Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is not new anymore. After all, even in Italy, the first Robert Steele’s work translated is almost twenty-year. A great historian such as Christopher Bayly stated that fifty-years is a good parameter to judge the long-term when human history is concerned. Then, OSINT is already old. Sure, the smart reader would say, OSINT is with us since intelligence started. After all, as Giovanni Nacci states in this interview, information is naturally born open, the great majority of the time. Yes, but even considering the OSINT revolution due to the World Wide Web & the ICTs, OSINT is already something mature. It is an intelligence discipline that is taking new ways from the old ones, testifying the livelihood of its evolution through time, as Efren Torres stated in Intelligence & Interview #8. In addition, today, OSINT seems to be the solution for everything, though it looks difficult to be believed looking to the world around us and its ineffable uncertainty and resistance over human capacity to control it. So, today we have an Italian OSINT expert whose passion for the discipline is apparent by all his activities. He is the founder of Intelli|Sfèra, a project entirely devolved to OSINT theory and techniques. This is a fascinating Italian window to an old/new intelligence discipline. Then, it is with my distinct pleasure to publish the interview on Scuola Filosofica – for those who don’t know it yet, is one of the leading cultural blogs in Italy. In the name of Scuola Filosofica Team, our readers, and myself, Dr Giangiuseppe Pili, Giovanni: thank you!
1. How would you like to present yourself to the Italian readers and Philosophical School (Scuola Filosofica)?
I usually introduce myself as a former Italian Navy Officer and enthusiast professional and advisor (since 1998) in theories, methods, and systems for the strategic treatment of information and specialist in Open Source Intelligence applications. I’m a public administration official with about five “lustrum” of administrative proceedings, data protection, Information, and Communication Technology applications. Furthermore, I’m author and co-author of papers, articles, and books about OSINT and creator of the proposal for a “General Theory” for Open Source Intelligence (a summary is available here) and founder of Intelli|sfèra, a cultural project whose aim is the interdisciplinary innovation in the Open Source Intelligence.
2. What is your background, and what was the path leading you toward Open Source Intelligence?
In April 1995, I started my service in the Navy at the 5° detachment “Cooperazione Internazionale e Infrastrutture NATO” at the “Ufficio Centrale del Bilancio e Affari Finanziari” (BILANDIFE) of the Italian Minister of Defence, in Rome. In this period, I argued that all administrative data and information that shape the budget and the financial statements for the MoD could usefully be explained as a complex and dynamic system of knowledge, needs, source, aim, and targets. Such an environment of resources can be viewed in an intelligence way. So, my first idea was that all the data, numbers, fund allocations, administrative information, and so on could be accessed in terms of “sources” (and not only data or information). Namely, “who originates or causes or initiates something” and in the sense of “the place where something begins, where it springs into being.” The conclusion was that both budget and financial statements could be considered as sources of relevant causality link between a broad number – and types – of entities (fact, events, consequences, behaviors, interpretations, choices, and so on). This is relevant in terms of achieving a condition of strategic superiority toward competitors (in a broad sense). This is also the final aim of intelligence activities. Starting from this, it was easy to develop, through the years, the concept of “source intelligence” in opposition (but of course not negation) of the concept of “information intelligence” that make out my vision of intelligence disciplines and my proposal of a “general theory” for Open Source Intelligence.
3. How would you describe Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)?
I usually refer to OSINT as an independent discipline. It studies the practices through which an “analytical-informative effort” is aimed at achieving (within a well-determined context and in a finite period) a condition of concrete strategic advantage towards third parties. (See word “OSINT” in Nacci, G., Microglossario Interdisciplinare per l’Intelligence delle Fonti Aperte, Epoké). As stated above, I think about OSINT more as an “intelligence of source” than an “intelligence of information” (or data). After all, this is perfectly in line with the ancient leitmotif of “knowing who knows”, also prevalent in the common, classical perception of OSINT.
4. You are the founder of Intelli|Sfèra. May you talk a bit about it? What is its mission, and how do you pursue it?
First, I would like to underline that Intelli|sfèra is not a firm, is not an organization. Intelli|sfèra is a project, is an innovative way to approach to OSINT. Intelli|sfèra mission is summarized in the catchphrase “Ideas, values and contents for disciplinary innovation in Open Source Intelligence”: I think it is not necessary to add more. I founded Intelli|sfèra in summer 2017, and the aim was host experience and expertise coming from all the disciplines that can actively contribute to the construction of a robust and more formal theoretical framework for OSINT: philosophy of information (Floridi), historiography, social ontology and theory of documentality (Ferraris), linguistics, library sciences and so on. At Intelli|sfèra, we consider indispensable a strongly interdisciplinary approach to the Studies of Intelligence. We hope for significant epistemological exchanges achieved through the methods of “borrowing” and “disciplinary boundary-crossing” between disciplines. A discipline never evolves by itself. Disciplines are not “closed systems”. In brief, intelligence studies should open itself to disciplinary contamination, not only demand openness from other disciplines.
5. How do you see Intelli|Sfèra in the future?
Our goal is to expand our network of interdisciplinary sources and domain experts. We hope to achieve better results in disciplinary and academic collaboration, and most of the Intelli|sfèra’s activities in the next year will be centered on developing and host OSINT-related cultural contents and contributions.
6. What is the Italian trajectory toward OSINT?
What I see is a lack of interest in the theoretical substrate of the discipline. The present OSINT theoretical framework lacks in definitions of essential concepts that are the basis for the whole discipline, for example, data, information, source, knowledge, fact, and so on. Most of these concepts have already been defined. They are currently being used by other much more formalized and established disciplines, so it would be easy to integrate those concepts in the OSINT theoretical and disciplinary framework. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen in the recent past, so OSINT in Italy is still merely a technique, nor a real complete, independent discipline in the Intelligence Studies.
7. Let’s talk about who would like to pursue a profession in OSINT as a practitioner. What would you suggest to them? Is there a market for professionals in Italy?
The issue is complicated. I think that the market is growing, but only in internet-related applications, right now. Nothing seems to point out a concrete opportunity to work as a real OSINT domain expert. Training opportunities (both high and low level) are mostly practice-oriented and directed only to “analysis”: theoretical fundamentals, organizational and design skills, networking attitude, project management competence remain underestimated. I think, instead, that a good practitioner must be focused on those issues. The practice is the consequence, not the origin of the theory. And “analysis” is only a phase in the so-called intelligence cycle. In order to give advice – reached in my 25 years of experience in the field – I first suggest increasing theoretical and disciplinary skills that grant the ability to develop effective solutions to complex problems.
8. OSINT is an intelligence component everywhere and for a long time. How do you see its future?
More sources, more data, and information producers will be in the Infosphere (it doesn’t matter if open or classified) more OSINT we will need. To whom is granted access to a source (or information) – even if classified – this source or information is “open” for him. So, information is always born and die “open.” In between, we pretend (without success, I believe…) we can control its nature with various “classification apparatus” that we “affix” on the recordings (i.e., inscribed information) that we physically own (I refer to Maurizio Ferraris’s Theory fo Documentality). After all, secrets are social constructions, so also classified information is. Openness, instead, is the ontological propriety of information (and things in reality).
9. How can our readers follow you and Intelli|Sfèra?
My scientific essays are available on Academia.Edu, ResearchGate, Scribd, on my website http://www.giovanninacci.net and also on my YouTube channel. My podcast is available on Spreaker and Anchor. Intelli|sfèra’s website is reachable at http://www.intellisfera.it
10. Five keywords that represent you?
Italian, Navy, Officer, OSINT, enthusiastic (that’s all 😉)