In the pre-cyberspace Cold War, espionage was the preoccupation of secret government intelligence agencies and tradecraft focused on the physical World.
Much has changed. The global security environment is far more complex and we are well into the open information age – it’s a World of big data and ubiquitous technical surveillance, where the war on truth may be the most significant challenge of our lifetime.
The Deputy Director CIA of digital innovation describes Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) as “the INT of first resort, informing every aspect of the intelligence community’s mission.” Commercial Intelligence Services provide an essential capability to both national security, military, public safety, health and competitive business operations.
Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is not just reading the news, watching TV, scanning twitter or paying a librarian or co-op to do your Google searches for you.
McDaniel Wicker and Patrick Butler, Babel Street, explain that for a long time, open source intelligence (OSINT) was primarily composed of insights from foreign news sources. It was supplemental public information that analysts could layer on top of classified intelligence to gain a full operational picture. Many in the intelligence community viewed it as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a mission-critical data source — something to confirm rather than to foundationally inform. That era is over.
It’s over for two reasons. First, the scope of open source intelligence [has] exploded in the digital age; from public legal records, [data sets] to social media platforms and the dark web. OSINT now encompasses every online channel that bad actors are using to communicate and mobilize.
Second, technology has evolved to address the [three] major obstacles to transforming OSINT into mission-critical decisions: Speed, scale and cost. The exponentially growing amount of data [has] overwhelmed [conventional] analysis tools and made it challenging [for traditional organizations] to deliver insights fast enough to stay a step ahead of threats. 
WHAT IS COMMERCIAL INTELLIGENCE
Commercial entities collect intelligence using the same methods from many of the same sources as national agencies but under a different legal framework.
It is important to differentiate between Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and Commercial Sourced Intelligence (CSINT). OSINT refers to a broad array of information in the public domain that can be accessed by the general public. OSINT consists of information obtained from media, professional and academic records and conferences, government reports, demographics, etc. It is free and available. CSINT is only available to the originator, describes or represents internal commercial activities, and is only acquired through a commercial transaction. This data is a valuable commodity to the data owner. Methodologies may also be a trade secret.
Commercial Intelligence Services rely heavily on Publicly Available Information (PAI) and proprietary Commercially Available Information (CAI) which parallel all the traditional intelligence sources such as: Human Intelligence (HUMINT), Communications Intelligence (COMINT), Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Imagery Intelligence (IMINT), Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT), Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT), Cyber Operations, Data Acquisition, Forensics and Deep Field Research et.al. Collection can both use passive and active methods.
The volume of OSINT/CSINT data has grown exponentially, requiring a shift in thinking around private partnerships. General Michael Hayden, told a crowd at CANSEC that Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, and Meta (Facebook), Microsoft, telecommunications providers and commercial sector data brokers have access to way more data than he ever had while serving as director of both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).
In HUMINT, CSINT could provide missing details about an operational target, including location and movement information to business and banking details. Link and pattern analysis fuelled by CSINT could provide leads to new streams of SIGINT, IMINT and MASINT collection. More broadly, CSINT could provide previously unknown, needed, pieces of the puzzle to solve complex investigations in the supply chain, disinformation, and counter-espionage realms, thereby protecting proprietary information, critical national infrastructure, and the very fabric of our precious democracy.
CSINT has tremendous potential to shape intelligence tradecraft as well, either enhancing or challenging it in every form of intelligence (INT) collection.
IT'S A BIG DATA WORLD
Power will continue to diffuse amongst corporations, individuals, civil society, criminal organizations, and nation-states. The power-shift will be particularly acute in the information domain and the intelligence business.
National governments, militaries and intelligence agencies, if they are unable to adapt to power-shifts accelerated by digital empowerment and open data, will find themselves overcome by non-state actors and adversaries usurping control of the information domain. The commercial sector has had a 43 years head start on the Government in cyberspace.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) explains that in the evolution of state power in cyberspace and intelligence the “oscillation in the balance of power may be peaking, but never before could a dozen people in their pyjamas meaningfully annul the monopoly on the use of force.” There are intelligence and cyber capabilities now wielded by private sector actors for which there is no analog by nation-states.
