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28 August 2008

DNI Open Source Innovation Challenge 2008

We are unabashed believers in the unique contributions offered by open source intelligence as a discipline, and have been greatly pleased to see the increased prominence of such efforts within the Intelligence Community over the past decade. Today’s OSINT is a far cry more advanced from the early days of the 1990’s, when the first glimpses of the potential offered by the information revolution were visible in the newly opened media markets of the Soviet Union.

One of the most dramatic shifts since that time has been the development of OSINT as more than a mere data gathering function, increasingly focused on providing insight through rigorous analysis and imaginative exploration. Analytic outreach naturally goes hand in hand with open sources. And while the intelligence community is still grappling with the best manner to encourage and develop such efforts, this evolution is a fascinating space to observe and participate in.

Thus we are immensely interested to see the results of the DNI’s Open Source Innovation Challenge for 2008. This is a frankly unprecedented effort - and long overdue. Announced via email and on their public blog, the invitation speaks for itself:

Special Announcement

The Open Source Innovation Challenge

We are pleased to announce an exciting opportunity in conjunction with the DNI Open Source Conference 2008: "The Open Source Innovation Challenge." This is a unique occasion for representatives from academia; think tanks; industry; the media; federal, state, local, and tribal government; and other diverse sectors to use open source information to address real intelligence challenges. Subject matter experts from any field can apply innovative research techniques, thus giving new insight to the Intelligence Community.

Can you provide the most innovative and relevant answer to the Challenge questions?

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has provided two Challenge questions (below) and instructions to all conference registrants. Those who choose to accept the Challenge can submit a answer for one of the two challenge questions posed. Entries will be reviewed by a panel of judges consisting of senior IC representatives. The three entries judged to be the best answers to Challenge questions will be announced during the opening plenary session of the DNI Open Source Conference on September 11th and the answers will be presented at the concluding conference plenary on September 12th. The Challenge is open to all conference registrants, including those who are not able to attend due to overwhelming registration demand.

Challenge Questions

1. Using the best open sources to inform your answer, is Al Qaeda a cohesive organization with strong and centralized control, intent and direction?

2. According to open sources, who will be the global leader in alternative fuels and why?

Challenge Guidelines

1. Challenge Participants and Entries: Entries can be submitted either by individuals or teams, with no limit to the number of individuals on a team. Teams can consist of individuals from any number of organizations, rather than representatives exclusively from a single university, company or organization; multidisciplinary teams are encouraged. Each person, however, can only enter the Challenge once—as an individual or part of a team, not both. At least one member of each team must be a registered conference attendee and entries from individuals must be submitted by a registered (not necessarily a confirmed) attendee. Entries should address one of the two Challenge questions proposed; entries attempting to address both questions will be disqualified.

The remainder of the full guidelines may be found here.

This seems to us an excellent opportunity for a number of academic and private sector shops to demonstrate their mettle in front of a very serious – and no doubt quite attentive – audience. The timing – and timelines – reminds us more than somewhat of the Burundi exercise of years past. This is certainly no coincidence, and we have long felt it was time to update the original work performed for the 1995 Aspin-Brown Commission on Intelligence in a modern context.

To all those participating, bonne chance.

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