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Faster and more united?


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A series of books have been published by DG RELEX on the topic of EU conflict prevention, crisis management and peace building. The aim is to ensure target groups are kept well informed about developments in EU crisis response capacity and the actions undertaken by the EU in conflicts around the world.

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Faster and more united?

  1. 1. THE ROLE OF OPEN SOURCE I NTELLIGENCE Interview with Axel Dyèvre Axel Dyèvre: Director in charge of Open Source Intelli- Could you explain the difference between This is paradoxical. Intelligence services, and television reporters, and think-tankers in the gence Solutions at CEIS. Previously he was Senior Part- traditional and open source intelligence? particularly the CIA, have carried out many world than there are case officers”2. All these ner in a software editorial firm where he spent 10 years studies in recent years on the relation between actors can cover the ground in much more ntelligence agencies are primarily focused intelligence and OSINT. The figures varied, detail than any security agency. With nearly I defining, managing and controlling Open Source Intelli- gence projects in public and private organisations, in both on obtaining information that is not but all of the studies shared similar conclu- one billion surfers, tens of thousands of news national and international contexts. He has worked in available to ordinary citizens, for example sions: between 35% and 95% of the informa- sites and over 43 million blogs, that is a complex environments combining tools, methodologies through networks of agents, by monitor- tion used by the US Government Intelligence, potential mass of several hundred thousand and expertise. Prior to that Axel Dyèvre was an officer in ing electronic communications, or by examin- after processing, came from open sources. items of information published every day. reconnaissance units in the French Army for seven years. ing satellite photography. Certainly, the vast This said, you should note that the amounts Some of them, filtered with the right tools He has a Business degree from the Ecole Supérieure de majority of these agencies’ funding is dedicat- allocated to OSINT by US agencies did not and the right competence, could turn out to Commerce de Paris (France). ed to these forms of intelligence. On the other exceed 1% of their budgets. Therefore eco- be key elements to take decisions in conflict hand, the amount of publicly available infor- nomic argument in favour of OSINT cannot prevention or crisis response, whatever the cri- mation is growing daily, with huge numbers of be refuted: 1% of expenditure contributes to sis. It is necessary to overcome the confusion formal, and an even greater number of infor- at least 35% of the results1! that exists between the interest and reliability mal contributors posting information on the of an item of information and its degree of web. This information is often equally useful It is not surprising therefore that intelligence secrecy. For example, an extremely secret to take mission critical decisions. The fact that services all over the world are becoming source can provide erroneous information, it is not classified does not mean that it is easy increasingly interested in OSINT. As part of while on an analysis in a newspaper or on a to find or easy to interpret. The challenge for the post 9/11 reform process of the intelli- website may prove correct! intelligence or risk analysts is to identify all the gence community, the CIA announced in actionable information and analyse it. November 2005 the creation of a special Of course, it is human nature to confuse the structure to deal with Open Source, the Open messenger and the message, but when it What’s the relevance of OSINT in crisis or conflict Source Centre. In December 2005, John comes to intelligence or mission critical infor- prevention? Negroponte, the US Director of National mation, the value of a source and the value of Intelligence, appointed Eliot A. Jardines as an item of information have been subject to In today’s information society, OSINT (open Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelli- parallel evaluation. source intelligence) is set to play a pivotal gence for Open Source. His mission is to set role for those working in crisis response, up a policy framework for the use of OSINT How could OSINT be used in conflict prevention whether they are working in the field, in crisis within the American intelligence community. or in the course of a crisis response operation? prevention, in conflict evaluation or in event monitoring. How do you explain the uncommon performance of A very important advantage of OSINT is that OSINT ? the information is public (mind you “public” All too often, information in the public domain means that it is not classified, it doesn’t mean is neglected by decision makers or opinion lead- Well it’s very simple: as Steven Mercado sug- that it’s easy to find…). In the context of ers in favour of information from traditional gested in an important article published in the European and multilateral operations, involv- intelligence sources such as human intelligence CIA’s Studies in Intelligence Journal, “There ing governmental players (including military (HUMINT), and signals intelligence (SIGINT). are far more bloggers, journalists, pundits, and civilian intelligence), humanitarian 1. On this subject, see: Markowitz, Joseph, (Summer 1997), “The Open Source Role”, Horizons 1 and 2, OSINT. 2. Mercado, Stephen C. (2005) “Reexamining the distinction between open information and secrets.” Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 49, No. 2, [ 290 ]
