When most people hear the word intelligence in a political context, they immediately think of clandestine sources, spies, and secret meetings. Intelligence services still rely on human source intelligence (HUMINT) and intercepted communications (SIGINT). However, in the twenty-first century, open-source intelligence (OSINT) has become indispensable for understanding your adversaries and is often the primary and most valuable source of actionable intelligence. According to a detailed article highlighting the power of OSINT in the Wall Street Journal, “80% of what a U.S. president or military commander needs to know comes from OSINT.”
What then is OSINT, and why is it so important in 2023?
In brief, OSINT is the painstaking gathering and analysis of information from a wide range of open sources for the military, intelligence, police, and business communities. The explosion of social media—from real-time videos to blogs to chat rooms to Twitter and Facebook—has produced unprecedented opportunities for insight into areas and people where HUMINT and SIGINT are not as effective or cost too much while decreasing the risk to human intelligence assets. In addition, the analysis of covert intelligence is informed and sometimes significantly changed by OSINT.
As such, combining OSINT, HUMINT, VISINT (visual intelligence), and SIGINT allows a country’s national and diplomatic security apparatus to pre-emptively act to thwart threats, inform allies, negotiate from the point of strength, and challenge international organizations and non-government organizations with accurate information, especially those with hostile intent.