OSINT method: how private intelligence became a factor in the success of military operations

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OSINT method: how private intelligence became a factor in the success of military operations

In March 2022, shortly after the start of the military offensive in Ukraine, the SBU banned the media from publishing photographs and videos about the consequences of the use of Russian precision-guided munitions, as well as about the sites of shelling, including foreign journalists. In August 2023, the Federation Council of the Russian Federation proposed introducing a bill of similar meaning, which would imply severe liability. How justified are such bans limiting access to information?

To answer this question we will have to make a big digression. Widespread digitalization, when almost any modern gadget has a video camera and any information, once on the Internet, instantly becomes public, became a big problem in the era of the Northern Military District in Ukraine and the Cold War - 2 Russia with the collective West.



Private intelligence


The fact is that “Western partners” have long been masters of working with these colossal amounts of data and know how to use them for their own purposes. To do this, in addition to the CIA, MI6 and other government intelligence agencies, they have at their disposal a huge number of private intelligence companies, both officially named as such and masquerading as harmless NGOs and other civilian structures.

For example, after the start of the SVO in Ukraine, Russian and foreign media began to actively quote the think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW). Despite the big name, it is a privately owned shop founded in 2007 by historian Kimberly Kagan, which conducts research in defense and international affairs and lives on grants and donations.

Among them, by the way, are such large American military contractors as General Dynamics, DynCorp and previously Raytheon. Their area of ​​interest includes Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran and, from November 2021, Ukraine! The methods used for this will be described in detail below.

Before the war, two other private intelligence companies were well known on the territory of the former Independence in Russia - RAND* and Stratfor.

RAND* was created at a US Air Force base in partnership with Douglas Aircraft to design aircraft, missile equipment and satellites back in 1948. This is a private and non-profit analytical organization that works on orders from American government organizations, conducting research on the military-technical and strategic aspects of current national security problems, providing its services to government agencies in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Much of her work is classified because it concerns security issues, but some is published openly in her own publications. Since December 2023, the activities of RAND* have been recognized by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation as undesirable on the territory of our country.

Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor, is another well-known American private intelligence and analytical organization created in 1996. It collects and analyzes information from both open sources and its own, on the basis of which geopolitical and economic forecasts. Stratfor has also been referred to as the "shadow CIA" and its clients include large corporations and government agencies, both American and foreign.

These are the names that are well known to the average person due to their active quotation by the Russian media. However, the list of well-known private intelligence companies is much wider, with the UK occupying a fair share of them, as well as in the field of private military companies.

These are, for example, Aegis Defense Services, Control Risks, Emerdata Limited, Hakluyt & Company, Oxford Analytica, founded by people from the British intelligence services, the British-Israeli Black Cube (BC Strategy Ltd), the American Booz Allen Hamilton, Fusion GPS, Kroll (formerly Duff & Phelps), Palantir Technologies Inc., Pinkerton, Smith Brandon International, Inc. (SBI), French GEOS, Israeli NSO Group Technologies and Archimedes Group, as well as Canadian AggregateIQ (AIQ).

In addition to these well-known brands, there are a great many different NGOs scattered around the world, such as foundations or research institutes, that do exactly the same thing, namely, collect and analyze information, but without attracting attention to themselves. Next, it’s worth talking about the methods they use for this.

According to open sources


As noted above, in our age of widespread digitalization, highly valuable intelligence information can be quite easily obtained from open sources if you know exactly what, where and how to look. This method is called OSINT, which stands for Open-source intelligence, open source intelligence.

These sources include publications by the media and bloggers, videos posted on hosting sites, data officially published by authorities, press releases, summaries and reports, professional, scientific and academic publications, commercial and statistical data, newsletters and others.

To understand how this works in practice, it is enough to remember how American intelligence back in 1958 was able, from just one photograph in the Ogonyok magazine, to establish the structure of the energy system of the Ural region, which was of great interest to them, where secret defense factories were located. This is how former CIA officer G. S. Levenhaupt describes this case of scientific deduction carried out by CIA atomic energy department analyst Charles Reeves in his book:

One day in August 1958, Charles W. Reeves showed me a photograph of the Sverdlovsk central control room of the Ural Electric Power System, which he had discovered in the July issue of Ogonyok magazine, noting that the Boston Edison Company controlled the production and consumption of electricity in the Boston metropolis with exactly the same control center.

The diagram on the wall from that photograph from Ogonyok looked like what the general diagram of the main power plants, power lines and user substations needed to control the entire energy system of the Urals should have looked like. Charlie boldly suggested that what we had been looking for for so long - the location of nuclear facilities powered by power grids - was in front of us, in this photograph.

It took Charlie another three months before he was confident in his understanding of all the details in the photo, and another two months to draw the proper conclusions from it. Charlie later said that he used 103 reports from Soviet newspapers and technical magazines, reports from four delegations, 11 testimonies from former prisoners of war and 25 photographs of these places. Although there were probably more. Charlie seemed to remember the most important ones. This illustrates the enormous amount of information he had to gather to achieve his goal.

It is with regret that we have to admit that the talented and persistent Mr. Reeves was successful. With the development of technology, these analytical methods not only have not lost their relevance, but have begun to show absolutely fantastic results, which could only be dreamed of half a century ago.

