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Unleashing potential: How the ‍188th Wing's OSINT course empowers Intel analysts

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jennifer Gerhardt
  • 188th Wing

FORT SMITH, AR -- As the Air Force embraces the Future Operating Concept, open-source intelligence and publicly available information will undoubtedly play a crucial role.

“Intelligence serves as the foundation for informed decision-making, enabling commanders to anticipate adversarial moves and react swiftly,” said Maj. Janice Copeland, the 123rd Intelligence Squadron director of operations. “In the contemporary battlefields, where information is a decisive weapon, the ability to integrate and exploit diverse data sources is critical to outmaneuvering adversaries in both the cognitive and kinetic domains."

Intelligence analysts with the 188th Wing created an Intermediate OSINT course which has trained more than 70 students from around the nation.

The program equips personnel with vital skills to harness the power of open-source intelligence and advance capabilities of military members.

“Information warfare in strategic near-peer competition will decide winners or losers,” said Maj. Phillip Stevens, the 288th Operation Support Squadron director of operations. “We are leading the intel community in OSINT training and tradecraft.”

Open-source intelligence, often referred to as OSINT, is the practice of gathering and analyzing information from publicly available sources. Publicly available information, or PAI, forms the foundation of open-source intelligence. PAI can include anything from news reports and social media posts to public records and commercial databases.

The significance of PAI lies in its ability to provide a comprehensive and diverse range of information that can be utilized for various purposes, such as threat assessments, situational awareness, and operational planning.

“Our course helps analysts by equipping them with a capability that previously has gone unleveraged,” said Tech Sgt. Charles Thornburg, an intelligence analyst on the weapons and tactics team in the 288th Operational Support Squadron. “This enables them to provide more accurate and timely intelligence information to decision makers and warfighters.”

From advanced search techniques to data analysis and visualization, the eight-module training course covers a wide range of topics to enhance the members' abilities to uncover valuable information from publicly available sources.

Analysts begin with a block of instruction and transition to live demonstrations of the capabilities.

Two practical exercises gauge content understanding followed by a capstone exercise to ensure participants can perform the required tasks to reach a desired end state.

After training is complete, time is allotted to focus on the trainee’s mission specific areas to ensure they will be able to leverage their new skillset effectively after the training is complete.

“Our course was built using key concepts from the Framework for Analytic Cognition,” said Thornburg. “The FAC is designed to provide an end-to-end guide for doing intelligence analysis that is systematic, yet flexible enough to accommodate the unstructured and highly iterative nature of the work.”

The OSINT Course also fosters critical thinking and analytical skills among its participants.

“We teach with the understanding that people lie, and publicly available information has an inherent nature of being biased,” said Thornburg. “Knowing this, we teach how to mitigate these issues and how to think critically about the information we have access to.”

OSINT is a vital tool in the Air Force's strategic efforts, but it also provides critical information across domains to numerous Joint organizations. It aids in understanding adversaries' intentions and capabilities for competing, deterring, while also assisting in identifying attacks and interference.
Additionally, it enhances situational awareness, supports logistics, informs decision-makers, and contributes to effective deterrence strategies.
With the OSINT course empowering analysts with skills and knowledge, this makes the 188th Wing a leader in innovation and adaptation within the dynamic landscape of modern warfare and vital to the Air Force mission.