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Clearance? We don’t need no stinking clearance

The head of a private research company has challenged the director of national intelligence to an information duel.

Robert David Steele Vivas, the chief executive officer of Open Source Solutions, is a longtime proponent of improving the U.S. government’s ability to retrieve and analyze the vast amounts of information available publicly from web sites, magazines, and newspapers.

He has been agitating for more than a decade for the creation of an open source intelligence agency.

On Thursday, Steele wrote an open letter (Word doc) challenging John Negroponte to an 11-day challenge to gather useful intelligence on 10 questions about threats to the United States using only a laptop computer and a cell phone.

He wants Congress to mandate the exercise. Negroponte would be allowed to call on the entire infrastructure of the intelligence community — funded at about $50 billion annually — and Steele would ask for $100,000 per question.

“Got game? I don’t think you do. You should resign or ask the president to sponsor legislation creating an Open Source Agency outside the U.S. Intelligence Community (under diplomatic auspices), with a director appointed for life and a board of visitors consisting of former presidents, leaders of Congress, and Supreme Court justices.

“I promise you this: if you have the balls to take me on publicly, between us we will make a compelling case for the national intelligence reform you have been unable to inspire from the inside,” said Steele.

Remember Aspin-Brown and the Burundi exercise?

For those who have never heard about it . . . ten years ago Steele went up against the IC in a challenge to find out all each could about Burundi (one of the more obscure places in the world we might want to send Marines or something along those lines . . . some place where the IC couldn’t just reach into a cabinet and pull out a stack of ready-made assessments . . . something they’d have to work to get). In a day, with a few phone calls, Steele pulled together details like order-of-battle at the tribal level and maps suitable for use by ground forces. The IC was an also-ran.

This was 1996, when most of you were just getting used to this “Internet” thing. Pre-blogs, pre-Wikis, pre-Google, pre-most everything IP-related we take for granted today. Still think unwashed amateurs can’t hold their own against anointed pros?

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.