Open-source intelligence involves the use of materials available to the public by intelligence agencies and other adversaries. Some analysts have estimated that the Soviet Union derived up to 90 percent of its intelligence from open-source information. With the proliferation of electronic databases, it has become easier to collate large quantities of data, and structure information to meet the needs of the adversary collector. Open-source information can often provide extremely valuable information concerning an organization’s activities and capabilities. Frequently, open-source material can provide information on organizational dynamics, technical processes, and research activities not available in any other form. When open-source data is compiled, it is often possible to derive classified data or trade secrets. This is particularly true in the case of studies published in technical journals.
A significant understanding of research and development efforts can often be derived by analyzing journal articles published by different members of a research organization. Finally, open-source information is generally timely and maybe the only information available in the early stages of a crisis or emergency.
Open-source intelligence collection does have limitations. Often articles in military or scientific journals represent a theoretical or desired capability rather than an actual capability. Censorship may also limit the publication of key data needed to arrive at a full understanding of an adversary’s actions, or the press may be used as part of a conscious deception effort.