The Schillings approach to open source investigations

Before the internet, intelligence agencies expected that 80% of their most useful intelligence would come from closed sources, like agents and electronic surveillance. The other 20% would come from open sources, like publicly available records and the media.   Nowadays, even for those agencies, the proportions are reversed.  The majority of intelligence comes from open sources, with the closed sources used to corroborate, confirm, interpret or selectively go deeper.

In commercial and business intelligence spheres, there are limits on what can be regarded as a lawful and appropriate ‘closed’ source, although human intelligence (HUMINT), i.e. talking to people, is common and legitimate, if conducted correctly.  

Open source intelligence (OSINT) carries its own risk.  There is a lot of rubbish on the internet and sifting through it requires a very organised, sceptical and quizzical approach.   We can expect false leads, suffocating volume, and information that cannot be relied on because it is biased, unverified or malicious.   But with the right skills, technical tools and processes, the online world provides as many opportunities to our clients to solve their mysteries, as it threatens them with hostile content.

Schillings employs an intelligence cycle similar to a military model: direction, so that the aim of the exercise is clear; collection, to find the necessary material; analysis, to extract insights from it; integration, to compare it to and complement it with other intelligence; assessment, to make judgments and balance risks; and dissemination – reporting back to the person who wants to know.    We apply three I’s: in-depth, intelligent and intuitive:  digging deep, thinking about what we find, and feeling our way across the landscape rather than taking the view in from a distant height.  

Schillings' USP is that this whole process is conducted not in an isolated intelligence cell, but in a multidisciplinary team.  This will almost always include lawyers, communications experts and often security specialists.   This adds to the rigour, the amount of challenge, the professionalism of the approach and the quality of the output in ways that others cannot match. 

And more often than not, we find out.  And we turn what we discover into actionable intelligence supporting better decisions.   That is our superpower.

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