  2. 2. organisations, international and private insti- avoid working using the “means at our dispos- you also have the printed and audiovisual tutions, the use of OSINT is particularly use- al”: you need to have the right human reporting which is distributed in a different way ful. Being unclassified at the origin it can be resources, and the right technology. then you have a plethora of databases accessi- released without problem to those in the field ble via the Internet that distribute and archive and at headquarters. Every one of the crisis What is the most important skill for an OSINT specialised information from all over the responders has a “need to know” basis for that analyst? world. For an example, LexisNexis provides information and by passing it on nobody access to approximately 30 000 different breaks any confidentiality rule. Think of infor- The capacity to detect the different nature sources that cannot be found on the Internet. mation concerning physical security threats: (legitimate or illegitimate) of the influence Then increasingly you have web-logs or blogs, imagine being able to gather all the (public) strategies carried out by the various sources. which are online publications mostly produced threat reports coming from all the actors on New information and communication tech- by individuals. It is clear that the credibility the ground in Kabul, and then sharing that nologies have changed the parameters of our and quality of an article published in Le information in real-time…. information environment significantly. The Monde, Le Figaro or the Washington Post has first change is the speed at which information nothing in common with a message posted on So this means the end of secrecy then…? (or disinformation or propaganda) spreads. a blog. But we should not lose sight of the fact The second major change is the new access that the “Lewinsky Affair” was stirred up by a Not really. As I said before, raw OSINT infor- modalities. We are theoretically in a situation blog, and that the obscurity of the source did mation is naturally unclassified. But in the where we can be permanently connected (or not prevent the scandal from assuming global open source intelligence process, further inter- permanently capable to communicate). All proportions! pretation and analysis of that raw information the information published on the planet is can lead to sensitive conclusions, which may now, theoretically, within everyone’s reach. So What would be the added value of OSINT for cri- deserve a classification depending on the you have to stay tuned in all the time or you sis responders and particularly for those in charge of impact its disclosure may create. With risk alienating yourself from the epicentres of reconstruction and rehabilitation? OSINT it is the analysis that creates the value, information. Finally, in the global business of not only the source. crisis response, analysts have to master the The context does not change. You need to Internet. The importance of the Internet as a have tools that facilitate the process of filter- But if I understand you correctly everyone could vehicle for spreading information is undeni- ing valuable content from noise. Then you become an OSINT analyst. able both because of its audience and because need to be able track exactly the evolution of journalists use the Internet on a large scale as events; then review them critically to distin- There is a part of truth in what you say, but a source of information. So traditional media, guish truth from manipulation; relevant con- just a small part. There are many mispercep- the very media on which the listener and read- tent from the irrelevant; mission critical infor- tions concerning OSINT. If you are good at er rely for selected and validated information, mation from ordinary news coverage; and true using Google it is not enough. If you also basically use the same information and valida- details from details that may anticipate very have a subscription to a database service it is tion channels as their audience. This closes a relevant consequences. better, but it is still not enough. OSINT is, loop, and dramatically increases the possibili- first of all, a process that takes a lot of time ty to influence because transmitters and Let me explain how it works. Following the and if a non-specialist with outdated resources receivers are tending to become more and earthquake in Pakistan on 8 October 2005, a tries to use OSINT, it takes even longer. Iden- more intertwined. Donors’ Conference was held in Islamabad tifying useful open sources (the art of sourc- on 19 November 2005. This event gave rise ing), qualifying them, categorising and struc- I presume OSINT analysts have to be good at find- to a real influence strategy by the Pakistani turing the signals they carry is a skill that can ing things, first and foremost. Government, to get its views across the be learnt, but it cannot be improvised. To donor community. If you track the subject excel in OSINT you need to adopt a robust, Absolutely. The volumes of information “Kashmir – earthquake – reconstruction” scientific methodology. You also need to involved are enormous. You have the web and using a dedicated software, for example the [ 291 ]
