondents stated that they relied mostly on DHS.

While I read a tremendous amount of material from many open sources, a good deal of the information that I get is through Infragard and its periodic releases of information. While some of it is from DHS, more often, it is from the Bureau. Sometimes, this information eventually wends its way to public information, while some remains off the radar screen of the general population.