Robert David Steele is a former American spy, one of the first to be assigned the terrorist target as a full-time assignment, and also the senior civilian responsible for creating the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA), both in the 1980’s. Today he is the CEO of Earth Intelligence Network, a non-profit educational corporation that teaches holistic analytics, true cost economics, and Open Source Everything Engineering (OSEE).
By Jan H. Kalvik, Commanding Editor
Defence and Intelligence Norway
Leaving the US Government (USG) in 1993, he has since then been the founding mentor for the international Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) movement, and more recently, after publishing The Open Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, & Trust, a proponent for Open Source Everything Engineering (OSEE). Among his many prior books on intelligence and intelligence reform, I especially recommend Intelligence for Earth: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability.
He came to my attention when I learned he will be in Copenhagen in mid-April to deliver a lecture to the Danish military, police, and national intelligence services on the subject of “Open Source Intelligence Done Right.”
In keeping with his commitment to total transparency, the lecture as approved by his sponsors is available to the public free online.
Mr. Steele (Robert) has agreed to be a regular contributor to our publication, and part of my motivation in introducing him with this brief interview is to invite readers to submit questions he can address in what could be a weekly column. He is available to visit Norway 17-18 April if anyone wishes to cover his expenses from London and then to Copenhagen where he will be working 19-21 November. In addition to his many professional accomplishments and publications that can be reviewed at his personal website, he is the top Amazon reviewer for non-fiction, reading and reviewing in 98 categories, and performs as an educational entertainer every two years at Hackers on Planet Earth, where his SPY IMPROV record for unstructured questions and answers was set in 2010 at eight hours and 1 minute; most of his past presentations are freely available on YouTube.
Here are the seven questions I decided to ask as a way of introducing this moral and intellectual leader to our community.
1. The title of your next lecture implies that OSINT is done wrong. Can you elaborate?
There are three aspects of OSINT that have been terribly violated since I started the modern discipline in 1988, after discovering that the secret world knew nothing useful to the Marine Corps and its responsibility for carrying out complex operations in the Third World using expeditionary means – sea-based logistics.
First, OSINT is human, not technical. The Americans are corrupt and have corrupted Europe (including Norway) by insisting that the essence of intelligence is technical collection that is not actually processed. Most useful information is not online and not in English. At root decision-support is, as Stevan Dedijer of Lund University said so long ago, about knowing who knows and then going and talking to them.
Second, 90% or more of what we need to know from open sources is not known to governments – the eight “tribes” of intelligence are academic, civil society (including labor unions and religions), commerce especially small business, government especially local, law enforcement, media, military, and non-government/non-profit. Most of these people do not like national governments and have no easy means to share information with the government even if they wish to.
Third, OSINT is the only intelligence discipline (unlike the traditional secret disciplines of Human, Imagery, and Signals Intelligence) that is able to address all threats and all policies in a public manner. The Europeans have made a serious mistake in following the American model that assumes that secrecy is the primary aspect of intelligence and that technical collection is the primary method. That is wrong. Intelligence is about decision-support, and done right, intelligence must inform strategy, policy, acquisition, and operations across all domains, not just war and terrorism.
I really like the recent commentary by Björn Fägersten of the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), “For EU Eyes Only? Intelligence and European Security,” in which he makes the case for a European OSINT Centre and network and points out that all the national intelligence capabilities focused on secret sources and methods are not useful at the regional level. I would suggest that the Nordics could lead the way, and create a Nordic multinational intelligence centre, perhaps in Copenhagen, that is 80% open and 20% secret.
2. We in Europe are reeling from the Belgian attacks, and also being heavily criticized by the Americans for being ineffective at counterintelligence. What are your thoughts?
My first thought, one that many will find difficult to ingest, is that the attacks in Belgium as well as the two Paris attacks are false flag state-sponsored or rogue neo-Nazi attacks intended to frighten the public and perpetuate the “deep state” that continues to loot public treasuries with abandon. I have published a chapter, “Was Paris 11/13 a False Flag Event? A Matrix for Evaluating Possibilities,” in a book edited by Kevin Barnett, ANOTHER French Flag? Bloody Tracks from Paris to San Bernardino.
