Stay up to date with the latest OSINT news from around the world
This week in open-source intelligence (OSINT) news, the United States tries to keep pace with China’s investment in OSINT, Russian campaigns wield influence on alternative social media sites and the need for open-source research in export controls. In addition, two different articles look at lessons learned from the war in Ukraine and how they might be applied to future conflicts.
This is the OSINT news of the week:
Keeping pace in open-source data
In an effort to supplant China’s rising influence around the world, the U.S. has to focus more heavily on open-source intelligence (OSINT) efforts. So far, China has put significant resources towards collecting and utilizing publicly available information (PAI). And given a private intelligence firm was able to accurately predict the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine using open sources, intel agencies’ focus on classified sources are being challenged.
The need for U.S. intelligence agencies to capture open-source is driven by a shifting target.Rather than counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East, agencies are setting their sites on China. There will always be a need for classified intelligence capabilities, but OSINT needs additional integration and resources.
“But by some estimates, more than 80% of what a U.S. president or military commander needs to know comes from OSINT, and not from foreign agents, spy satellites or expensive eavesdropping platforms. ”— Warren P. Strobel, The Wall Street Journal
Disinformation on alt-social media
The Stanford Internet Observatory released a report about disinformation on far-right social media platforms believed to be the result of Russian operations. Alternative platforms, such as Gab, Parler and Truth Social, with lax content moderation policies, allow users to post disinformation, much of which would be considered harmful by major platforms.
The lack of moderation on alternative platforms is often a draw for bad actors, like the Russian Internet Research Agency, who were able to use fake accounts to share disinformation. In the run up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, which was then eventually carried over to large sites like Facebook and amplified.
“The report found examples of accounts in the network plagiarizing content from the Russian state media outlet RT without attribution.”— Suzanne Smalley, CyberScoop
Export controls: opportunities and challenges
A new report from the Center for Strategic & International Studies suggests export controls as a means to improve national security should be better applied and regulated. The surface-level debate of whether to apply them often takes away from a debate of how they are applied or insured, the report suggests. A bullet point of the report notes that the Bureau of Industry and Security, the department charged with overseeing export controls, has a particular failure when it comes to utilizing open-source data in an effort to enforce export controls.
China, Russia and the smugglers who support them have, so far, expertly evaded export controls, particularly in regards to technology. In its efforts to combat this, the BIS has relied on publicly searchable open-source data, which only accounts for a fraction of what is available, rather than the open-source data available for purchase from private companies. The compliance of private sectors and the data they could provide is a key component to how we can optimize and legitimize the use of export controls in the face of smuggling and evasion.
“Broadly, there are three sources of data that are needed for BIS to be able to effectively perform its functions across controls list management, license administration, and export control enforcement. These three data sources are (1) internal Commerce Department data; (2) data shared from other government agencies, particularly those involved in trade, law enforcement, and intelligence; and (3) open-source data that is either freely available on the internet or purchasable from private sector data aggregators.”— Allen, Benson and Reinsch, CSIS
U.S. Perspective: Applying lessons from Ukraine
An article from the U.S. Naval Institute outlines the similarities and differences between two great adversarial nations and the sovereign nations they would like to reclaim as territories. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has several lessons for the increased tension between China and Taiwan. The varying commitment and recognition of sovereignty for the two nations in peril vary, but Taiwan faces a similar looming threat.
In some ways, Taiwan may be in a better position for defense than Ukraine — territorial and economic advantages are on their side. With an impending invasion, Ukraine has proved the value of open-source intelligence as a means for defense. OSINT helped identify the invasion in real time and has been continuously utilized in the Ukrainian defense effort. The Institute suggests OSINT could be even more critical in the next conflict and the Navy needs to develop more open-source training, best practices and applications to be prepared.
“For starters, the naval intelligence officer qualification reference should include more than a handful of line items about open source intelligence, especially when other intelligence sources fill pages. ”— Ensign Nick Danby, U.S. Naval Institute
UK Perspective: OSINT in Ukraine: What we’ve learned
This article from a U.K. general and chief of defense intelligence outlines the key lessons from the Russian-Ukrainian war and the role OSINT has played on the ground. From the sheer availability of commercial satellites (which were not applicable as recently as 2014 during the last invasion), to the ability to combat false flag narratives in the lead up to the war, OSINT has been crucial in both military defense and influencing worldwide public opinion of the conflict.
Challenges in OSINT persist, however. The scale of data available creates almost as many problems as it solves. Similarly, the amateur OSINT community, which operates without the same level of training or ethical policies, can often be helpful but are not always accurate in their findings. These limitations require further investment, better relationships with commercial partners and a more collaborative partnership with traditional intelligence methods, according to General Hockenhull.
“It also offers the ability to track information operations and assess impact, particularly in Russian information operations. The impact of where things are being picked up, how they’re being proselytised across social media platforms, and tracking and understanding their impact has been really important.”— General Hockenhull, Gov.UK
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