Robert Steele is a former intelligence officer for the CIA and the US Marine Corps who promotes the concept of “Open Source Intelligence,” a transparent system based on public access to all information, in his new book, The Open Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, and Trust (Evolver Editions, 2012).
Q. Why is intelligence gathered in a transparent and open process better than intelligence gathered by secretive agencies?
It is not secret, it is not expensive, and it is not controlled by the government. Instead it is shareable, and the diversity of views from across the eight information families (academia, civil society, commerce, government, law enforcement, media, military, and non-government/non-profit) can be fully harvested.
The government is the least important of the lot. The government is the beneficiary, not the benefactor, of public intelligence in the public interest.
Q: What is the basic thesis of Open Source Everything?
Proprietary is not agile, does not scale, is unaffordable, and does not play well with others.
The mistake the UK government is making right now is to focus only on open data, meetings, and records. They should instead be focused on making OpenBTS, Open Cloud, Open Hardware, Open Software, Open Spectrum, and Open Standards the national commons.
Q. It seems like we are moving more and more into a police state, with ever-more high-tech surveillance employed and now robot drones. Is there any reason to think that we could escape this New World Order scenario and return to a true democracy? How could this come about, considering the failure of Occupy?
One good general strike and one sustained tax revolt and the government will ‘be abolished and more sensible people put in. However, it is very important to understand that the police state is the result of financial and technical corruption, not actually of political corruption. The surveillance state is a way to keep money moving and bribes going. The neighborhood bobby does not cost much and there is no profit in trying to promote more bobby’s.
Q. What was your “aha” moment when you realized that intelligence gathering needed a new paradigm?
When I spent $20 million on the Marine Corps Intelligence Center, I funded one lonely PC with access to the Internet. This was in 1988 when the Internet consisted of COMPUSERV and The Source. I worked hard to get access to all the secrets from all the secret agencies for my analysts. Within two weeks they were standing in line for the PC and the Internet–in 1988. I asked why and they said “There is nothing in the secret databases about Burundi or Haiti or Somalia.” That was my moment.
Q Your book is influenced by systems thinkers like Buckminster Fuller. How do you apply Fuller’s ideas of design science to the area of intelligence? Do you think we still have the choice between “utopia or oblivion”?
The most important word ever used by Fuller in my view was the word “ephemeralism” meaning the substitution of information and intelligence (knowledge and wisdom) for time, space, capital, and labor. Alvin Toffler popularized this very idea in his book PowerShift. 2012 is a tipping point year in which Epoch A, top down uninformed mandates that are badly conceived and very expensive, give way to Epoch B, bottom up common sense and multicultural consensus based on shared open information.
Q. What kind of reactions do your ideas get in the government intelligence community?
I was called a lunatic in 1992. Now I am told I am a legend, not for being successful but for refusing to quit. General Tony Zinni, USMC (Ret) is on record as saying that the $80 billion a year US secret intelligence community gave him, when he was commander of the US Central Command engaged in two wars and over a dozen covert actions, “at best” 4% — four percent — of his needed knowledge. I am not a threat to the secret world unless I am put in charge of it and have an honest congress and honest present backing me up. That is highly unlikely. More likely is that individual states such as Vermont will become Smart States, will start to nullify all federal mandates, and will refuse to pay federal taxes. That will mark the end of the Proxy British Empire.