INTERFACE/LANDSCAPE 2016 New Media Exhibition


Crowd-sourced Intelligence Agency (CSIA)


United States/Ireland, 2015 | Derek Curry and Jennifer Gradecki

Informational video:


Crowd-Sourced Intelligence Agency (CSIA) is a web-based project that allows users to learn about Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), intelligence collected from publicly available databases by assuming the role of an intelligence analyst.

Information becomes intelligence when it is assessed for decision making by military, commercial, and state organizations. Different kinds of organizations operate according to different frameworks on how OSINT should be used, which is why OSINT is important.

Dataveillance, the systematic monitoring of a person by a digital data trail of their activities, is controversial, even though people have grown accustomed to surveillance in the name of security.

CSIA follows the protocols of intelligence agencies when analyzing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, leaked documents, technical manuals, academic papers, “gray literature,” and the Deep Web.

The project allows users to experience a semblance of the official decontextualization of social-media posts scraped from the communication interface of Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feeds and then imported into a landscape evaluating their threat to national security.

Users gain insights into what  Curry and Gradecki describe as “potential problems, assumptions, or oversights inherent in current dataveillance processes in order to help people understand the effectiveness of OSINT processing and its impact on our privacy.”

The project has five main parts:

(1) surveillance interface, where users can evaluate Tweets according to their perceived threat to national security;

(2) supervised machine-learning classifiers, which automatically label Tweets as suspicious or not suspicious, thereby allowing users to evaluate the efficacy of their monitoring or others;

(3) an inspector, which allows users to submit their own Tweets for threat evaluation, that is, “test before you post”; 

(4) a watchlist, where users can target themselves for social media monitoring and receive feedback on machine-learning classifiers; and

(5) a resource library, where users can read the documents that informed CSIA’s creation.

Although open source is generally interpreted in positive terms, CSIA reminds us that OSINT itself derives from U.S. military practices during the second World War to gather information on the war effort under the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service (FBMS). Later, information was gathered from the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS, now the Open Source Center), now the open-source wing of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 

The project unveils how crowdsourcing poses a potential threat to privacy.

Derek Curry and Jennifer Gradecki are artists and researchers currently completing their Ph.Ds. at SUNY Buffalo. Curry’s research investigates how automated decision-making technology used in algorithmic stock trading and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) gathering have augmented the nature of human agency and provided new spaces for intervention. Gradecki’s research focuses on the informational mosaic metaphor as it used by intelligence agencies and in practice-based artistic research projects that deal with the surveillance state.