Terrorism is not a threat – it is a tactic and nothing more than a very bad traffic accident. Terrorism, whether false flag or real, is also the price we pay for our criminal irresponsibility over the past 200 years, with colonialism, predatory capitalism, and unilateral militarism including persistent USG support for dictators, for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and their abuse of the Palestinians. I predicted the illegal immigration “break-out” in my 2002 book The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political–Citizen’s Action Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Genocide, Disease, Toxic Bombs, & Corruption, and I would recommend, among many other books, Chalmers Johnson’s epic The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic as well as William Blum’s Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II.
In my view, as a deeply patriotic American who believes in the absolute nature of the US Constitution, I believe that Europe needs to de-Americanize, create a European strategy and a European intelligence network and a European development program emphasizing Open Source Everything Engineering (OSEE) so as to create a prosperous world at peace. All US bases in Europe should be closed – Europe should assume responsibility for its own defense and that defense must be rooted in ethical behavior all over the world – right now in my view France and Germany are pursuing toxic foreign policies and France is specifically responsible for the fall of Libya which is where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started, with funding from Saudi Arabia and training from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Europe has been – the Nordics have been – in my view, both complacent about American crimes against humanity, and ignorant of the true costs of allowing the Americans to destroy the world along with the French and Germans for whom “anything goes” in the pursuit of commercial advantage.
I have published a white paper at Amazon, also free online, An American Grand Strategy: Evidence-based, Affordable, Balanced, Flexible. Anyone could learn from this, it is not a menu of solutions but rather a starting point for an open discussion. Its number one priority: stop doing bad stuff.
3. You have written with admiration about the Nordics. Why do you like us, and what can we do better, if anything?
The Nordics got economic justice right. Unlike the rest of the West, where corporate ownership of government – a form of fascism – is well-entrenched, the Nordics did not lose sight of the centrality of the public interest and fairness to labor being the heart of sustainable prosperity. The Nordics also appear to play well with one another.
I have learned from the Swedes, and Col Jan-Inge Svensson particularly, and it was the Nordic concept of Multinational, Multiagency, Multi-Disciplinary, Multi-Domain Information-Sharing and Sense-Making, as taught at the Folke Bernadette Academy by Col Svensson, that inspired my vision for a United Nations Open-Source Decision-Support Information Network (UNODIN).
What the Nordics can do better is stop letting the Americans and the French and the Germans destroy the world. The Nordics can take the lead in creating truthful public intelligence that puts the Americans back in their box – the UN, with assistance from the Nordics, can become an evidence-based organization able to execute my vision for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) with OSEE. NATO needs to merge with the EU elements and become a European owned and operated enterprise. Send the Americans home.
At the same time, we must come to grips with the reality that unemployment around the world is moving toward 25% to 40%, particularly in the Middle East but also among unassimilated populations in Europe and in the USA. The government tendency is to pour more money into security and to try to “lock down” society, this will not work. Law enforcement is only effective when 90% of the population is law-abiding. Once you start falling off, and the disaffected population moves toward 25%, society collapses and no amount of force will stabilize a country. We need to revisit all of our assumptions about all of our policies both domestic and foreign.
4. Some people call you an intelligence “whistleblower,” which implies unauthorized revelations to the public. Can you address that and describe your own sense of self in relation to the intelligence profession?
I have never violated my lifetime secrecy oath and I have no secrets to betray. I am simply the most published, vocal, and persistent intelligence reformer in the English language. It should not go unnoticed that my first two books had forewords from Senators David Boren and Pat Roberts, the past and then current Chairmen of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). I consider myself the first in what I hope will be a growing body of 21st Century intelligence professionals who place open sources, the public interest, and decision support at the heart of the intelligence process. I believe that education, intelligence (as decision-support) and research need to be managed together. If I were ever to be appointed Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in the USA I would do three things: first, create an Open Source (Technologies) Agency as I have recommended to Vice President Joe Biden; second, cut the secret budget by two-thirds; and third, create a new national and global multinational distributed intelligence community able to address all threats and all policies with holistic analytics and true cost economics. What we call “intelligence” today is in my view dysfunctional, and a dis-service to the public – I speak of course only of the American system.
5. The non-profit you created, Earth Intelligence Network, is classified as an educational enterprise. What are you seeking to teach?
I have designed a new PhD that I would like to create, teach, and earn. It is a meta-PhD with three tracks: holistic analytics, true cost economics, and OSEE. My best briefing to date, created for the Government of India and the India-based non-governmental organization that inspired me to improve on my UN work, is here: The Ultimate Hack – Resilient Villages, Smart Cities, Prosperous Nations at Peace — and Unlimited Clean Water.
