Officers to get guidelines for open-source intell

Guidance designed to clarify legal questions for intelligence officers

U.S. intelligence analysts that cull through unclassified, publicly available information to develop open-source intelligence – often by using information technology – will soon get new guidelines and a certification program, according to officials in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Intelligence officials who use open-source materials face legal questions because of the widespread availability of material they use, according experts that discussed the discipline at a conference in Washington on June 17. ODNI's privacy office is designing guidance to help open-source intelligence officers deal with those difficulties. The event was sponsored by LexisNexis.

“What we’re trying to do is give them guideposts for when something would be clearly okay for them to do so they feel confident they can proceed knowing that they’re doing so with protecting privacy and civil liberties and what are the signs for when they should consult with privacy and civil liberties officers or lawyers,” said Alexander Joel, the civil liberties protection officer in ODNI's civil liberties and privacy office, after the event.

Joel said his office has been working for several months to develop guidance that’s clear and flexible.

Speaking during and after the event, Daniel Butler, ODNI's assistant deputy director for open source, said it’s important to have clear guidelines harmonized across the government and officials will be trained to the guidelines.

“The guidelines…are so important because we want to enable every intelligence professional to be able to know, to be confident, that they know that they can go up to the line with out going over the line,” Butler said. “That’s why making sure that every intelligence professional is an open-source exploitation professional and has the core competency is a high priority in my view.”


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To that end, the intelligence agencies are developing a program to certify open source intelligence professionals. Butler said the certification regime would involve training on specific things, demonstrating competencies, and being assessed.

“If we’re going to certify open-source intelligence professionals, and any agency can be confident in that certification, then we’re going to train to the policy and guidelines that should govern the way [officials] make decisions in terms of what they can and can’t do,” Butler said.

Butler said the certification would apply across all intelligence agencies and indicated it would be open to non-intelligence officials that want to try to get the ODNI open-source certification. He said currently there’s no human resource requirement for intelligence officials to get the open-source certification, but he said an agency could decide to require it for some positions in the future.

“We want to be able to certify a subset of the intelligence community as true open-source intelligence professionals,” Butler added.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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