WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 – Top intelligence officials announced on Tuesday the creation of a new agency, the Open Source Center, to gather and analyze information from the Web, broadcasts, newspapers and other unclassified sources around the world.
The premise of the center, announced as part of the restructuring of the nation’s intelligence agencies by the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, is that some critical information to understand threats to national security requires neither spies nor satellites to collect.
This “open source” information can include anything from sermons broadcast from radical mosques in the Middle East to reports in the provincial Chinese press of possible avian flu outbreaks. Such material has often been undervalued by government policymakers, in part because it lacks the cachet of information gathered by more sensitive methods, intelligence officials said.
“Just because information is stolen, that doesn’t make it more useful,” Gen. Michael V. Hayden, Mr. Negroponte’s principal deputy, said at a news briefing.
The new center will absorb the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, a branch of the Central Intelligence Agency that has already expanded beyond its historical duty of translating foreign broadcasts and periodicals to study Web sites and more obscure sources like T-shirt slogans in countries of interest. The director of the old service, known as FBIS, Douglas J. Naquin, is director of the Open Source Center.
The center is situated at C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., and will be operated by the C.I.A. director, Porter J. Goss. But it will be overseen by a subordinate of Mr. Negroponte called the assistant deputy director of national intelligence for open source. That position has not been filled, but one former intelligence official said the leading candidate was Eliot A. Jardines, 35, a former intelligence officer who ran and recently sold a software company, Open Source Publishing.
By putting the new center under Mr. Negroponte’s control, officials said, they hope to ensure that its reports will go to all 15 intelligence agencies and the major military commands rather than just to the C.I.A. But the divided management structure also shows the delicacy of shifting control of the nation’s $44 billion spy effort to Mr. Negroponte from Mr. Goss, who gave up the title of director of central intelligence with the restructuring this year.
Mark M. Lowenthal, an assistant director of the C.I.A. from 2002 until earlier this year, said that open source information had long been undervalued and that the center’s creation gave the government a chance to change that. “We’re playing a lot of catch-up,” he said.
Dr. Lowenthal, now president of the Intelligence and Security Academy, a training firm in Virginia, said a classic case of the failure to use open-source information came when India’s nuclear test surprised American intelligence in 1998. Analysts who failed to predict the test based on agents, eavesdropping and satellite photos had simply to read and take seriously the platform of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, he said.
“It said, ‘If we come to power, we’ll test a nuclear weapon,’ ” Dr. Lowenthal said.