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Working Paper

Intelli|sfèra – 08/2019 2019

The General Theory

for Open Source
Intelligence in brief
Giovanni Nacci
Giovanni Nacci The General Theory of Open Source Intelligence in brief

With the proposal of a “General Theory” for Open Source Intelligence (GT/OSINT)
we attempt to formulate an innovative process for the creation of a theoretical framework
for Open Source Intelligence (and intelligence in a broader sense). This objective can only
be achieved through the implementation of a concrete interdisciplinary approach.

The present theoretical framework of OSINT lacks in definitions of essential concepts

that are the basis for the whole discipline, for example data, information, source, knowledge,
fact and so on. Most of these concepts have already been defined and are currently being
used by other much more formalized and established disciplines.

The current need for a relatively young OSINT discipline is then to facilitate efficient
boundary-crossing and practice-borrowing between disciplines such as philosophy,
philosophy of information, historiography, library sciences, information sciences, media
studies etc..

The General Theory for Open Source Intelligence aims to supply the required
conceptual interfaces between OSINT, Intelligence Studies and many other disciplines that
can contribute to the strengthening of the OSINT theoretical framework.

An explanation of the General Theory for Open Source Intelligence (GT/OSINT) is

provided by the so-called “layer trilogy” published, in Italian, by Edizioni Epoké from 2014
to 2020. This trilogy includes Open Source Intelligence Abstraction Layer (2014), Open Source
Intelligence Application Layer (2017) and Open Source Intelligence Fusion Layer (2020).

The trilogy is completed by the Microglossario Interdisciplinare per l’Intelligence delle Fonti
Aperte (2019), a cross-disciplinary glossary explaining the tailored lexicon and specialistic
jargon utilized within the OSINT field.

The GT/OSINT starts with a number of significant observations:

1. OSINT must be considered as a real discipline, as opposed to a mere technique or

instrument entirely ancillary to the so-called “Intelligence of secrets” (classified
2. OSINT concerns intelligence activities and processes conducted exploiting
information that is fully and freely available (= that can be retrieved(?)) and accessible
(= that can be understood);
3. All sources and information originally arise open, i.e. fully and freely available and

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Giovanni Nacci The General Theory of Open Source Intelligence in brief

4. Only later they [sources and information] may undergo an external classification
device (operated by third party entities) that permanently change the original status
of the properties of availability and accessibility;
5. The ontological (and chronological) superiority of “open” source (and information),
implies that OSINT must be placed at the highest level of the Intelligence Studies
theoretical architecture.

Starting from these observations we can argue that:

1. Open Source Intelligence has a double nature: a) OSINT as intelligence gathered

from open sources and b) OSINT as intelligence about (open) sources;
2. With reference to the GT/OSINT, OSINT is much more akin to source intelligence
than information intelligence;
3. In the GT/OSINT – and with reference to the General Definition of Information
(GDI) – the source is a special type of information; namely a “source” is an
information where metadata, operational data and derivative data are most significant
than primary and secondary data (i.e. source is information where the payload
contains less “raw data” and more structured references to other information or
4. In the GT/OSINT, the “openness” of a source means that that entity that possesses
the information has a positive aptitude to communication, diffusion and free
exchange of the semantic contents owned (free of charge or upon payment). To own
this aptitude requires that the internal architecture of a source is composed of at
least three subsystems: the mnestic subsystem, the narrative subsystem, the social (or
relational) subsystem.
5. The GT/OSINT place the OSINT discipline as ontologically superordinate to all the
other forms of classified intelligence. Indeed, the OSINT environment is made up
by two sets. The first set is constituted by all the sources and information that exist
and that are potentially available (regardless of their ranking of relevance). The
second set is made up by the sources or information that we already own and that
are certain, enumerable and available to ourselves, even if they undergo a
classification device;
6. As a consequence of point 5, GT/OSINT pinpoints two main concepts of
availability: the first concerns the so-called “universal availability” (sources and
information that are indirectly and potentially available to everybody); the second
concept concerns the so-called “specific availability” (sources and information that
are directly and actually available to us).

