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US Intelligence is only as Good as what goes into it


IDEA – Officers in the Directorate of Operations (DO) of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are action oriented and ready to serve in any situation. DO officers enjoy challenges, find solutions to seemingly impossible missions, and protect America in the process. Retired DO officers still feel this tug of war over patriotic duty and duty.

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine’s sovereign nation makes us question what we can do to serve our nation and support democracy in Ukraine. We likened Vladimir Putin to a modern-day Adolph Hitler: annexing parts of a neighboring country at will, and when the rest of the world’s response is muted or absent, the more the invader becomes encouraged to be more aggressive. The options for countering this range of aggression are numerous; All must be communicated with accurate information to be effective.

Before retiring, we often discussed how the “business” was changing given the overwhelming impact technology was having on the practice of espionage, the “second oldest profession.” . The fundamentals of the profession, which we were trained to use in the 80’s and 90’s, have endured as long as espionage and were used by George Washington’s Culper Ring during the Revolutionary War and the OSS in World second war. It is a profession that focuses on the physical world. The evolution of the industry in the later stages of our careers is based on the exponential growth of technology and ubiquitous engineering, incorporating a focus on the digital world. The digital world includes data, data processing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP) and analytics.

When we entered the business in retirement and distanced ourselves from the intelligence mission, we came to the consensus that data is really the most important element of the digital equation, because quality output (data plus processing and analysis) is directly proportional to the quality of the data used. To put it in the vernacular, “garbage in, garbage out.”

This means that data, of which commercial data is a huge and growing subset, is the foundation of the digital world. Commercial data or commercially derived intelligence, CSINT, has been shaping business in the digital world. Some ask why create a new INT? And we accommodate that, we don’t have to create it. It’s already here and is being used by governments and businesses to compete.

Why should we care? We should care because right now, we are in the equivalent of a modern arms race to derive meaning and value from CSINT, and the winners of that race will benefit. strategic position. Those who don’t will fail.

Back in Ukraine, CSINT has substantial play in everything. The Ukrainian military’s defensive activities may have been informed by the use of CSINT to track the mobile devices of Russian soldiers over the past few weeks, which are located in Russia and Belarus on the Ukrainian border. The analyzed CSINT can continue to provide insights to Ukraine and its allies for strategic planning of troop and material deployments. On the humanitarian side, CSINT can assist relief organizations in understanding crisis areas and where to place food, humanitarian and medical supplies for maximum impact. More broadly, for Ukraine’s neighbors (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary), CSINT could enhance analysis and assessment of Russia’s plans and intentions by filling Fill the gaps in the information puzzle.

CSINT also has great potential to shape intelligent engineering, enhancing or challenging it in all forms of intelligence-gathering (INT): Human Intelligence (HUMINT), Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) , Visual Intelligence (IMINT), Measurement and Signaling Intelligence (MASINT) and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT).

It is important to distinguish between OSINT and CSINT as some tend to confuse the terms. OSINT refers to a wide range of information in the public domain that is accessible to the public. OSINT includes information obtained from the media, professional and academic records and conferences, government reports, demographics, etc. It is free and available. CSINT is only available to the originator, description, or representative of internal commercial activities and is obtained only through a commercial transaction. It’s not free (it’s bought and sold), and this data is a valuable commodity to the data owner.


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In terms of crafting intelligence, CSINT is an important component as it enables the data base of analysis and decision-making to become more precise and complete. In HUMINT, CSINT can provide missing details about an operational target, from location and movement information to business and banking details. CSINT-enabled pattern and association analysis can provide leads to new SIGINT, IMINT, and MASINT collection streams. CSINT can provide insight to military planners as they ponder the plans and intentions of nations that are diametrically opposed to the ideals of liberty and liberty. More broadly, CSINT can provide the previously unknown pieces of the puzzle needed to tackle complex investigations in the supply chain, disinformation and counter-espionage sectors, thereby protecting proprietary information, our nation’s critical infrastructure, our secrets, and the very fabric of our precious democracy.

When AI and ML are leveraged to glean insights from commercial data, the output tells the story at an algorithmic level that human analysis alone would not be able to achieve. And that is the power of CSINT.

In addition to enabling intelligence missions, CSINT can help protect critical U.S. national infrastructure, improve U.S. cybersecurity posture, and assist the Department of Defense in planning and perform all their duties. The United States and our allies must be proactive in using CSINT to carry out these missions. CSINT exists whether we take advantage of it or not – not understanding and using CSINT means CSINT will not exist as a provider but as a challenge to the profession and challenge. mission awareness where important insights would be missing from the decision-making process. America’s enemies – enemies of democracy and democratic values ​​- are using commercial intelligence as a leverage in any way that can strengthen their strategic advantage.

Remember what we said about trash? Do we want fewer successful tasks, aka “dumping the trash,” as a result of not understanding and applying CSINT? We think not. It’s time to embrace CSINT.

Sharing informed opinions is important. The opinion sections represent the diverse views of The Cipher Brief audience and do not represent the views of The Cipher Brief.

Read more expert-directed national security insights, perspectives, and analysis in The Cipher Brief because National Security is Everyone’s Business



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