The Alan Turing Institute

The Future of Open-Source Intelligence for UK National Security

Research Report

Abstract

This joint report from CETaS and the Royal United Services Institute aims to establish an independent evidence base to inform future government policy development regarding the use of publicly available information (PAI) and open-source intelligence (OSINT) for national security purposes. The findings are based on in-depth consultation with stakeholders from across academia, civil society, commercial organisations, law enforcement, and the UK Government.

The paper explores the extent to which the increasing proliferation of PAI – and wider accessibility of tools leveraging PAI for OSINT – is changing perceptions of modern intelligence. From this foundation, it asks what the commercial, cultural, policy, and technological implications are for UK national security stakeholders.

The writing of this paper coincided with the outbreak of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. This conflict has signalled a further emphasis in the way that PAI and OSINT are perceived in the national security context. Government social media accounts have been publishing regular updates of the situation in Ukraine with open-source corroboration, while satellite imagery has featured consistently in traditional media columns. A significant precedent has been set for the use of PAI to make meaningful connections and provide critical insights to the public. Consequently, the justification required to keep intelligence secret (termed here the 'reasonable threshold of secrecy') has been markedly raised and it is unlikely there will be appetite to see that reversed. These developments mean that the findings and recommendations of this research are even more timely.

Government stakeholders who have embraced the opportunities provided by PAI and OSINT must now address the challenges required to sustain short-term successes over a longer-term period – investment in PAI must keep pace with its increasing value to ensure an effective national security posture.

Authors

Citation information

Ardi Janjeva, Alexander Harris and Joseph Byrne, 'The Future of Open-Source Intelligence for UK National Security', RUSI Occasional Papers, June 2022.