  3. 3. Pericles3 monitoring and analysis system, you tion, categorise it by its tone, enables swift Was it a deliberate choice or the fruit of lack of atten- will be able to tap massive flows of informa- detection of any type of anomaly. For exam- tion to the Pakistani context? tion in all languages and be alerted about any ple, in the days leading up to the conference, “anomaly” in the behaviour of the informa- the subject of damage assessment suddenly The influence campaign by the Pakistani Govern- tion. An “anomaly” can be defined as an took a very political turn. The Pakistani Gov- ment continued on the 11 November, when unusual amount of articles covering the ernment had engaged in a genuine (and Reuters agency published a news story saying that same topic or an unusual correlation understandable) operation to influence the Damage Assessment Team had evaluated the between a person and a debate. With this donors to agree to their terms. This was hap- damage at US$5.2 billion dollars. According to type of software the user defined the type of pening while the emotion aroused by the the press agency, this figure came from an advis- anomaly he or she wants to find. In the case earthquake was subsiding worldwide. Pericles er to the Pakistani Government! The story was at of the earthquake in Pakistan the interesting had not only detected this decline in the glob- that moment relayed all over the world. The fig- element for someone responsible for the al attention but also had spotted that from 11 ure was gradually confirmed by the donors, and reconstruction is the attitude of the players November, the issue of reconstruction and even became the basis of the conference of 19 involved (political leaders, international and particularly that of damage assessment was November. That day the Pakistani Prime Minister national organisations, governments and attracting more and more coverage in Pak- Shaukat Aziz declared: “It’s a very successful day NGOs), with regard to the specific issue of istan. On 9 November, Pakistan’s English lan- for Pakistan. The results are better than our expec- damage assessment. Evaluating the cost of guage newspaper, Dawn, published an article tations… these are the fruits of our policies and reconstruction was the key issue of the entitled “Government, Donors differ on recognition of Pakistan’s role in the region”. Donors’ Çonference. Over 5 000 public Damage”, indicating that the Damage Assess- news sites worldwide were active in that ment Team consisting of the World Bank, the On 28 November, an article entitled “Pakistan occasion on that topic. In the months lead- Asian Development Bank and the United seeks opportunity in face of tragedy” in the Dal- ing up to the Donors’ Conference, nearly 1 Nations Development Programme (UNDP) las Morning News, covered by a large number of 300 documents from media, governments, valued the cost of reconstruction at US$2.78 American newspapers, pointed to the success of international institutions and NGOs dis- billion. But the same newspaper stated a few the Pakistani Government’s influence campaign, cussed the upcoming event. Out of all these lines later that the Pakistani Government con- by insisting on the positive effects that the recon- documents, about 150 were specifically relat- tested that conclusion, putting the cost at struction aid should have on the country’s econ- ed to damage assessment. three times that figure. This was taken up with omy. That article highlights how Pakistan was varying degrees of precision by the rest of the able to exploit its strategic position in the “war The specific ability of the Pericles system to Pakistani press, but the information was hard- against terror”, to win over the US Government locate the geographical origin of this informa- ly covered anywhere else in the world! and all the donors to share its view. 3. Pericles is a Global Intelligence Platform, created and developed by the French software editor Datops. It comprises three main parts, functioning on the intelligence cycle model and adapted to an intelli- gence organisation. These include the following: - agent server with automated capture and tagging; - linguistic and semantic indexations; and - automated classification with graphical visualisation and analytical tools. Pericles is able to monitor millions of websites, forums, blogs and databases, as well as gather and treat thousands of documents per hour. [ 292 ]