OSINT Nomenclature for the Intelligence Community

OSINT, as a term, is often badly misunderstood. The word can be, and is, used in two different contexts even by people in the intelligence field who should – and probably do – know better.

OSINT is used as a generic term for almost any type of open source report or information. OSINT is also a specific type of open source resource that is a sub-type of the generic OSINT.

The upshot is that what some refer to as OSINT really isn’t “OSINT.” There are several levels of information complexity. Of these levels, OSINT is only one.

Open Source Data, sometimes abbreviated as OSD, is simply the raw material from a primary source. It is the data received from the original source without any filtering, validation, or efforts at presentation. Usually OSD material will not have been widely disseminated. Typically OSD might be of a letter, photograph, or transcript of conversation.

Open Source Information, abbreviated as OSIF or OSINFO, is collected data that has been run through some type of editorial process to filter, validate, and make an attractive presentation of the material. OSIF will often be material up that has been widely disseminated. Newspapers, books, magazines, and broadcast tapes are usually considered OSIF. Some of the most useful material in the civilian OSINT world is OSIF. Much of what non-experts term OSINT is actually better-defined as OSIF.

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is “information that has been deliberately discovered, discriminated, distilled and disseminated to a select audience.” [1] This IS the true OSINT.

Validated OSINT, called OSINT-V is “information to which a very high degree of certainty can be attributed.” In government circles OSINT-V can be produced by an all-source intelligence professional with access to classified intelligence sources where the information can be cross-checked for correctness. It can also come from an assured open source to which no question can be raised concerning its validity (for example—images of an aircraft arriving at an airport that are broadcast over the media).”

This nomenclature comes from the military but is generally understood throughout the intelligence field. Knowledge of the individual types and the differences are vital in understanding the production and usage of OSINT by intelligence organizations.


[1] NATO OSINT Handbook, Page 10

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