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The Open Source Center (formerly FBIS) is closed to you

Open Source Center Keeps Public in the Dark by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News, May 19, 2008.

Steven Aftergood reports that Federal Government website, Open Source Center, the successor to the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) ‘has imposed some rather ferocious controls on its unclassified products in order to shield them from public access. Even when its publications are not copyrighted, they are to be “treated as copyrighted” and in any case they “must not be disseminated to the public.”’

The CIA now has its own bloggers

The CIA now has its own bloggers

“FBIS is now The Open Source Center”
–From the FBIS.gov Website before it automatically forwards to opensource.gov

I’ve been doing a little investigating and hope that FGI’s loyal readers can perhaps fill in some questions that I have. I first ran into the “Open Source Center” in November of 2005 when the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) announced on November 8, 2005 the creation of the DNI Open Source Center (OSC) under the directorship of Douglas J. Naquin, a senior CIA manager. At first glance, I thought it was some sort of new federal initiative at supporting open source software (or as some say, “Free/Libre/Open-Source Software” or FLOSS). My excitement soon came back to earth as I learned that “open source” in this context actually refers to an intelligence-gathering discipline “based on analyzing information collected from open sources, i.e. information available to the general public.” (quoted from Wikipedia).

There was a small flurry of news items at that time (citations below), but since then there’s been very little mentioned about OSC. Those news stories (some of which were reprints of the Nov 25, 2005 Washington Post article or quotes from the Nov 8 press release) hinted that much of the work of the OSC was “posted on an unclassified, government-wide Web site.” The WaPo article also quoted Naquin as saying that the OSC would be repositioned to expand on the translation work of the old Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). He said, “Our definition of open source is anything that can be legally obtained” to which Glasser added the aside, “whether how-to-build-a-bomb manuals or inflammatory T-shirts.” In other words, FBIS + mining the Web = Open Source Center.

I have not been able to find the “unclassified govt-wide Web site.” The Open Source Center’s Web site is password protected and only US, state and local Govt employees, their contractors, BBC monitoring employee (UK’s counterpart to FBIS) or foreign liaisons to the US govt can obtain a password. An email to the OSC confirmed this to be true although the Customer Center responder stated that “a good bit, not all, of our information” was available via World News Connection (to which many academic libraries subscribe). She also said, “What is left out is the FOUO (for official use only) material.”

In tracking down the Open Source Center, I’ve been left with more questions than answers. I’d especially like to know:

  1. Do depositories get access to OSC materials? Could a depository librarian be considered a “govt contractor”?
  2. Our library gets World News Connection but I wonder what is left out? What are there differences between WNC and OSC? What kind of information is included in FOUO material?
  3. Are we paying for access to govinfo? Is this like CRS reports?

If anyone has more information to share, we’d love to hear from you. The library community needs to keep track of this and other areas of government information that may not be freely available to citizens, especially that information that the government is mining off the open Web. I think Steven Aftergood, in his December 8, 2005 Secrecy News post, said it best when he said:

The rise of open source intelligence does not necessarily imply increased public access to analytical products of U.S. intelligence. To the contrary, the use of copyrighted source materials may pose a new obstacle to public disclosure.

Citations and background (*Please note: some of these citations may only be accessible with subscriptions. Please visit your local public or academic library to get access)