FSU Students Gain Real-Life Experience as Intelligence Analysts
September 4, 2012|
By Amy Pellegrin
“A West Virginia woman really needs her power restored. She’s running out of money to gas the generator keeping her husband’s ventilator on,” the tweet stated.
In the aftermath of the June 29, 2012, derecho that slammed West Virginia and left hundreds of thousands without power for days, a team of Fairmont State University (FSU) students monitored social media from a lab on the main campus to support the West Virginia National Guard’s storm recovery efforts. Sharing tweets and Facebook posts with the National Guard connected people with help that could mean the difference between life and death.
Established in 2009, the Open Source Intelligence Exchange (OSIX) is the laboratory and applied research component of Fairmont State’s National Security and Intelligence (NSI) program, the only program of its kind at a higher education institution in the state. Students have the opportunity to learn from experts and to do real-life, hands-on intelligence work.
“Working with students and the level of enthusiasm they bring is remarkable,” says OSIX Director David Abruzzino. “I provide top level director support, but at the end of the day the students are responsible for getting the work done and for taking care of the management of tasks. They take their jobs very seriously.”
A 12-year veteran of the United States intelligence community, Abruzzino brings a wealth of experience to OSIX. He served in the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.
Dr. Greg Noone is assistant professor of political science and law and director of the NSI program at FSU. Noone is also a captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve and is the commanding officer of the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies reserve unit and the former commanding officer of the Navy JAG International and Operational Law reserve unit. He has been mobilized to become the staff judge advocate for the Department of Defense’s Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants (OARDEC) at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Under the guidance of Noone and Abruzzino, the NSI program provides the necessary background for students to pursue careers as research or intelligence analysts in government agencies and private enterprise. NSI students are handpicked and rigorously screened to participate in OSIX.
Student analysts work with faculty mentors to engage in intelligence gathering from open sources, including online discussion boards, microblogs, chatrooms and social networking sites, to identify and assess national security and law enforcement threats. Student analysts prepare and present briefings for local, state and federal law enforcement and security intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
“When I entered the lab, I didn’t know what I might find or who would be using the intelligence I produced—which is part of the intelligence business—but I knew it would be something no one else in the intelligence community had seen or knew,” says Nick Oliveto, a May 2012 FSU graduate who received bachelor’s degrees in NSI and political science. “That made me excited to come to work. The NSI program at FSU is such an exciting program for undergraduate students.”
In addition to supporting the recent storm recovery efforts, OSIX is building an impressive track record of projects. Student analysts produce the Middle East/North Africa Social Media Report. The report, which is provided to senior officials at the CIA, FBI, Department of Defense, State Department and Department of Treasury, summarizes information found in social media about key political developments in the region with an emphasis on information not reported by traditional media.
In 2010, OSIX supported the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center during President Barack Obama’s visit to Beckley to attend a memorial service for those killed in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. OSIX alerted state and federal authorities to a variety of potential threats. The fusion center has since requested that OSIX provide support for a series of special events and sensitive projects.
A series of distinguished visitors—including West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant; Major General James Hoyer, Adjutant General for the West Virginia Army and Air National Guard and U.S. Rep. David McKinley—have toured the OSIX lab or visited NSI classes to meet faculty and students.
“The program they have is very impressive,” Tennant says. “Even though they can’t shout from the rooftops what they do, people in Fairmont and the folks at FSU should be proud of what the students are doing. These students are providing valuable information to police and federal authorities and are truly showing how cooperation can not only find those who are planning some sort of attack, but prevent that attack altogether.”
The West Virginia Research Trust Fund selected OSIX to participate in a matching grant challenge for up to $100,000. Also known as “Bucks for Brains,” the research trust fund was established in 2008 to fund STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and math) research. The grant supports the development of the New Media Assessment Project, a project designed to accomplish the following: capture large amounts of national security-related content from new media applications such as Twitter, social networking sites and discussion boards; parse and database that content into a networked storage system and apply a variety of search, visualization and automated warning tools to the content in order to generate new knowledge about national security and law enforcement threats.
“The New Media Assessment Project will benefit the university and its students, the State of West Virginia and the nation,” Abruzzino says. “Police and intelligence agencies across the country are just beginning to recognize the importance of monitoring new media, but most lack the skills and resources to do so effectively. This project will allow our students to become leaders and experts in a lucrative and rapidly growing field.”
For more information about OSIX or the NSI program, visit www.fairmontstate.edu or contact David Abruzzino at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on how to support the matching grant, contact Dr. Fred Fidura, vice president for Institutional Advancement, at email@example.com.
About the Author
A native of Richwood, WV, and a graduate of Marshall University, Amy Pellegrin serves as director of Marketing and Branding for Fairmont State University (FSU). With an enrollment of 4,600, FSU offers six associate degrees, more than 80 baccalaureate degrees and graduate programs in business, criminal justice and education. Unique programs include national security and intelligence, aviation technology and a minor in folklore studies. The mission of Fairmont State University is to provide opportunities for individuals to achieve their professional and personal goals and discover roles for responsible citizenship that promote the common good. For more information, visit www.fairmontstate.edu.