One of the linchpins for all four analyst jobs in the Intelligence Specialist rating—Expeditionary Warfare, Strike Warfare, Operational Intelligence, or Imagery Intelligence—is the collection, analysis, and fusion of all-source intelligence. These includes information yielded from imagery, signals, human resources, measurement and signatures (a complicated intelligence discipline that was not formally recognized by the Department of Defense until 1986), and open-source data. Of these, the intelligence derived from open-source data sources is obviously the simplest to acquire—but it can also be maddeningly difficult to employ.
The use of open-source data has been a mainstay of the Office of Naval Intelligence almost since its inception. Following World War I, the Navy sought intelligence not only from sources such as Naval attachés, State Department officials (including ambassadors and ministers), and intelligence officers aboard individual ships, but also from tourists, newspaper correspondents, commercial travelers, and from the business sections of newspapers and magazines.
An example of valuable open-source intelligence was the collection of photographs of Japanese naval vessels in 1936, a tense period in which the United States was fully aware that war with Nippon was a distinct possibility. While the Japanese Combined Fleet was at anchor in Tokyo Bay, and its command decided to allow launches carrying sightseers to makes trips around the ships, doubtless to impress the citizenry with the might and power of the Japanese Navy. The U.S. Navy Attaché, realizing the opportunity this presented, sent each of his officers on the tours even though cameras weren’t allowed. Luckily, postcards emblazoned with photos of Japanese ships were on sale at a refreshment stand on the dock the launches were using, and the U.S. Navy thus acquired images of several ships it did not know even existed.
For Sailors serving as Intelligence Specialists in today’s Information Age, however, the amount of open-source data can only be described as astronomical. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media platforms are employed not only by terrorist organizations such as ISIS, but also by foreign governments actively spreading disinformation. Discovering footage of troop or naval exercises that appears to have been clandestinely filmed or acquired, for instance, could be an intelligence bonanza—or it could be a red herring designed to eat up valuable time and resources. And while the State Department has in recent years taken the stance that such footage and information is to be accepted at face value (at least in some instances), Navy Intelligence Specialists go to great lengths to authenticate this type of data before they employ it in predictive analyses or even consider it for inclusion in all-source intelligence.
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