While traditional agencies have remained mostly closed environments, commercial intelligence organizations have the benefit of being infinitely scalable using secure cloud computing, crowdsourcing and big data fusion powered by artificial intelligence. Solutions can be used to observe patterns in data at a fast rate and reach more sources than traditional human-driven searches. 
Industrial power in the information domain will continue to grow and will challenge traditional models for national security. As we have seen in the Russian-Ukraine conflict, the private sector will conduct more military-like cyber and intelligence operations independently and in cooperation with the state, in order to defend critical operations or counter global threats.
Three senior executives, Cynthia, Saddy Eunjoo “ej” Alam and Kelli Holden, who led who counter-intelligence, clandestine operations and technology for the CIA, write about the value of commercial intelligence:
“Commercial data or Commercially Sourced Intelligence (CSINT) is already shaping business in the digital world. It is being used by governments and businesses to edge out the competition. We should care because, right now, we are in the equivalent of a modern arms race to derive meaning and value from CSINT, and those who win that race will achieve strategic advantage. Those who do not will fail.” 
ADVERSARIAL POWER AND THE RISE OF PRIVATEERS
[Governments] must be proactive in the use of CSINT to enable these missions. CSINT exists whether or not we take advantage of it – failure to understand and ingest CSINT means that it will exist not as an enabler but as a challenge to tradecraft and a challenge to mission in that key insights will be missing from decision-making. The enemies of democracy and democratic values – are using commercial intelligence as an enabler [to] bolster their strategic advantage.
Canada’s adversaries will increase their use of private military contractors and private-sector offensive actors (PSOA) for paramilitary cyber, intelligence and influence operations requiring deniability and circumvention of the Law of Armed Combat (LOAC). Even now, Russia is recruiting mercenaries to fight in Ukraine, conduct cyber and cognitive warfare campaigns.
In Ukraine, CSINT has significant play in everything. Ukrainian military defense operations could have been informed by using CSINT to track the Russian soldiers’ mobile devices that for the last few weeks, were located in Russia and Belarus on the border of Ukraine. Analyzed CSINT could continue to provide insight to Ukraine and its allies to strategically plan deployment of troops and materiel. On the humanitarian side, CSINT can assist relief organizations in understanding areas of crisis and where to position medical, humanitarian and food supplies for maximum impact. More broadly, for Ukraine’s neighbors (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary), CSINT could bolster analysis and assessments of Russian plans and intentions by filling gaps in the information puzzle. Commercial surveillance and reconnaissance satellites provide daily high-resolution imagery and ELINT of the battlefield.
LAW AND ETHICS
Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat, a Netherlands-based investigative journalism group that specialises in fact-checking and open-source intelligence, explains “there are highly reputable commercial intelligence organizations. Crowdsourcing intelligence is like a “hive mind of sleuths in cyberspace, all converging around the next big question… detail-oriented obsessives, many of whom had spent formative years at computers, enthralled by the power of the Internet. [They are] not missionaries out to fix the world, but [have] enough of a moral compass to repudiate the other routes to an outsized impact online, such as trolling and hacking.”
Conversely, in the article Spooked, the Trump Dossier, Black Cube, and the Rise of Private Spies writes that “there are [also] charlatans in the commercial security and intelligence business skulduggery and shenanigans by private investigation firms and vigilantes like Wikileaks.”
Canadian commercial intelligence companies are not directed by doctrine and public policy, nor do they have mandates. They do, however, have to: run a financially viable (profitable) business according to tax law and comply with the Criminal code of Canada and The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) the Canadian Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and any other applicable anti-corruption laws and regulations. They can apply to the court for exceptions from the law in the form of civil warrants for search and seizure or telecommunications intercept or active cyber operations in support of criminal or civil investigations.
HISTORY AND EVOLUTION OF OPEN SOURCE AND COMMERCIAL INTELLIGENCE
In the 1990’s, we estimated that 80% of all intelligence produced by government agencies came form open media and 80% of classified information originated from technical sources. Now 99% of government intelligence can be sourced from Publicly Available Information (PAI) and Commercially Available Information (CAI). Furthermore, the volume of technical intelligence has grown and is almost exclusively cyber based. Consider that cyberspace is predominately owned by the private sector.
