Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


The power of collaborative intelligence?

Ever so often, a little development shows how the internet is increasingly powering collaborative intelligence efforts. The increasing number of "sensors" out there (mobile-phones, etc etc) and the many specialist corners of the internet makes for more and more value in the open intelligence "production" on the internet. And compared to closed intelligence productions, the free flow of debate, rhetorical "anti-logos", makes for much more nuanced analyses in the end.

The latest of such anecdotes is that the US Airforce has just disclosed a hitherto secret drone project it was working on. The french newspaper Liberation's Secret Defence blog had pictures of a mysterious drone over Afghanistan, brought a picture snapped over Afghanistan, by god-knows-who, a grainy photo of a flying UAV. This unknown model was circulated and processed in a lot of specialist blogs and a pretty credible explanation was arrived at. At the same time, new pictures surfaced. And voilá! If you secret is safe with everyone on the internet, why not go public as the US Airforce did. Read more here.

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OSINT and social software

Now the Canadian Forces warns their soldiers about using social software as this constitute a major source of the "enemy's" intelligence. Brig.-Gen. Peter Atkinson estimates that as much as 80 percent of their intelligence comes from the net.

This percentage has set off some fury over at Enthropic Memes, disputing the claim. And to me it also seems that the good Brigadier General is just regurgitating one of the most widespread OSINT memes, namely that 80 percent of all intelligence is gleaned from open sources. This is the type of information that can be thrown around without anyone actually bothering about finding a source. It might very well be true, but it comes off as if the Social Software and the internet has changed this from the days of the public library, and I don't think that's the case.

I think there is some validity to the claim, but on the other hand, the internet has also strengthened some aspects of Counter Terrorism, so you loose some, you win some.

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If you have a secret, don't put it on the internet. That seems to be a very reasonable advice, but of course it is never heeded by anyone, as secrets are only worth something if they can be spread in a controlled manner. A recent leak of the Osama Bin Laden video illustrates the strengths and perils of the internet. But lets look at OPSEC first.

OPerational SECurity is the concept of keeping your secrets in a controlled manner. OPSEC is about protecting your own operations secret so that others can't harvest useful intelligence from them. Basically, it is eliminating your own "emission" so there is less for others to interpret on. In intelligence, OPSEC is for example not to reveal yourself when doing surveillance.

This concept is very relevant on the internet as well. Every month I can go to Google Analytics and have a report on who has visited my site, what they looked for and where they came from. This forms the basis of my own "intelligence" where I can get a crude overview of who are interested in what, what military, government and private companies look for what and so on.

Now for the case: The internet private intel service SITE that monitors jihadists on the Internet and usually has an edge in getting the newest before everyone else, recently obtained the Osama Bin Laden video through an Al Qaeda "Intranet", a web of sites on the internet that is used for internal AQ communication. They shared this with the US government and told them to keep it a secret until it was released through the actual websites. This didn't happen and suddenly a lot of medias had the video before AQ thought they had released it. This of course meant that the AQ intranet closed down, shutting SITE and others out of the loop. A parallel would be if the Germans had found out that the Allied knew their Enigma codes in WWII. Read about the case here.

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Operational Security in Africa

The recent Ethiopian invasion of Somalia was heavily supported by the US, that lend air-support by the AC-130 gunships and special operations forces. But due to an early leak, the involvement was portrayed as a veritable puppet show, with the US as the masters and the Ethiopians as the stooges. And considering the history of US involvement in the area and the general sentiment among Moslem leaders and populations to the notion of being an US proxy, the involvement backfired somewhat.

Esquire has an interesting article on the new US Africa Command, describing the leak: The Americans Have Landed

Those involved in the Central Command operation suspected two sources: 1) somebody in the Office of the Secretary of Defense who couldn't wait to trumpet their success to bitter personal rivals in the State Department, or 2) a dime dropper from our embassy in Kenya who simply couldn't stand the notion that the Pentagon had once again suckered State into a secret war.

The first New York Times piece in early January broke the story of the initial AC-130 bombardment, incorrectly identifying a U.S. military base in Djibouti as the launching point. That leak just let the cat out of the bag, tipping off the main target, a senior CIC leader named Aden Hashi Ayro, who, according to Centcom intelligence, had been completely fooled up to that point, thinking the Ethiopians had somehow gotten the jump on him. Ayro survived his injuries, and he's now back in action in Mogadishu and, by all accounts, mad as hell at both the Ethiopians and the Americans.

Six weeks and a second Times story later, the shit really hit the fan in Addis Ababa. Now the intensely proud Ethiopians, who had done all the heavy lifting in the operation, were being portrayed as bit players in their own war -- simpleton proxies of the fiendishly clever Americans. After angry denials were issued (Meles's spokesman called the story a "fabrication"), the Ethiopians decided that if the Americans were so hot to mastermind another intervention in Somalia, they would just wash their hands of this mess as quickly as possible.