Thursday, September 11, 2008

DNI Open Source Conference Day 1

The 2nd Annual DNI Open Source Conference kicked off today in Washington, DC with about 1,600 attendees from the government, business, and academia. About 3,200 had applied, and I was one of the lucky ones to get in (I'm sure it helps to apply the same day registration opens up).

Glenn Gaffney offered his thoughts on the importance of open source information, answering a question about why his staff is so "zealous" about open source. Because they know it's important.

Some in the Intelligence Community apparently aren't on-board with the open source push, and I was sitting there listening to Gaffney and wondering what was really behind it all, and I think one of the reasons people who enter the intelligence business do so is with a desire to work with secret information. Spending time on open source defeats that psychological objective. Humans in all endeavors desire increased status and work toward that goal. A document marked "top secret" has more status than one marked "open source." Two copies of the same document marked with different classifications will have different levels of status associated with them.

The point was made that it isn't the classification that should determine a document's importance but its usefulness in decision-making and in helping to create deliverables. So an open source document that assists with this is more valuable than a top secret document that doesn't.

I attended the session "Creating Decision Advantage with Open Source" and one of the panelists asked how many in the room had read some of Sayyid Qutb's and Zawahiri's writings, and only a couple people raised their hands. There was some admittance that this is a bad thing for the intelligence community and things need to change. I got the feeling a good part of those in the intelligence community are somehow stuck in the culture of 30 years ago and modernizing to a culture more in tune with today's needs will be difficult.

Higher classification of a document doesn't make it more important, the point was made. It isn't about classification, it's about insights derived from information. Open source is good, but OSINT must be more "close mouthed" about its deliverables--the conclusions and actions that will be taken as a result of sifting through open source materials. Classified info, because of its handling restrictions, isn't very portable, while open source is.

Someone in the audience expressed a fear about open source info and shouldn't it be kept secret, but there is no getting around that these days. Don't worry about "big brother," said a panelist, but instead worry about "little brother."

In another session focusing on Web 2.0, the question was asked how many in the room had a Twitter account, and I was one of a handful that raised their hand.

1 comment:

Africa said...

The conference is good, albeit less charged than last year, but I wanted to address your point about Ciluffo's question about how many had read the al-Qaeda position papers and bring in Jennifer Sims rebuttal on the same panel. Oddly enough, I happen to be an Africa expert who was sitting next to a proliferation expert. There are seminal works in both of these fields that I am sure even fewer people have read, but that does not mean that either of these subjects will have a lesser impact on our future. That is what the word "community' is all about. We lean on each others knowledge base and seek the relationships between our fields.