The volume intelligence sourced exclusively from classified sources is limited to very specific circumstances. Alas, classified resources are often wasted collecting information that is publicly or commercially available. This practice is less-effective, more expensive and risky than outsourcing. It ties up high-value infrastructure and assets while spending public funds competing directly against industry.
Open sources should be used before tasking more intrusive means of collecting the same information.
OPEN SOURCE INTELLIGENCE
Canada’s national security working group recently stated that “secret intelligence is undergoing an existential crisis,” as big-data empowers commercial and open source intelligence (OSINT/CSINT) services for the provision of timely, actionable and cost-effective alternatives accessible to both the public and private sectors. The answer is partnership with and not competition against companies. It is understandable that Canada’s allies continue to outsource significant capability development, intelligence collection and operations to trusted industrial partners.
CIA’s position on OSINT/CSINT is clear, explains, Jennifer Ewbank, Deputy Director CIA digital innovation: “We live in a world of dramatically fewer secrets, when compared to decades past. Social media, online digital news platforms, ubiquitous sensing, commercial data collection, and the very Internet itself mean that we no longer lack for insights even in far-flung corners of the globe. Many questions that once had to be answered by more secretive intelligence collection are now answered with a few clicks on a mobile device.”
“OSINT/[CSINT] is the INT of first resort, informing every aspect of the intelligence community’s mission.” - CIA
OSINT/CSINT includes public records (people/business insights), [massively] crowdsourced or hyperlocal events,
[cyber metadata], blockchain and crypto activities along with interactions happening on the dark web.
On-the-scene reporting using apps supplement traditional human intelligence (HUMINT). Analysts operating half way around the planet can reach out to strangers on the ground to crowd-source information. Space-based, open source imagery, space-based radar, ELINT, and geospatial sensors, watch over the planet 24/7/365. Call-detail records or email traffic obtained [from lawful access] can now be directly supported by comparable open source data, including [contact chaining and critical] network analysis of social and dark web data or [real time] location insights.
CSINT could provide insights to military planners as they ponder the plans and intentions of nations diametrically opposed to the ideals of liberty and freedom. The wide aperture of OSINT/CSINT is critical for a military that needs to go from sensor-to-shooter at the speed-of-cyber.
DEMOCRATIZATION OF DATA
Open media, big-data, the Internet-of- Things and ubiquitous mobile communications will be central the intelligence business. Contrarily, open access to the Internet will continue to be challenges by nation states seeking to regulate, balkanize, block, censored, shape, controlled and deny environments. The interests, values, norms and strategy of the Western liberal democratic vision of open networks and Internet freedom, will be countered by alternative models posed by states seeking to restrict and control the Internet along nationalistic boundaries.
Our adversaries will attempt to corrupt open data with dis-information. The battle for truth may be the most significant challenge of our lifetime. Accurate OSINT/CSINT is essential.
UBIQUITOUS TECHNICAL SURVEILLANCE
The Center for Strategic and International Studies explains that “commercial companies have combined advances in microelectronics, small satellites, and low cost to orbit to create proliferated low Earth orbit (LEO) sensing constellations: hundreds or even thousands of satellites in multiple orbital planes allowing for rapid [daily full world] revisit rates, high-resolution images and full motion video.”
The democratization of data will fuel surveillance capitalism. Ubiquitous technical surveillance (UTS), like China’s SkyNet and SharpEye programs, raises the prospect of a World in which it becomes increasingly difficult to escape the proliferating technologies for wholesale data collection and analysis. OSINT/CSINT and Artificial Intelligence will be seen as both an enabler to UTS and a counter to it.
ALLIES USE OF TRUSTED COMMERCIAL INTELLIGENCE PARTNERS
Canada’s allies use Commercial Intelligence Services as a trusted source that enhances and augments secret sources. Internationally, industry is seen as an essential partner in the country’s national security ecosystem - not a competitor.