6. You have been very critical of the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a puppet of American war-mongering, and of the cost and impact of US bases around the world and especially in Europe. Since the Secretary-General of NATO is Norwegian, what would you tell him if he were to listen?
NATO hired me to lecture them on OSINT in 2000, after I was recommended by Alvin Toffler, their first choice whom they could not afford. I ended up writing the NATO OSINT Handbook and providing most of the information for the NATO OSINT Reader. What NATO has done in the past ten years, blindly following the American lead as the Americans have created a swath of destruction from Afghanistan all the way down to Niger and Nigeria (the next states to be threatened by the Americans) is in my view reprehensible. NATO, like the UN, needs to have its own decision-support capability and stop falling prey to American lies and misrepresentation. NATO needs to de-Americanize or go out of existence. NATO needs to become a development force for peace able to stabilize and reconstruct, not merely be a theatrical back-drop to the American abuses. NATO should not be a sales champion for the US military-industrial state.
I cannot be more clear: it is possible to create a prosperous world at peace – to completely achieve the SDG goals with OSEE – provided the governments of the world stop doing bad things; stop enabling the Americans and live up to their responsibilities in favor of the public interest. The Nordics have been too complacent and too accommodating. They have been corrupted – at the highest policy levels as well as in the darkest corners of the secret intelligence world by American money and American arrogance.
Brigadier General Jim Cox, Canadian Land Forces (Retired) was the Deputy N-2 of NATO who hired me in 2000. In 2013 he sent me a message saying
If I was king of the world, I would build an OSINT organization to rival existing national SIGINT organizations (CSEC in Canada, NSA in US) and HUMINT organizations (CSIS in Canada, CIA in US). This OSINT organization would be in a number of big buildings around the country, tapped into all the sources you have long written about (media, experts, academia … all tribes) AND they would produce magnificent ‘single source’ OSINT products that could be added to SIGINT, HUMINT, IMINT etc. products at the national level.
NATO, and the UN, are potential forces for great good. The Nordics are a potential force for great good. I believe that the coincidence of Nordic leadership at both the UN and NATO is a cosmic good that will vanish within the year. Now is the time to think deeply about these possibilities. I have put a number of NATO-related references online.
7. You have been critical of the United Nations (UN) but have also published three major pieces suggesting that the UN – where the President of the General Assembly is Danish – could rapidly achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost now estimated with the existing industrial era donor system. Please comment.
Let me begin by simply listing my two UN interventions and repeating my capstone work done for India.
Open Source Everything Engineering (OSEE) – Achieving the SDG Goals in a Fraction of the Time at a Fraction of the Price is my contribution to the UN SDG Global Report for 2016.
The Ultimate Hack – Resilient Villages, Smart Cities, Prosperous Nations at Peace — and Unlimited Clean Water is what resulted when I was approached by an India-based NGO to think about their emphasis on the village level.
If I could sit down with the Danish President of the UN General Assembly and the Norwegian Secretary-General of NATO, I would make a simple appeal.
“Read this Memorandum to Vice President Biden, and then get him to read it – he has not. If the two of you – and ideally theThe Most Holy Father and the UN Secretary General as well as selected Prime Ministers – ask for an Open Source (Technologies) Agency, the Americans can and will pay for it – $2 billion a year has been pre-approved by the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB). That funding will make possible UNODIN, an EU/NATO OSINT network, and a Nordic OSINT network, along with a World Brain Institute, a School of Future-Oriented Hybrid Governance, and a Global (Serious) Game that integrates all information in all languages, all the time.
“Pay attention. Read the memo. Challenge President Barack Obama generally but Vice President Joe Biden specifically to do something truly world-changing in their final months in office.”
“The de-Americanization of Europe can be delayed if the new agency is funded, but what cannot be delayed is a Nordic and European commitment to getting a grip on global reality using open sources and methods.
“With or without American assistance, sponsor a Grand Strategy summit, sponsor a European intelligence enterprise rooted in OSINT, and get on with the righteous task of saving civilization.“
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Readers are encouraged to email specific questions for our newest contributor, Robert David Steele. They can be sent to me, or directly to Mr. Steele at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Readers can also subscribe free to his blog, Phi Beta Iota Public Intelligence Blog, where the work of over 800 intelligence and defense reformers can be found, with three new posts each day.