Information versus Actionable Intelligence and the Private Investigator
Ciccotti & Buckley, LLC offers a systematic program for social media based risk mitigation solutions and investigations. The information provided is both timely and actionable. The information is never static thus allowing clients to reach decisions based upon the speed of social media. Our team is comprised of seasoned intelligence and investigative professionals with extensive experience in social media analytics and investigations.
We see many courses for Private Investigators (PIs) about using the Internet for Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). These courses are predominately about Internet sites that might yield useful information. These courses do not teach how to process and analyze the captured data or how to report what was found. The OSINT concept usually misses the “intelligence” part, and it is more about gathering raw information, not the production of intelligence.
As an example, we just captured a Facebook account with about 1000 posts, thousands of friends and pictures, along with about 20 videos. How would anyone search through all of this and link it to relevant people, places, things, or companies? Even if the PI can identify some useful linkages and other data, how does he report it in a timely and cost-effective manner? All these courses conveniently omit the fact that a senior decision-maker or client needs an accurate and concise report that illustrates the linkages between relevant data.
The budget provided to the PI leaves no choice but to simply provide screenshots and captured raw data to clients who don’t want to pay the premium required to deconstruct a network, or to chase-down the best breadcrumbs.” In the information industry, we call this “rip and ship”. Nobody expects other professionals to work like this. Ciccotti & Buckley, LLC does not provide “rip and ship” analysis.
In a recent discussion with Mark Northwood of Northwood & Associates, a large Canadian private investigation company, he easily summed-up the problem. “If a client retains a lawyer and the lawyer researches case law in order to determine which are the best methods to advance or defend a claim does the client simply say “give me the case law, I will interpret it”–No–the lawyer gives the client his opinion and supports it with the case law. Clients pay lawyers substantial fees for their analysis of case law, not the collected the case law itself.” Clients need the PI doing OSINT to work in the same manner.
Northwood believes that PIs need to educate their clients into understanding that someone needs to analyze the raw OSINT data and the only person that can do that is the PI because he collected the raw data and has it immediately at hand. The PI is in the best position to collate, analyze, and report on the data he has collected.
Chicken or Egg
As we see it, this is a chicken or egg problem.
Without reasonable budgets on offer, clients will not find PIs with the programming experience necessary to mine the collected data. Nor will clients find PIs experienced with the complex and expensive software to collect and report on the data in the first place.
Clients cannot find PIs to conduct OSINT and create actionable reports because there is no profit in it for the PI. No PI is going to acquire such skills if there is no profit in doing so. Without the prospect of reasonable wages, people with the above skills will not become PIs; nor will people with the training in the logic, rhetoric, and argumentation needed to produce actionable reports. Existing PIs will not be motivated to learn these skills without the prospect of financial benefit.
If the PI consistently has appropriate budgets to work within, then he will have or acquire proper tools and skills needed to collect, analyze, and then report on the significance of the collected data. Proper budgets also permit the PI to develop a viable reporting protocol for the type of data he collects. Proper budgets preserve the integrity of the collected data and allow for the creation of intelligence reports that include proper citations.
This chicken definitely grows from the budget egg. A large Canadian PI firm is currently advertising for someone to conduct ‘social media investigations’ at a pay rate of $15 per hour. One can only imagine the nature of the client’s expectations and the type of work produced for so little pay.
Today, any intelligence or investigative product requires a fusion of many types and sources of data. A complete report usually needs surveillance observations, content from interviews, public records, and government documents.
Again, the budget to collect and analyze public records and government documents creates the skills and knowledge needed to perform this task. This fusion of data sources allows the PI to establish relevant links between the people, places, things, and companies of interest to the client.
OSINT Tools and Skills
If the budgets come to truly represent a desire for a better product, then the tools and skills your PI should possess in the realm of OSINT must be utilized. This is the rocket science behind real OSINT. Ciccotti & Buckley, LLC utilizes innovative tools in our investigations.
Social Media Monitoring
In broad strokes, the PI’s report creation process should look like the following:
- The PI will assemble or collate all of the collected information from all the tools used, examine links, or shared information such as URLs, email addresses, etc. From this collated material, a summary begins to take shape.
- The investigator ensures that each piece of crucial information is put into its own section within the logical order of the summary; visuals (screenshots, text captures, tagged photos) are included as much as possible.
- From the summary rises the true analysis of how the data relates to or affects the client’s objectives.
- The report must describe the sources and methods used and describe all investigative activities. This is crucial when little information is uncovered about a subject. This level of detail is not included in the summary.
- Evidence (captured images, videos, etc.) remains in a separate file from the report.
In conclusion, as with all new products, the price will drop and quality will improve as PIs adopt the necessary programming skills and software in an increasingly competitive market. Of course, this will not happen if clients are not willing to provide reasonable OSINT budgets today.