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This week in open-source intelligence (OSINT) news, open-source researchers attempt to piece together what happened to a Wagner boss’s plane in Russia. Researchers in Yemen receive training to help them monitor continuous human rights abuses in the country. And a research paper suggests private sector intelligence analysts should adopt the standards of the IC to create better output and consumer protection.

This is the OSINT news of the week: 

Investigating Prigozhin’s plane

Wired released a timeline of the day leading up to the fatal plane crash that may have held the leader of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin. The flow of information is tightly sealed in Russia, but open-source investigators have managed to uncover some clues to the hours leading up to the crash. There has been much speculation that Putin could have orchestrated the crash as retribution for the attempted coup two months ago, but no firm evidence supporting that has been found yet. Other founding Wagner leaders were also on board.

The tightly controlled information landscape of Russia has made it difficult to understand what caused the flight’s “dramatic fall,” according to FlightRadar data, or even confirm if Prigozhin was indeed on the flight. In the article, one interviewed professor suggests that part of the open-source researcher’s role is to scrutinize what information is presented by official Russian media sources and analyze the intent.

“The country controls its media, has banned independent outlets, and tightly censors the internet and online services available in the country. ”

— Matt Burgess, WIRED

OSINT training for human rights investigations 

A training session by Berkeley Law’s Human Rights Center trained 49 members of a Yemen organization focused on documenting human rights abuses in the country. Ongoing conflict has resulted in killings, torture, civilian bombings and child soldier recruitment, according to Berkeley Law. The five-day training in Jordan gave practical instruction, such as on analyzing satellite imagery and verifying photos and videos.

The training was tailored to the specific challenges the field monitors face in Yemen. Many of the participants are lawyers, journalists and judges by trade. Collecting admissible evidence can be difficult for victims and witnesses. The group hopes open-source research can assist them in getting justice.

“Re-crafting exercises to focus on Yemen’s specific human rights abuses, Nguyen took satisfaction in seeing where the training clicked for participants as they began to understand how to apply the techniques to their own work.”

— Andrew Cohen Berkeley Law

Private sector intelligence looking to new standards

A research article suggests the best practices already established by the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) could prove beneficial for private-sector intelligence and help them to reach a higher analytical standard. The political scrutiny around the misrepresentation of facts around Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) led to the development of a higher analytical standard and reform within the IC to avoid repeating that mistake. The result was a review of the intelligence practices to improve intelligence products.

While private sector intelligence differs from that of the government, the same rigorous standard could be adopted to better serve analysts and corporate decision-makers, according to the report. The COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical turmoil and changing economic conditions and climate have all tested the intelligence outputs of the private sector. To meet consumer requirements, the IC’s already existing standards can be tailored for their needs.

“Compounding this challenge is that private sector business intelligence consumers span the spectrum of exposure to intelligence tradecraft, with some having little to no appreciation of the elements of tradecraft that distinguish between higher- and lower-quality products. ”

— Dorothea Gioe, Jeremey Parkhurst and David V. Gioe, International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence

Opportunities of OSINT for law enforcement

The availability of OSINT sources continues to build momentum in both the public and private sector. For law enforcement collecting open-source evidence, particularly from social media, there are many standards to meet. There is an evidentiary standard for admissible evidence, the ability to clearly identify and verify the sources, as well as the dependability of what was collected. But a chief concern is privacy protections for those involved.

Laws and standards for privacy vary from state to state and internationally. One professor suggests transparency by law enforcement agencies about what kinds of information is being collected for public safety. The data protection requirements of using technological aggregation processes have also raised concerns. Balancing OSINT frameworks and workflows with privacy protection is crucial for modern agencies.

“Currently, 80% to 90% of all intelligence activities carried out by Western law enforcement and national agencies is OSINT, according to a compilation paper by Riccardo Ghioni, Mariarosaria Taddeo and Luciano Floridi.”

— Diego Laje, SIGNAL

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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