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The Rise of Open-Source Intelligence after 9/11

What if things like Bellingcat existed in 2001? How did the attack by Al-Qaeda in the United States accelerate policy changes in the age of information?

The formal investigation by the 9/11 Commission took approximately 20 months, and further investigations continued beyond the publication of the 9/11 Commission Report. Compared to today, there was a much narrower information flow in 2001; nevertheless, step by step, the information that later was recognized as primarily opened to the public was helping the Commission find the answers on the organization of the attack and the things to consider when improving national and international security. The public information collected included flight data and various digital media shared by witnesses and news agencies, including pictures, videos, and comments from survivors, first responders and bystanders.

Open-source intelligence became a considerable part of the residual effects following the events of 9/11 globally, enabling governments to expand their access to information to prevent future threats. Today, with the dominance of social media, geo-location determination services, and satellite pictures, there is much less privacy but much more accessible intelligence to investigate crimes and future conspiracies. Open-source intelligence has also simultaneously facilitated helping discern the truth during investigations and challenging fake news and propaganda worldwide.

For instance, we have recently been following the news of the Iranian missile attack on Ukrainian Flight PS752, the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the UK and chemical weapons usage in Syria. All those cases were investigated by Bellingcat, an independent investigative journalism and open-source intelligence (OSINT) organization founded in 2014. The organization can publish findings of the investigations within 2 to 6 months due to public-opened sources that make information easier to access.

Open-source intelligence has drastically impacted the world by transforming how states approach international security. These methods of investigation and the new wave of journalism will enable governments to improve their security matters and keep an eye wide open to prevent future terrorist attacks and facilitate opportunities to bring the actors who challenge the international order to justice.



Higgins, Eliot. We Are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People. [Paperback edition], Updated with new material. London Oxford New York New Delhi Sydney: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022.

Commissioned Paper: The Role of Intelligence in Public Order Emergencies. Prepared by: Wesley Wark

Brookings. “How Technology and the World Have Changed since 9/11.” Accessed September 11, 2023.


Solomiia Horbatso is a second year Political Studies student at Queen's University and an Outreach Coordinator for WIIS-Queen's. The opinions of this blog post are reflective of the author and are separate from the organization, Women in International Security Queen's Unviersity (WIIS-Queen's).


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