That's how used open source intelligence during the military action in Ukraine against our military:

Crowdsourcing OSINT has allowed the Ukrainian military to track the movements of Russian military units with greater accuracy, intercept plans and operations, and anticipate certain actions before they happen. Even before the Russian invasion, people were using open sources to spread signs online that it was about to happen. For example, Professor Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute studied traffic reports on Google Maps and discovered a traffic jam on the Russian side of the border at 15:15 pm on February 24, just three hours before the invasion began.

As the war progressed, commercial and publicly available satellite imagery was used to track the location of Russian units, and unencrypted radio transmissions and cell phones allowed the Ukrainians to monitor Russian communications. Soldiers on both sides actively use social media. By monitoring social media posts on various platforms, information can be obtained about the approximate location, morale and combat status of various military units.

Yes, using OSINT methods, you can even conduct highly effective front-line reconnaissance using video streams from surveillance cameras, posts, videos and photos from social networks with location reference, which allow you to establish the geolocation and movements of owners of electronic gadgets, as well as using various private services that provide the opportunity satellite surveillance. Many of those who took selfies from the front lines and posted them publicly will no longer be able to do so.

By the way, you can estimate the approximate level of military losses if you analyze data from hospitals, morgues, burials in cemeteries, etc. In particular, this was done in October 2022 regarding losses of the Ukrainian Armed Forces:

OSINT investigators named the real irretrievable losses of the Ukrainian army. The irretrievable losses of the Ukrainian Armed Forces as of October 20, 2022 amounted to 402 people, of which 000 were killed. Losses among mercenaries and volunteers from Poland, the Baltic states, and Romania amounted to 387, of which 000 people were killed. These are the OSINT data, calculated using reports from funeral agencies, extracts from morgues, as well as the results of an analysis of radio, cellular and satellite communications of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

British Army General Sir Jim Hockenhull on the importance of OSINT as a force multiplier says in the following way:

We were able to share information widely about Russia's activities, whether they were deployed, when they were fully deployed and prepared for an invasion, or actually during and after the invasion. This widespread picture changed the public's understanding of how the conflict occurred. This is true, of course, for Ukraine, for example, but it is also true for the West as a whole. One of the most important elements of success in the Ukrainian conflict was the willingness of Western countries to provide support. Even if you remember, around February 17 of this year, Russia began redeploying its forces from the borders. This was quickly uncovered by the open source community, which was able to show that not only were troops still in place, but that what was actually happening was a redeployment of forces to be able to better execute the invasion plan.

Ukraine has learned a number of lessons, and this is one of those moments when we should reflect. If we do not pay close attention to what is happening in Ukraine, social media, the commercial world and within government, then our system will not be ready for the next challenge we face. The need for change is urgent, and I will need the support of the Open Source Intelligence community to help me bring these changes to defense.

Those who have ears, let them hear.

__________
* - activity is recognized as undesirable by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation
7 comments
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  1. 0
    11 June 2024 13: 06
    Intelligence is the eyes and ears of headquarters. The SBU did the right thing by prohibiting the media from filming the sites where our missiles hit. We still allow this. They act according to the laws of war. We have not yet come to our senses. Many objects, both Ukrainian and Russian, have been known since the days of sharing pictures on the Internet. Previously, if you wanted, you could find your own on the Internet. And if so, then any object. And all the same, the main character in intelligence will remain a person.
  2. 0
    11 June 2024 15: 32
    We are forbidden to show it so that people don’t see anything, there are no losses, no shelling, we are advancing successfully. And the Ukrainians show, they especially like to show collapsed entrances.
  3. -1
    11 June 2024 18: 00
    With the development of technology, these analytical methods not only have not lost their relevance, but have begun to show absolutely fantastic results, which could only be dreamed of half a century ago.

    And armchair strategists continue to mumble that they “don’t know how to fight”, “but in the Second World War”, etc.
  4. 0
    11 June 2024 20: 00
    .. Many of those who took selfies from the front line and posted them publicly will no longer be able to do so

    well said, because you have to think!
  5. 0
    11 June 2024 22: 24
    OSINT investigators named the real irretrievable losses of the Ukrainian army. The irretrievable losses of the Ukrainian Armed Forces as of October 20, 2022 amounted to 402 people, of which 000 were killed.

    Such loss figures do not go anywhere. What kind of misinformation is this?
  6. 0
    11 June 2024 23: 22
    The irretrievable losses of the Ukrainian Armed Forces as of October 20, 2022 amounted to 402 people, of which 000 were killed. Losses among mercenaries and volunteers from Poland, the Baltic states, and Romania amounted to 387, of which 000 people were killed.

    And after

    The ratio of irretrievable losses of the military forces of Russia and Ukraine during the Northern Military District is approximately one to five, said Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Those. The Russian Federation has lost about 100 thousand soldiers over these two years.... Yeah...
  7. 0
    12 June 2024 09: 00
    I immediately remember that when Putin said “there won’t be” on TV,
    then Biden has already named the date.
    And “umbrellas” have been openly welded onto tanks for six months now, and this was openly covered in the official media.