How Law Enforcement Agencies Can Effectively Deliver OSINT Training

Open Source Intelligence Training

Although, Open-source intelligence (OSINT) has become quite popular, it is something law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies have been leveraging for years. This increased interest is a direct result of technological advances and societal shifts, which has made public information more accessible. Delivering training in this specialized area at scale is a challenge for all law enforcement, public safety and regulatory agencies.

Since 2006, KeyNorth Group has been proudly providing top-level OSINT training to law enforcement agencies. We also provide consulting services to organizations who need some guidance on how to introduce or upgrade OSINT capabilities. In early 2022, we created a free, online assessment tool to help organizations assess the efficacy of their OSINT component. This has allowed organizations to identify strengths as well as opportunities for development. This assessment tool has been a huge success. We will share some of our key findings from our primary and secondary research, as well as our own experience when it comes to delivering this type of training.

We had the great privilege of contributing an article to the October 2022 edition of the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training newsletter on the subject of delivering OSINT training to law enforcement organizations. Below are some take-aways from the article. The full article is at page 15 of the newsletter, which can be found here.

Considerations for Law Enforcement Agencies

Some law enforcement agencies rely solely on a centralized team or department that manages everything related to OSINT. Others use a more distributed model that depends on investigators or analysts within various units to leverage and share their OSINT expertise.

Levels of Training

Typically speaking, organizations start by providing an introductory training course to those who are required to utilize OSINT. Most prefer the format of a survey-style course as it provides an overview of critical topics including evidence standards, data-collection and capturing methods, critical thinking in OSINT, and practical research techniques. Investigators or analysts working within these specialized units (such as human-trafficking or cybercrime), or who are responsible for situational awareness, will require more advanced training. Many organizations leverage these “specialists” to train others within the organization.

Learning Environment

Organizations need to determine which learning environment will provide them with the most benefits. For example, courses taught in a computer lab are a great option as workstations can all be programmed the same. This allows the organization the ability to have the students all working within the same parameters. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that workstation setups vary. Organizations must work with the training institution ahead of time to ensure the workstations are a proper reflection those that will be used within the work setting. Failing to do so could lead to students not knowing how to apply the techniques outside the training lab.

Conference style seminars and virtual learning sessions are another great option for OSINT training. In these learning environments students typically come from a variety of different agencies. This provides the opportunity to network and learn the various applications of OSINT. However, one challenge is since learners are from multiple agencies, they will likely have different computer permissions. This could translate to some learners being unable to apply the techniques in their work context. Also, the judicial requirements for using certain types of tools can vary by jurisdiction. This means a specific technology may suffice for some students, but not others. Regardless of what option you choose, it is always a good idea to communicate with the training provider or institution beforehand, so you can ensure everything is set up and ready to go.

Online and blended training are also great options. There are some learners that prefer a self-paced online format and others who need the guidance of an in person instructor to ask questions. Strictly online versions of courses can be cost effective but a blended learning option can offer the best of both worlds.

Recertification and Continuing Education

OSINT skills can get stale quickly. In addition practitioners who are immersed in their own work may not realize what other options have been developed to assist them in their work. Case law, policy and social/cultural changes also have huge impacts on this area of investigation. Implementing a continuing education or recertification program helps to make sure that the agency manages its risk while remaining effective.

Technology can be the target of a crime,  it can be the tool used to help facilitate it and it can also be a tool to combat it. Ensuring that your agency is equipped with relevant OSINT training is a necessity in modern investigations and public safety operations.