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What is open source intelligence – and how does it help map the Ukraine war?

An increasing number of journalists, researchers and amateurs are gaining a huge online following by shedding fresh light on Russia’s actions in Ukraine using freely available information.

Open-source intelligence (OSINT) researchers have “existed on the fringes of conflicts since at least 2014”, The rest of the world reported. Operating “worldwide”, these researchers “publicly conduct the kind of work that intelligence agencies do behind closed doors”.

Often working under pseudonyms, scammers “convert an information-hungry public with a analysis of the main movements in the invasion of Russia,” the site said. But how are researchers helping to clear the fog of war behind computer screens?

Humble Origins

Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat investigative press groupwas one of the first open source intelligence researchers to gain mainstream recognition, after he began researching the use of weapons in the Syrian civil war.

Higgins started blogging in 2012 under the alias Brown Moses, while unemployed and taking care of her young daughter. He subscribes to more than 450 YouTube channels for pictures of weapons and keeps track of when new weapons appear in war and who is using them.

One year later, Guardians reports that Higgin’s work has been “cited by human rights groups” and has “led to questions in Congress”. And he did it all “for almost no pay, from a laptop computer more than 3,000 miles from Damascus, in his front room on the outskirts of Leicester”.

“Before the Arab Spring, I didn’t know much more about the weapons that ordinary Xbox owners,” he told the newspaper. I have no knowledge other than what I have learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rambo.

“My wife saw me doing all this work and thought I should be paid for it. But I’m doing it because I see things that aren’t covered in the mainstream media and want to document it.”

Bellingcat has since evolved into an international organization that “discovers evidence that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad fired chemical weapons at his own people” and “identifies intelligence officers” Russia is accused of poisoning MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. NPR reported.

This is also the first media organization in the world to name the assassins suspected of being behind the 2020 poisoning Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

In an interview with the Washington DC-based broadcaster last year, Higgins said the process of deciphering what’s going on using OSINT is about “combining the many clues available on the net.” . And now he’s not alone in his efforts to gather evidence.

Cultivation field

Since the Cold War, the United States and its Nato allies have tracked Russian troop movements and equipment “using expensive and often exotic means of tracking someone else’s territory such as satellites.” reconnaissance and surveillance flights”, The Economist speak.

But now, “journalists, academics, thinkers, activists and amateur enthusiasts” are increasingly joining Higgins and colleagues at Bellingcat in using “their own tools” ” to “reveal what is going on in inaccessible places”, the newspaper added.

Under the pseudonym Intel Crab, University of Alabama student Justin Peden “became a source of uncertainty about Ukraine-Russia war is going on‘, said Rest of World.

“From his dorm room, the 20-year-old looks through satellite images, TikTok videos and security feeds, sharing findings like troop movements and airplane models with his more than 220,000 followers. on Twitter,” the page continued. “His posts have reached 20 million people and his follower count has grown by more than 50,000 in the past month,” making him “one of the most prominent OSINT personalities on Twitter.” .

Another prominent OSINT researcher is Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert who leads a team of analysts at the Vermont-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

On February 24, he tweeted that Google Maps showed a traffic jam that had formed on a road near the Ukrainian border in “exactly” the same place where he had seen the Russian formation a few days earlier. A few hours later, Vladimir Putin announced that an invasion of Russia is underway.

OSINT requires constantly looking for “hints,” as well as “knowing where to look,” says The Economist. A popular tactic is known as “tips and hints”, where “clues gathered from a sensor” are used to “instruct a sharper sensor what to see”.

Other discoveries are much simpler. Maxar, a space technology company, has “made global headlines when it published images of a Russian military convoy, spanning 40 miles to Kyiv, within hours of its arrival in Kyiv.” Collected”, News on Buzzfeed reported.

There is also “a small army of OSINT enthusiasts documenting military activity and other interesting aircraft” using publicly available flight-tracking websites “and posting their findings.” them on social media,” the website added.

OSINT researchers are increasingly “doing what the military did before wars,” says The Economist. And modern armed forces increasingly “appreciate the role of open sources in crises.”

I don’t understand

However, for all the information OSINT can provide, it is “not a panacea”, The Economist said. As the armed forces became more aware of its influence, they began using the work of online investigators “to their advantage”.

The newspaper reported: “For example, an army could deliberately show a convoy of tanks heading in the opposite direction of their intended destination,” “with the knowledge that subsequent TikTok footage would be captured by the dissected by researchers”.

Some analysts have “believed that OSINT work is being used by the Ukrainian army

Ciarán O’Connor, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told the website: “In the midst of a hectic ongoing conflict, there’s also an information chaos going on online. “For accounts with huge followings, if they post and post it wrong, chances are it will go viral very quickly.”

Others worry that observers are becoming too dependent on OSINT, creating the false impression that they know exactly what is happening on the ground.

Konrad Muzyka, a defense analyst focusing on Russia and Belarus, told The Economist: “People seem to think that OSINT will present them with the full scale of building up a future conflict. .

“I am under no illusions,” he warned. “We’ve only seen a small portion of what’s really going on.”

https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/technology/956029/what-is-open-source-intelligence-ukraine-war What is open source intelligence – and how does it help map the Ukraine war?

Fry Electronics Team

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