Commercial intelligence-as-a-Services have incredible access and latitude to collect from special global sources within the law but without the policy restrictions or compartmented mandates, oversight and review required of public institutions. Products can be sanitized of privacy-sensitive content. Sensitive sources and methods have protection from Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) requests submitted by adversaries.
Commercial intelligence can also deliver a curated high-value product that is also timely, actionable and cost-effective. Thus, freeing up expensive classified sources, assets and infrastructure to focus efforts without exposure. A trusted intelligence data broker can cloak the primary intelligence priorities of clients and provide special operational security. This intelligence can be procured a variety of ways: human source, subscription, training, research program, or professional consulting engagement.
CLIENT CENTRIC MISSION FOCUSED BUSINESS
Commercial intelligence is tightly coupled to client requirements and mission effectiveness. Companies only produce products for which there is a market and satisfied clients willing to pay for the intelligence, commensurate with its perceived value. Competition in the market drives price, accuracy, timeliness, relevance and quality.
OPEN SOURCE INTELLIGENCE WITHIN A CLOSED ENVIRONMENT
There are challenges with attempting the production of open source intelligence (PAI, CAI) within a closed intelligence agency. It runs counter-culture to the organizational model. There is also an inherent bias towards conventional classified methods even when the end-source is open.
Data collection and exploitation in the government has to navigate policy, governance, Authority, Responsibility and Accountability (ARA) complexities. To exacerbate matters, future technology and operations are forced to into fit potentially antiquated doctrine, policy and laws that were written without necessarily the benefit of operational experience, scientific or strategic foresighting. Commercial intelligence has few of the restrictions and has access to a vast data-catalogue.
It is common practice to buy intelligence. A good source enhances an agency’s utility. However, commercial intelligence services are sometimes seen as competitors and OSINT/CSINT perceived as less valuable than classified. Top Secret is often used as branding, placed on information to elevate its importance or to expropriate open reporting.
The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, in response to a recent Report by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, is relevant to commercial intelligence: “The notion that the government’s own cyber-defences are inherently superior to — or incompatible with — those offered by private industry needs to die a quick death. Not only does this serve to erode an already fragile trust, but it’s verifiably untrue.”
“OSINT/[CSINT] is also where technological innovation is making the most rapid contributions”, explains Jennifer Ewbank, Deputy Director CIA digital innovation. “As the community leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to dramatically expand the volume and availability of OSINT/[CSINT]. Artificial intelligence accelerates the transformation of information into insights, as OSINT/[CSINT} is curated and enrich by the deep subject matter expertise of open source specialists.”
When AI and ML are leveraged to glean insights from commercial data, the output tells the story at an algorithmic level human analysis alone would not have had the capacity to achieve. And that is the power of CSINT.
As part of a human-lead technology powered strategy, commercial intelligence has invested in big data science, deep machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve accuracy and speed. AI limits the number of errors made when conducting analysis, typically by providing more comprehensive and consistent processing. AI [does] not replace traditional analysis by experts, but they empower human analysts to prioritize their time and focus on the most critical information. [Commercial] technology is now able to deliver a foundation of OSINT/[CSINT] insights for national security and intelligence leaders to use to inform the strategic allocation of mission resources. Today’s AI-enabled [commercial capabilities] empower intelligence analysts to leverage OSINT/[CSINT] [to rapidly] uncover hidden threats, and pinpoint the targets. 
SIGINT AND CYBER
Global telecommunications infrastructure, cyberspace and big data is predominantly owned, operated or curated by the private sector. Many of the platform providers have more clients than countries have citizens. So when it comes to cyber intelligence, industry is a major league player.
COMMERCIAL SPACE REMOTE SENSING
The Center for Strategic and International Studies discussed Commercial Space Remote Sensing and Its Role in National Security explaining that the growing complexity of the unipolar post-Cold War world [has] led to an increasing need for remote sensing that targeted rogue states as well as an emerging China and [an] revanchist Russia. The limited capacity of government remote sensing often failed to keep pace with needs for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).
