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

Use Intelligent Agents to Improve Your Searches

Intelligent agents — scouts, really — are computer programs that search the web for you, looking for information based on the key words you provide. They are, in effect, a continuous search engine. Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts) has proven to be a useful service to many. To avoid being overwhelmed on common phrases and words, many people restrict the delivery of Google Alerts to once a day. However, if the material is needed immediately or if you want to ramp up the number of articles you are getting, ask that the information be sent “as it happens.” Experience shows that it is best to ask for a “comprehensive” search rather than limit the intelligent agent to single categories such as news, blogs, and web or news groups. Google Alerts allows the use of Boolean Operatives for searching, eliminating a good many of the “false positives” you will get with a straight word search. To learn more about the use of Boolean Operatives and how they work in Google and Google Alerts go to http://www.googleguide.com/crafting_queries.html

Other sites besides Google have similar intelligent agents. Undoubtedly more good intelligent agents will become available in the future.

Intelligent agents, of course, cover only a small slice of the spectrum, but that portion is an important section of the web. Intelligent Agents are invaluable.

Hint: When using intelligent agents, or search engines, look carefully at any story that they send you which you find usable. See if there are words, combinations of words, or short phrases that you can plug into further searches—words, combinations of words, and phrases that would likely be found in any story about your subject. Create new intelligent agent searches for these terms. Also note any websites the search engines find repeatedly; you may want to add them to your URL list.


Overview – Where to Look and for What

Computers and the Internet are not common in all areas, nor are they used by all people. The Internet serves as one of several tools that information professionals and analysts use.

Information collectors must think in broad terms, not just the Internet.

Common non-Internet venues include:

  • Courseware, dissertations, lectures, presentations, research papers, and studies in both hardcopy and softcopy on economics geography (physical, cultural, and political-military), international relations, regional security, science, and technology.
  • Governmental, Intergovernmental, and NGOs. Databases, posted information, and printed reports on a wide variety of economic, environmental, geographic, humanitarian, security, science, and technology issues.
  • Commercial and Public Information Services. Broadcast, posted, and printed news on current international, regional, and local topics.
  • Individuals and Groups. Handwritten, painted, posted, printed, and broadcast information (for example, art, graffiti, leaflets, posters and websites).
  • Libraries and Research Centers. Printed documents and digital databases on a range of topics, as well as knowledge and skills in information retrieval.


Non-Internet venues generally deal in traditional media. Traditional media have long been the access points for publicly available information. Key traditional open sources include: Public Speaking, Public Documents, Public Broadcasts, and News Resources. The list is long:

  • Printed media
    • Books
    • Newspapers
    • Magazines and periodicals
    • Annuals
    • Leaflets
    • Pamphlets
    • Journals (specialized areas)
  • Gray literature and ephemera
  • Educational materials
  • Radio
    • Standard wave
    • Short wave
  • Television
  • Loudspeakers
  • Novelties
  • Phone Books
  • Property records
  • Posters
  • Clothing
  • Speeches
  • Talk shows
  • Non-governmental releases
  • Motion Pictures
  • “Dumpster Diving”
  • Graffiti
  • Tattoos
  • Public speakers and forums
  • Advertisements
  • Government releases and public documents
  • Other media
  • Jewelry
  • Internet
    • World Wide Web 1.0
    • World Wide Web 2.0