How can OSINT analysts deliver more actionable intelligence for decision-makers? Anna G., an analyst for a large global consultancy, is on the show this week. In this episode, Anna breaks down the seven do’s and don’ts all OSINT analysts need to know. Expect to learn about the dangers of single sourcing, the importance of tailored communication plans for crisis situations, strategies for building credibility with decision-makers, and much more. 

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The following is a shortened transcript of the conversation. It has been edited for clarity.

Robert Baillieul: Now, Anna, you mentioned one of the most common mistakes you see analysts making today is rushing their reports to decision-makers. Could you expand on that?

Anna: Certainly. With the increasing use of OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) in corporate intelligence, there's a trend of rushing to respond to stakeholders. This rush can lead to misinformation and overlooking the audience's specific needs, resulting in errors. It's crucial, first and foremost, to verify sources, avoid relying on a single source, and ensure accuracy. Even in corporate security intelligence, where we support vital stakeholders, taking a tactical pause is essential. Unless it's a life-or-death emergency, a brief pause to evaluate the information is important.


Robert: Why do you think many analysts find themselves caught in this cycle of rushing reports instead of taking the time for thorough analysis?

Anna: This behavior is often observed when dealing with breaking events and tactical reports, where the urgency to ensure safety is paramount. Security professionals bear the responsibility of crisis management and life safety, which compels them to report rapidly. Moreover, the adrenaline of promptly providing answers can drive this rush.


Robert: Analysts might see events unfolding on social media and feel the pressure to disseminate information quickly.

Anna: Exactly. The need for speed sometimes leads to confirmation bias. During breaking events, you might not have all the information, such as the motives behind an incident or the full extent of the impact. It takes time to gather comprehensive data, and during this time, it's vital to exercise caution.


Robert: What unintended consequences have you observed resulting from rushing intelligence reports?

Anna: One common consequence is failing to properly evaluate sources. I once rushed a report about a region and a relatively unfamiliar terrorist organization. I misunderstood their tactics and motives. This led to a report with exaggerated information, as the attackers tended to exaggerate their capabilities, while the targeted country preferred not to report such incidents, seeing it as a sign of weakness. It was a valuable lesson in the importance of understanding sources and context.


Robert: In situations where there's a need for speed, how do you strike a balance between timely reporting and thorough verification?

Anna: Balancing speed and accuracy involves clearly stating what is known and what is unknown. When you're uncertain about a piece of information but need to include it, use phrases like "unconfirmed sources report X, Y, Z." This approach keeps decision-makers informed while acknowledging the uncertainty. It's crucial to address the who, what, when, where, how, and why in every breaking update.


Robert: If you could advise a younger version of yourself breaking into OSINT from five or ten years ago, what guidance would you offer?

Anna: I'd emphasize the importance of preparation and effective communication. Gathering intelligence requirements by regularly meeting with stakeholders and understanding their concerns is key. Also, recognizing and respecting the varying risk tolerances of different stakeholders is crucial. Your past experiences and risk tolerance might not align with everyone's needs.


Robert: For those advancing in their careers and dealing with decision-makers, how can they create intelligence reports that resonate with decision-makers and establish credibility?

Anna: Building credibility involves consistently gathering robust intelligence requirements and understanding the risk tolerance of your organization. It's essential to ask the right questions and regularly revisit these requirements. Additionally, having a well-structured communication plan, particularly during crisis situations, is crucial. Establishing clear communication channels with a representative from each relevant group can prevent confusion and ensure that information reaches the right people.