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This week in open-source intelligence (OSINT) news, women in Africa are fighting unprecedented levels of misinformation with fact-checking. Meanwhile, Putin attempts the offensive tactic of warming up to his enemies in the media. An OSINT group released the personal data of the winners of a Russian private military company hackathon, and a new report suggests OSINT should become a first resort.
This is the OSINT news of the week:
Africa’s fight for fact-checking
Many nations in Africa have seen a surge in misinformation in recent years. Mis- and disinformation campaigns have targeted already tense areas of dispute, including the 2017 presidential election in Kenya, Nigeria’s farmer-herder conflicts and fake news of a genocide in Côte d’Ivoire. Roundcheck, an organization of women fact-checkers in these nations, has worked to combat this spread of dis- and misinformation, often using open-source intelligence tools.
These volunteer fact-checkers in Nigeria, Kenya and Liberia have raised awareness about health misinformation surrounding ebola, political hoaxes connected to phishing scams and counterfactual political statements. The COVID-19 pandemic, like in many other nations around the world, has been a particular source of disinformation campaigns on social media. In some countries, such as Zimbabwe, a lack of public data makes it more difficult to fact-check specific claims. The fact-checkers in these countries also face a lack of funding and institutional sexism, yet many collaborate in their fight to combat misinformation across the continent.
In Liberia, for example, “There are numerous media, and less than 5% are managed by women. We knew it was a struggling space when we stepped into it.”— Caleb Ijioma, International Journalists Network
Putin makes a play for dissenter loyalty
The U.S.-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), observed that prominent Russian military bloggers who have criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were invited to a primetime New Year’s special celebration. The celebration included oligarchal elites and Kremlin politicians. As Russia continues to suffer military embarrassing losses, the offensive strategy to seduce media dissenters could prove useful for the Kremlin.
Other strategies to win support among high-profile media companies and figures came after the television channel Rybar received offers to create an OSINT program that would benefit Russian businesses. The report notes that the offer was given after Rybar spoke at a state-run college in Russia.
"Such profound military failures will continue to complicate Putin's efforts to appease the Russian pro-war community and retain the dominant narrative in the domestic information space," the ISW wrote. "Putin's inability to address the criticism and fix the flaws in Russia's military campaign may undermine his credibility as a hands-on war leader."— Jon Jackson, Newsweek
Anti-recruitment: the doxing of PMC hackathon winners
Russian private military company (PMC) Wagner recently announced the winners of its hackathon contest. Shortly afterwards, the OSINT community, Molfar, released the private information of the winners.
The group said its decision to release the information, which included addresses, phone numbers, passport details, social media pages and passport information, was to discourage PMCs from using hackathons to support their own military efforts, and simultaneously, dissuade would-be hackers from supporting the war in Ukraine in exchange for a payout. The move highlights the increasingly digitized landscape of war efforts.
"Their participation in the hackathon has one goal – to recruit specialists for further work on dual purpose software and technologies,” Molfar analysts said.— The New Voice of Ukraine
OSINT should be prioritized
A recently released white paper from the Intelligence and National Security Foundation (INSF) recommended OSINT to become a “first resort” for the intelligence community (IC). OSINT remains underutilized and undervalued by the IC, often regarded as a lesser form of intelligence compared to traditional measures. The topline of the report seeks to change this and proposes a new partnership between private and public organizations to support this effort.
The proliferation of commercial satellites, publicly available online data and machine learning are just a few examples of how new capabilities are redefining the role of OSINT in the IC. In order to bolster open-source capabilities, private-public partnerships should be encouraged and enhanced.
"The more the public understands about intelligence institutions, the value they produce, and the legal authorities (and guardrails) that guide their efforts, the more comfortable they will be with activities that cannot be discussed publicly,” the report says.— Jose Rascon, MeriTalk
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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