The capabilities provided by commercial firms can be used to complement government space systems across a wide-range of national security missions and [can] fill in gaps in capabilities where the government has lagged. Imagery from commercial satellites [is] quickly vacuumed into the Intelligence Community’s (IC) classification vortex of human-base processing. The challenge for the military and intelligence community is [now] understanding how to leverage commercial capabilities for military advantage while protecting national security and maintaining the health and competitiveness of companies in the global remote sensing market.
The capability and capacity of commercial sensing continued to increase and rival that of government’s and caused a remodeled remote sensing towards: privately-owned space-based sensing, machine-aided processing, and common cloud-based data sharing. These new paradigms all leveraged the power of commercial companies to achieve a speed-of-development and innovation unmatched by contemporary government sensing capabilities.
These commercial advances combined with the ability to sense outside the visible and infrared (IR) spectrum through synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and radio frequency (RF) mapping to create new commercial and security applications, from moving target indication to rapid geo-location of jamming. An ever-growing constellation of commercial ELINT satellites can detect and geolocate RF signals across the Earth’s surface. These capabilities recently detected and geolocated Global Positioning System (GPS) interference by Russia over Ukraine using satellites to monitor radio frequency signals. 
Ground based and overhead imagery, ELINT and Cyber Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance, such as global netflow, can sense the planet and inhabitants to a high-degree of precision when combined big data produced by CSINT.
The revolution in commercial space remote sensing has the potential to shatter the notions of national security. Rather than relying exclusively on high-demand, low-density government-owned national assets, commercial sensing offers orders of magnitude more coverage, revisit rates, [and resolution], which can augment and queue the sensing capabilities provided by more exquisite government-owned-operated systems at a fraction of the cost.
VALUE PROP FOR COMMERCIAL INTEL
A good commercial intelligence-as-a-service can establish itself as gold-standard source for national security or competitive business operations. It can empower an agency or military and allows them focus of resources on what government can do best. To put it succinctly, the private sector can do OSINT/CSINT most effectively.
In terms of shaping intelligence tradecraft, CSINT is a critical component because it allows the data foundation of analysis and decision-making to be more accurate and more complete. 
For example, there is no point for a SIGINT agency to compete directly with cyber security companies for cyber threat intelligence, building cyber defence capability or distributing malware signatures. However, there is room to collaborate in the prosecution of advanced persistent threats (APT), targeting and offensive action.
Intel-as-a-service opens access to a wider aperture of global data. It can provide curated data that is fully indexed and sanitized driving-up efficiencies while dramatically reducing costs of ingesting and processing bulk data sets, with reduced legal, operational risk and layer of operational security while alleviating concerns articulated by the courts. OSINT/CSINT is more transparent and less intrusive than other methods.
Similarly, a commercial intelligence broker can act as a trusted cut-out for data consolidation and aggregation of sources to provide a critical layer of security to an agency or department. Parallel construction of evidence from open and commercial sources can be taken to court without revealing secret sources.
Commercial enterprises can achieve data proximity and tighter fusion of raw data sources within a unified environment, especially at tactical levels, because they don't need to contend with compartmentalization, equities and single-source-intelligence silos driven by mandates.
CSINT can be exceedingly agile and highly-cost effective - in some cases it has been demonstrated to be orders-of-magnitude less expensive than equivalent classified products. Rapid innovation and capability development ensures a future-proof analytical environment.
Commercial agencies can apply the full-spectrum of human and technical sources including bulk data sets, ubiquitous surveillance, cyber, overhead imagery, social media etc., to the problem set. They are able to pivot quickly to meet new intelligence requirements and deliver new products are timely and actionable from strategic estimates, foresighting, threat risk assessments, red cell thinking to building a Common Operating Picture (COP), Intelligence Preparation of the Operating Environment (IPOE) or a Target Systems Analysis (TSA)
Intelligence can be easily procured a variety of ways: human source, subscription, training, research program, or professional consulting engagement.
DISADVANTAGES OF COMMERCIAL
Commercial intelligence services have a few disadvantages:
Unlike government agencies, who may be provided special investigative authorities in legislation, intrusive collection for the private sector may require seeking exceptions through court warrant.
