Secrecy is for losers


Strategically placed surveillance cameras will soon transform the 1,200 mile Texas-Mexico border into the most ambitious open source intelligence experiment of its kind. Anybody with an internet connection will be able to monitor real-time footage from the cameras and report suspected illegal activity to Texas Homeland Security via an 800 number. The hope is that enough virtual eyes on the border will free enforcement officials to assume more specialized functions. The plan, announced last week by Governor Rick Perry, calls for the deployment of cameras within the next 30 days.This is only the latest sign that policy makers at all levels are slowly embracing open source intelligence solutions to big problems. The "open source" in open source intelligence differs from that of open source software. In this case, open sources are publicly available information resources such as newspapers, magazines, television and the internet. Like open source software, collaboration often improves the breadth and precision of open source intelligence analysis.In March, armchair intelligence analysts mouse-clicked themselves into a frenzy when the US government published thousands of captured Iraqi documents on the internet. Several in the open source intelligence community have proposed that US intelligence agencies continue publishing all (or most) of the intelligence they collect. Given unlimited access to national intelligence, those same armchair analysts would translate and pick apart every item on every grocery list seized from beneath potential terrorists' refrigerator magnets. And they'd do it quickly; Arabic speakers began posting translations of the captured Iraqi documents only hours after the government published them.But the Bush Administration doesn't want their help, opting in most cases for the Cold War model of in-house analysis. In fact, this administration would rather curtail or shut down so-called "open-source intelligence" entirely.The administration's undeclared war on the media has proven far more effective than its other campaigns. Recent offensives include Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez indicating the Justice Department may prosecute journalists for publishing classified information and House Intelligence Committee Republicans expressing concerns that press coverage of classified information has damaged national security. Former Reagan lackey and current CNN commentator William Bennett has suggested punishment for the Pulitzer Prize winning journalists who wrote about the CIA's secret prisons and the NSA's domestic spy program.It's enough to make a citizen journalist swear off secrets forever, despite the occasional sign of progress.In his 1999 book Secrecy: The American Experience, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan outlined what he believed to be a "uniquely American" philosophy of openness and transparency:Open sources give us the vast majority of what we need to know in order to make intelligent decisions. Decisions made by people at ease with disagreement and ambiguity and tentativeness. Decisions made by those who understand how to exploit the wealth and diversity of publicly available information, who no longer simply assume that clandestine collection--that is, 'stealing secrets'--equals greater intelligence. Analysis, far more than secrecy, is the key to security.Very few within the Beltway heard him. Seven years later the American intelligence community still lives within the hermetic confines of a Cold War era bubble, home also to nearly everyone in the executive branch from President to press secretary. They'd rather decertify the press than glean answers from it.--Geoff Edwards

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