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This week in open-source intelligence (OSINT) news, the intelligence community turns to zero trust strategy to handle OSINT data. Analysts share insights on navigating China’s data control space. A podcast about finding nuclear secrets in unexpected places. And using intelligence as a tool in modern warfare — both in Ukraine and in Nagorno-Karabakh.
This is the OSINT news of the week:
Zero trust as enabler of interoperability
The Defense Intelligence Agency is changing its attitude toward information collected using publicly available sources. While open source was previously viewed negatively in the context of collection, the intelligence community now considers it its “first resort” in helping quickly gather valuable insights from unrestricted spaces, such as television, news articles and company databases.
During the Potomac Officers Club’s 9th Annual Intel Summit last week, CIA IT executives discussed the importance of safely hosting, handing and storing OSINT data as it comes in. IC is looking at zero trust, a strategy built on continuous user validation, to protect information at different classification levels.
“A key consideration of the zero trust endeavor is making it easier to share data between the IC, the Department of Defense and other allies.”— Adele Merritt, CIO of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence
China limits information environment
International researchers who use publicly available sources to gather information about Chinese corporations, trade, employment, patent property and other data have noticed that the amount of information has steadily decreased in the past five years. Sources that used to provide reliable, up-to-date information have become restricted, complicating the due diligence process for foreign firms who plan to establish joint ventures, consider acquisitions or evaluate trade proposals.
Of course, this opaque data environment is not a surprise for experts who research Chinese entities, and most would agree that collecting OSINT data on China requires imaginative approaches and a constant search for new high-value data sources. From looking at foreign sites to searching for keywords in Chinese to scraping alternative third-party data sources that appear in place of closed ones — in the absence of data transparency from China, OSINT analysts have to get creative.
“Just because the data appears to be limited and hard to find, it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. From official government websites to third-party data aggregators, we’re constantly identifying new sources of high-value data.”— D.J. Bobbs, China analyst at C4ADS
Finding nuclear intel in unexpected places
In 2021, a graduate fellow at the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies named Decker Eveleth set out to investigate rumors that China was going to build multiple new missile silos. With his fellow OSINT researchers from the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, he found around 200 Chinese missile silos, an incredibly large discovery that caught the attention of the United States Strategic Command.
Farah Sonde hosts Eveleth and a fascinating gathering of guests who discuss unconventional ways to collect intelligence – like following the Chinese rocket forces TV show to match their stories with satellite images to find which military bases have missile launch capabilities. Open-source intelligence and satellite imagery have changed the way organizations understand and evaluate nuclear arsenals and delivery systems — and the way governments interact with a changing balance of transparency and secrecy.
“The International Atomic Energy Agency, as a verification organization, uses open source information … as one type of information, and then they compare that to information that states declare to them under their safeguards agreements… and to information that they collect in on-site inspections in the field.”— Marcy Fowler. Research and Analysis Manager for Open Nuclear Network
Recapturing information space from Moscow
The United States' strategic use of intelligence marked a notable shift in statecraft. U.S. leveraged intelligence to both convince allies of the imminent threat and signal a deep understanding of the Kremlin's plans. The lessons the West learned during the invasion highlight the necessity of viewing intelligence not just as an informational product but as a dynamic tool for achieving strategic objectives in modern information warfare. The speed of information flow in the rapidly evolving landscape demands a recalibration of how intelligence is employed, emphasizing adaptability and the preservation of a fine balance between assessment, analysis and advocacy.
The Ukraine war underscores the increasing significance of intelligence as a potent asset in the national power toolbox, particularly in the realm of information warfare. Recognizing and applying the lessons from this experience will better prepare Washington to navigate the information wars of the future.
“Whilst open source doesn’t provide the lid of the jigsaw box, it gives an almost infinite number of jigsaw pieces.”— General Sir Jim Hockenhull, Commander of the United Kingdom’s Strategic Command
Monitoring the crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh
Since the start of Azerbaijan’s latest offensive, open-source researchers have been monitoring information about the humanitarian consequences — particularly attacks on the territory’s civilian infrastructure and the movement of its ethnic Armenian population. Despite widespread and prolonged disruptions to internet services in the region, news agencies are receiving reports of continuing gunfire and video footage showing Azerbaijani armed forces striking residential areas in addition to military targets.
Open-source information is once again playing a key role in understanding and reporting on the events and effects of the unfolding Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“Fears of expulsion and ethnic cleansing are justified because there is precedent. Every time territory has changed hands in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, ethnic cleansing has taken place.”— Laurence Broers, Associate Fellow at Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia Programme
Every other week, we collect OSINT news from around the world. We continue to keep a close watch on Russia's war in Ukraine, especially on Twitter. We’re also gathering information on cyberthreats, federal intelligence strategies and much more. Find us on Twitter and share the OSINT news you’re keeping up with.
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