The lack of public finding means that research, capability development and innovation in a company has to be based upon business growth.
A commercial intelligence company requires a paying client and procurement process and does not have the luxury of pursuing worthwhile causes without one.
ADVANTAGES OF SECRET INTELLIGENCE
Conversely, public intuitions have some unique intrusive powers gained from executive prerogative, legislation and judicial authorities or exceptions from the law. Some agencies can compel the cooperation of private sector (lawful access) or pay a human source to break the law in foreign country.
Public institutions have access to enduring public funding year after year.
Correspondingly, agencies maintain a degree of discretion in how they spend their budget without relying on clients for funding. Hence they have the ability to specialize in interesting areas where there may not be an existing demand or market or current threat.
DISADVANTAGES OF SECRET INTELLIGENCE
The benefits of a public institution are often tempered by issues such as: complex bureaucracy, delineated mandates, antiquated doctrine, risk-adverse policies, compartmentization, over-classification and equities, including a need-to-know culture that impedes sharing and cooperation.
The federal national intelligence mission has been described as fractured across multiple competing organizations, which drive up costs and slow production.
The government often operates as a closed system that is internally driven. Access to open data is more restricted than in the private sector. Hence, closed classified intelligence organizations are reticent to adopt an open source intelligence philosophy. Classified intelligence is also a closed market where the value of product is not necessarily quantified by paying clients and not evaluated by the public.
Immediate requirements, rather than strategic issues frequently drive secret intelligence. Mandates tend to have a narrow focus to Counter-Intelligence (CI) and Counter Terrorism (CT) missions while overlooking global trends like global health, climate change, population growth, energy, disruptive science and technology.
Many governments operate on self-imposed collection restrictions, even for publicly available information. These restrictions can include: layers of doctrine, policy, procedures, regulations, mandate silos, executive directives, legislation, judicial oversight and review.
It is not easy to show the service and value provided to the public.
EXAMPLES OF RESTRICTIONS
Specific Canadian examples of constraints include foreign intelligence, data sets and counter-influence.
Commercial intelligence companies can operate anywhere in the World. However, the Canadian Federal Court has put the brakes on a Canadian Security Intelligence Service request to collect foreign intelligence outside of Canada and imposed additional restrictions domestically. Section 16 of the CSIS Act allows the service to collect, within Canada, foreign intelligence relating to the capabilities, intentions or activities of any foreign state, as long as the information-gathering is not aimed at Canadians.
BULK DATA RESTRICTIONS
Data is the currency of an intelligence agency. Yet, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) recommended that CSIS halt its acquisition of bulk datasets until it has in place a formal process of assessment to confirm that the datasets meet the required threshold.
Today’s constant barrage of information makes it easy for countries to wage [cognitive warfare] CSINT capability taps into a mature industry built around advertising, marketing, entertainment, mainstream media and social media platforms. There is no lead agency in Canada for counter-influence, dis/mis/mal information or information peace keeping. The task has been pushed to the private sector.
We are entering the age of influence and information where open data is the currency of the intelligence business.
Correspondingly, we have seen a rise of both open and commercial intelligence and the dominance of cyber, soft power and influence in global affairs, national security and military power. These days, nearly all intelligence is derived from open-source and methods. This information domain is predominantly owned, operated or curated by the private sector.
Commercial intelligence can achieve the same outcomes as conventional intelligence sources and methods with greater efficacy and at the speed-of-cyber.
The Government has been historically reticent to share classified intelligence or help private industry in a competitive global environment. Classified intelligence is not something anyone can buy – legally.
Open-source capability within the public sector is embryonic. Hence, commercial intelligence-as-a-service has the potential to deliver unique tailored intelligence faster, more precise, accurate and affordable to both public and private sectors.
“So, when you think about the future of the intelligence business, and notwithstanding the excitement of a good Bond film, you should first think about open source.”- Jennifer Ewbank, Deputy Director CIA digital innovation
Dave McMahon is the Chief Intelligence Officer of Sapper Labs. Dave has thirty years experience in the Intelligence Business with the national agencies and the private sector.
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