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from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2013, Issue No. 87
October 8, 2013
News Blog: http://blogs.fas.org/secrecy/** CIA HALTS PUBLIC ACCESS TO
OPEN SOURCE SERVICECIA HALTS PUBLIC
ACCESS TO OPEN SOURCE SERVICE
For more than half a
century, the public has been able to access a wealth of information
collected by U.S. intelligence from unclassified, open sources around the
world. At the end of this year, the Central Intelligence Agency will
terminate that access.
The U.S. intelligence community's Open
Source Center (OSC), which is managed by the CIA, will cease to provide its
information feed to the publicly accessible World News Connection as of
December 31, 2013, according to an
from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS),
which operates the World News
The WNC "is an online news service, only
accessible via the World Wide Web, that offers an extensive array of
translated and English-language news and information," an NTIS brochure
"Particularly effective in its coverage of local media sources, WNC
provides you with the power to identify what really is happening in a
specific country or region. Compiled from thousands of non-U.S. media
sources, the information in WNC covers significant socioeconomic,
political, scientific, technical, and environmental issues and events."
"The information is obtained from full text and summaries of
newspaper articles, conference proceedings, television and radio
broadcasts, periodicals, and non-classified technical reports. New
information is entered into WNC every government business day. Generally,
new information is available within 48-72 hours from the time of original
publication or broadcast."
"For over 60 years, analysts from
OSC's domestic and overseas bureaus have monitored timely and pertinent
open-source materials, including grey literature. Uniquely, WNC allows you
to take advantage of the intelligence gathering experience of OSC," the NTIS brochure
Soon, that will no longer be true.
The WNC public feed
from the Open Source Center
is a highly
attenuated version of what is available to official government users.
Within government, copyright considerations are ignored, but for public
distribution they must be respected, and so (with some exceptions) only
information products whose creators have signed a royalty agreement with
NTIS are publicly released.
Even with that significant
limitation and the attendant public subscription fees, the NTIS World News
Connection has remained a highly prized resource for news reporters,
foreign policy analysts, students and interested members of the public.
I check it almost every day. Recently, for example, I have
been following official statements from Russian officials who allege that
the U.S. is covertly developing biological weapons for use against Russia
in a military laboratory in the Republic of Georgia. The claim seems
bizarre, but may nevertheless be politically significant. Detailed
English-language coverage of the matter, or of many other stories of
regional interest and importance, is not readily available elsewhere.
(Moreso than in the past, however, portions of the material that is
publicly accessible through WNC can be obtained elsewhere, through other
news services or foreign websites.)
The reasons for the decision
to terminate the World News Connection are a bit obscure. Producing
it is not a drain on U.S. intelligence-- the marginal costs of providing
the additional feed to NTIS are close to zero. (The total budget for
open source intelligence was about $384 million in FY2012, according to
classified budget records obtained by the Washington
from Edward Snowden.) However, the program is a headache for
NTIS to manage, particularly since NTIS officials had to negotiate numerous
contracts with media source providers to offer their products to the
public. But the large majority of that work has already been
accomplished, and now it will be rendered useless.
of the Open Source Center had initially proposed to cancel the public
information feed as of September 30, according to an NTIS official.
Then she was persuaded to grant a six month reprieve. But in the end,
a cut-off date of December 31, 2013 was set.
If that comes to
pass, it will be a blow to researchers and proponents of public
intelligence. The Federation of American Scientists had previously argued
that the U.S. government should actually expand
public access to
open source intelligence by publishing all unclassified, uncopyrighted Open
Source Center products. ("Open Up Open
Source Intelligence," Secrecy News
, August 24, 2011.)
Instead, even the current range of publications will no longer be
systematically released. (Only a small fraction of publicly unreleased OSC
ever seem to leak.)
Although the Open Source Center
is managed by the
Central Intelligence Agency, it is formally a component of the Office of
the Director of National Intelligence. Yet the move the terminate
public access to OSC products seemed to catch the ODNI unawares.
"Obviously our attention is on a possible lapse in appropriations, but we
are looking into this," said an ODNI spokesman on September 30, just before
the government shutdown.
"The information provided through NTIS
makes an irreplaceable contribution to U.S. national security," wrote Prof.
Gary G. Sick
of Columbia University in an October 1999 letter
in response to a previous proposal to curtail coverage in the World News
The World News Connection "informs us about
other countries in ways that otherwise would be nearly impossible," Dr. Sick wrote
costs virtually nothing in comparison with almost any other national
security system. It is not as sexy as a bomber or a missile, but its
contributions to national security can be attested to by generations of
policy-makers. I was in the White House during the Iranian revolution and
the hostage crisis, and my respect for the power of this information was
born at that time. I often found it more helpful than the reams of
classified material that came across my desk at the NSC."
Secrecy News is
written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American
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