What constitutes an open source of intelligence? How many of these sources do you consult in the course of your work? And what format do they take?

Aleksandra Bielska

These questions are not without merit. They inevitably pop up in the course of a seminar or consulting assignment. To help answer them, the i-intelligence team has pulled together a “Taxonomy of OSINT Sources”. The taxonomy is intended to serve a number of purposes:

– As a teaching tool to support our students and seminar participants

– As a source guide for intelligence practitioners (whether publicly or privately employed)

– As an aid to the various OSINT-related research projects we are working on

In addition to the above, our objective is to grow the source awareness of intelligence practitioners. In any intelligence endeavour, source awareness is more than half the rent.¬† Knowing where to get the data from, and what format it takes, is critical to one’s success. If we fail to do so, it’s for one of a number of reasons:

1. We are unfamiliar with a source and therefore oblivious to its intelligence value

2. We are familiar with a sources but have never used it for intelligence purposes

3. We are familiar with a source and recognise its utility but have little or no experience or training in its effective exploitation

4. We are creatures of habit, relying on the same sources of data regardless of their utility or the opportunities offered by others.

If there’s one thing we can be certain of (and which we will do our level best to ignore), it’s that the variety of sources will continue to proliferate and will continue to remain underemployed. Indeed, the events of the past decade suggests that the intelligence potential of every new source of information is routinely ignored until¬† failure prompts us to re-evaluate our position (ref: YouTube and the Iraq insurgency, Twitter and the Arab Spring, etc.).

Familiarising ourselves with the many different sources and data types us (whether free or premium, on or offline, man or machine made) is much more than an academic exercise.

The Taxonomy of OSINT Sources lists as many types and sources of data as we could think of. It doesn’t claim to be exhaustive (no taxonomy ever is). Rather, it reflects those sources that we are either familiar with or use on behalf of our clients.

The document here is a first draft. We welcome your help in extending it further. If you know of any sources that could be added or further refined, or if you would like to propose structural changes to the document, do let us know. A second draft will be published in the new year based on your input and our continued research.