The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is using new collection, processing, and analysis technologies to exploit the massive amount of open-source information1 available from the internet and other sources
for military intelligence purposes. A growing ecosystem of private companies, state-owned enterprises, state-run research organizations, and universities is supporting the PLA’s push to leverage open-source intelligence2 (OSINT) by providing research services, platforms, and data. China’s military and defense industries are using automated web crawlers, algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other tools to extract intelligence from foreign governments, militaries, social media platforms, news media organizations, companies, research organizations, and individuals. The PLA very likely employs OSINT alongside other, more sensitive forms of intelligence to support decision-making at the strategic,
operational, and tactical levels. The PLA’s use of OSINT very likely provides it an intelligence advantage, as the West’s open information environment3 allows the PLA to easily harvest large quantities of open-source data, whereas Western militaries must contend with China’s closed information environment. This report offers an overview of Chinese views on military OSINT, details how the PLA applies and collects OSINT, and profiles several private companies that provide OSINT to the PLA.
- The PLA almost certainly views OSINT as an increasingly valuable source of military intelligence that can support decision-making and necessitates the use of new collection, processing, and analysis technologies, which the PLA and China’s defense industry are actively developing.
- The PLA uses OSINT to gain insight into foreign military capabilities, facilities, doctrine, decision-
making, weapons, equipment, science and technology, exercises, training, intelligence, and
- deployments, which very likely helps the PLA prepare for future conflicts.
- In an effort to leverage external capabilities and expertise, the PLA increasingly acquires OSINT research and analysis services, platform and database products, and remote sensing data from private Chinese companies as well as from Chinese state-owned enterprises, state-run research organizations, and universities.
- The PLA and China’s defense industry almost certainly take advantage of other countries’ open information environments to extract OSINT from foreign governments, militaries, universities, defense industry companies, scientific research organizations, think tanks, news media outlets,
social media platforms, forums, individuals, commercial data providers, print media, radio broadcasts, satellites, and other sources.
- The PLA very likely tries to learn from other countries’ OSINT programs while also seeking to prevent foreign countries from collecting military OSINT from Chinese sources, which very likely helps preserve the PLA’s advantage over the West in OSINT.