, ,

Civilian Crowd-Sourced Intelligence (Transparency Reserve 2.0)

Following up on some ideas for Transparency Camp 2010, new improvements to the theory of civilian crowd-sourced intelligence have been made. I especially want to thank Noel Hidalgo for helping record this information during the session.

(Again, I know that this is an acquisition-related blog, but I occasionally talk up a storm on something else. This is the last non-acquisition topic I’ll talk about for a while).

Core Idea

Give raw data to civilians for analysis and voting then directly transmit the information to both military and civil crisis commanders. Significant advantages from civilian crowd-sourced intelligence may exist over professional analyses.

What is Civilian Crowd-Sourced Intelligence?

  • Civilians use the internet to propose ideas, make analyses and vote on those analyses.
  • Analyses and votes are forwarded, unfiltered, straight to battlefield commanders for consideration.
  • Civilians do not gather the data; they just analyze and vote on it.
  • These citizen volunteers come from the United States, NATO and Allied nations.
  • In a “crisis situation” (however this is defined), it is activated by the President of the United States, Secretary of Defense, NATO or whatever organization is authorized.

Role in 3 Scenarios

  1. War: Naval and ground force movements can be monitored.
  2. Disaster relief: We’ve already seen Crisis Commons demonstrate this capability by updating maps of Haiti right after the early 2010 earthquake. It’s also useful for monitoring resources of civilians, NGOs and governmental agencies responding to crises.
  3. Treaty enforcement: Civilians make sure Russians, Chinese, North Koreans and Iranians are living up to what they say they are doing. It also promotes nuclear arms verification.
  4. Human rights violations: If a village shows up on Google Maps in 2003, but doesn’t in 2008, something big probably happened. The US Holocaust Museum is using Google Earth to show the genocide occurring in Darfur. Other applications exist such as the potential to locate mass graves.
  5. Digital infrastructure: Ensure that civil and defense agencies can have accurate, real-time maps and information by plugging into pre-established organizations like Open StreetMap.

Big Pros

  • If the US Intelligence Community is incapacitated or overworked, a network of civilian volunteers can fill the gap.
  • Crowd-sourced intelligence from lots of people may offer deep insights that a smaller number of professional analysts may have missed or not considered.
  • Permits the general public to stay engaged with events.
  • It serves as a counter-point to the media.
  • This can serve as a recruiting tool for militaries.

Big Cons

  • If terrorists got this information, it could be used against the United States and its Allies.
  • If you pay people, they become spies. Therefore, non-monetary incentives are necessary to avoid likely treaty violations and public outcries.
  • Our adversaries could infiltrate the network to (a) see the information, (b) plant erroneous information, (c) offer false ideas and analyses, and (d) skew votes.

Models for Development

Currently, models for development exist. By combining the systems below, you can get a better picture of what tools are needed for a successful effort


In addition to the models for development listed above, a few other uses should be noticed.

  • List Building: At least a basic list of individuals is necessary for this idea to work. Twitter can be used for early efforts. An example of a Twitter list can be seen here.
  • Directory: A central directory of individuals with specific training and background would be another useful asset. LinkedIn and other social networking sites can provide an early proof of concept.
  • DoD Backing: Department of Defense support would likely inspire military families to contribute to this effort, drawing some of the first recruits.

An Experiment to Test for Military Use

We have already shown examples of civilian crowd-sourced intelligence being use in disaster relief, but what about in other operations? How can we test if crowd-sourced citizen analyses measure up to professional analyses?

I propose that non-vital but classified, real-time satellite imagery be released to the public on a set date. If civilian analyses measure up to professional analyses, we know we have some potential. If it doesn’t come close, then we can bury the idea for military applications.

Questions We Couldn’t Answer

  • What is the proper balance between openness and security?
  • Would civilian volunteers have security clearances?
  • Could a quick, cost-effective security check be done?
  • While models for development exist, what specific software or webware can be used to implement these ideas?

Expanding on the Idea

Civilians can be the “eyes on the ground” with mobile phones. Brave North Korean civilians are already doing this. It would be controversial for military uses, but the idea is ripe for development. It is best to study the idea and see where it leads in case our adversaries attempt something similar against us.

What’s Next?

These ideas were developed by people outside the US intelligence Community, so our contacts limited. If you like these ideas and have contacts inside the US Intelligence Community, pass this idea along to them. Better yet, pass along their info to me, I’ll reach out to them.

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply