Report of a project that I am involved in.
The U.S. intelligence community (IC) has made great strides in collecting and analyzing open source information. By contrast, the IC’s outreach to nongovernmental experts lags behind. Such experts are not integral to collection strategies, nor are they adequately leveraged by analysts. This shortcoming is a critical weakness in the United States’ intelligence apparatus.
In an effort to invigorate the debate on expanding IC outreach, the CSIS Transnational Threats Project created and operated a Trusted Information Network (TIN) to examine extremism and transnational crime in Southeast Asia. Composed of top specialists from the region and beyond, this network highlighted the immense expertise such a group could bring to bear on important national security priorities by answering a series of relevant questions. Simultaneously, this effort demonstrated ways in which the IC could draw on TINs to collect and analyze information in the future.
Based on the TIN experience, the authors of this new CSIS report recommend that the IC consider the absence of robust outreach as a collection gap; identify the relative absence of outreach as an analytic weakness; strengthen and fully support outreach from the top; build support for outreach at the working level; promote outreach with incoming analysts; be knowledgeable of the top nongovernmental experts; and ensure that efforts to improve outreach are balanced with measures that mitigate the associated counterintelligence risks.