With regards to the architecture of the “trilogy”, we can summarize the work as

In Open Source Intelligence Abstraction Layer (Edizioni Epoké, 2014) we argue that:

1. OSINT is the superordinate layer in intelligence studies, both as a constitutive and

“observer” element of the intelligence system;
2. The field of Intelligence Studies lacks in precise definitions of fundamental concepts
such as “data”, “information”, “source” etc, on which intelligence discipline is
founded on;
3. Due to the ontological superiority of “open” source (and information) as compared
on “classified” source, the discipline that studies “open” source must necessary be
ontologically superior of the one who studies “classified” source/information;

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Giovanni Nacci The General Theory of Open Source Intelligence in brief

4. Thus, OSINT must be considered as an autonomous discipline with independent –

but not isolated - theoretical framework, methods, disciplinary language and lexicon.

In Open Source Intelligence Application Layer (Edizioni Epoké, 2017) we deliver a sort of
interdisciplinary framework to achieve the goals elucidated in the “Abstraction Layer”. Such
a framework is based on the following characteristics:

a) the integration of disciplinary borrowings and disciplinary boundary-crossing

b) the development of multi-disciplinary language interfaces (as glossaries, lexicons, and
so on…);
c) the development of a heuristic and hermeneutical methodology in source discovery;
d) the ontological validation of sources and source performance assessment, which is
typically included in the so-called “source’s doctrine”.

In the Application Layer we also conceptualise the idea of “unaffected source” and push
for an ethical insight of sources and a conservationist approach to the source’s environment,
(or “infosphere”, as defined in Luciano Floridi’s “Philosophy of Information”) by which we
mean to preserve the originary nature and features of the source from contamination and
classification. So – as inforgs - “open” and “unaffected” sources must be protected and not
corrupted while evaluating or accessing them.

Finally, in the Open Source Intelligence Fusion Layer (2020) we will face the problem of the
knowledge transformation from “tacit” to “explicit”, and how GT/OSINT can facilitate
those process, by managing source narration and overseeing the “registration” process, due
to the Maurizio Ferrari’s “Theory of Documentality”.

Additionally, the Microglossario Interdisciplinare per l’Intelligence delle Fonti Aperte (Edizioni
Epoké, 2019) - Interdisciplinary Lexicon for the General Theory of Open Source Intelligence
- provides a sort of overall linguistic, interdisciplinary interface between GT/OSINT
Intelligence Studies and many other relevant disciplines.

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Amoretti, M.C. e Vassallo, N., Piccolo trattato di epistemologia, Torino, Codice (2010)
Ferraris, M., Documentalità. Perché è necessario lasciare tracce, Laterza (2010)
Floridi, L., The Philosophy of Information, Oxford University Press (2011)
Floridi, L., Information. A very short introduction, Oxford University Press (2010)
Nacci, G., Open Source Intelligence Abstraction Layer, Edizioni Epoké (2014)
Nacci, G., Vietato lasciare le fonti aperte, Edizioni Epoké (2015)
Nacci, G., Open Source Intelligence Application Layer, Edizioni Epoké (2017)
Nacci. G, Appunti sulla architettura sistemica delle fonti in OSINT. Cosa fa di un oggetto una fonte
(aperta)? Dottrina delle fonti in OSINT (working paper, 2017 - link)
Nacci. G, Appunti per un Accesso Etico alle Fonti Originarie in OSINT – verso una dottrina delle fonti
in OSINT: fonti “unaffected” e loro salvaguardia (working paper, 2017 - link)
Nacci, G., Microglossario Interdisciplinare per l’Intelligence delle Fonti Aperte, Edizioni Epoké (2019)
Nacci, G., Open Source Intelligence Fusion Layer (in progress, 2019-2020)
Nonaka I., Takeuchi H., The Knowledge Creating Company, University Press, Oxford (1995)

Web sources
Floridi, Luciano, "Semantic Conceptions of Information", The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (Summer 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

Giovanni Nacci ( is a former Italian Navy Officer. He started his
career at 5° detachment “Cooperazione Internazionale e Infrastrutture NATO” at the
"Ufficio Centrale del Bilancio e Affari Finanziari" (BILANDIFE) of the Italian Minister of
Defence. He is an author and consultant in theories, methods and systems for the strategic
treatment of information and specialist in Open Source Intelligence applications since 1998.
He is the founder of Intelli|sfèra ( whose aim is the interdisciplinary
innovation in the Open Source Intelligence.

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