Our Approach to OSINT and PAI

April 26, 2022

By Adam, Director of Training - Technical Operations Group (TOG)

People often ask us for advice on the best way to “approach” OSINT or PAI (Publicly Available Information) research and why our TOG research training is so effective. The answer is equal parts pathological curiosity, mindfulness, and critical thinking. The most effective way to quickly neck down any research approach given a person’s unique mission or focus demands: Understand that the digital environment is an operational environment just as dynamic (if not more) than the physical environment when it comes to information storage and communication. The secret to operating in this environment can be summed up in three simple statements that I call the Zen of CASO (AD2, PAI, OSINT, etc.):

  • Know Yourself and the Environment
  • Know Your Tools and The Data Sources
  • Know Your Question

Simple, right? Now start unpacking those statements. How are you capable in this realm and how much do you know about the environment? How will that impact your research? Critically look at how effective you are as a collector, a researcher, an analyst and ask how effective are you in those tasks? Each of those missions look at data and the gathering of data in different ways. Are you impeding your ability to find data because you are taking the most comfortable approach? What are your biases? Be honest. Are you pathologically curious or just looking to get the job done and finding the data you “know” to be true (confirmation bias without due diligence on data veracity)? If you are lacking in any of the answers asked above, are you training or learning to fill those critical capability gaps?

Now take that critical thinking to the second statement. How well do you know your tools, and the data sources from which they draw? What kind of data can you reach by using different tools? How do you choose the tools you need? How do you establish veracity of the data/sources you are parsing/gathering/analyzing? How effective are you in the use of the tools? If you are researching subjects other than your personal cultural oeuvre, are you using data sources/tools that are used or can access data that is tied to the research subject? What kind of information space is supported via the local communications infrastructure?

And now the brutally honest question: Do you even know what you are looking for and why? “Know Your Question” encompasses all that you are doing and want to know and answers the reason why you are in the digital information space in the first place. What is your intent? What is your end state? Your “Question” is much like a hypothesis question/statement, and you need to have an idea of numerous supporting questions that can help answer the hypothesis. From those questions you begin to divine the data sets and tools that you may need to find the information that can help support your mission. Knowing Yourself and the Environment will help identify gaps and biases as your plan out your approach to answer your Question(s).

Taking all three statements and what they represent in toto, and implementing them in an iterative process, will frame your best approach to PAI and good research habits.

As the TOG Director of Training, I invite everyone who would like to learn more about effective PAI research. We offer a 1- week (5- day) public sector course called AD2 (Advanced Digital Discovery) that is designed to jump start anyone into using the iterative process I outlined above. For our government customers we offer our full 2- week flagship course called CASO.

Hopefully those three statements will help you on your journey (or maybe even spark a new passion towards PAI). Please reach out at any time to discuss all things OSINT PAI Training.

BlackHorse is a rapidly growing technology company in the national security space, acquired by Parsons Corporation, with leading capabilities in cyber, electronic warfare, digital operations, artificial intelligence/machine learning, information operations, readiness support, and full spectrum operations. Headquartered in Herndon, VA, and with offices in Tampa, FL, Fayetteville, NC, and Denver, CO, we support our nation’s most pressing national security needs through contracts with the Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, and other Government agencies. BlackHorse has openings in some of the most exciting areas of National Security, which can be found at https://www.blackhorsesolutions.com/. Follow Parsons on social media at LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!