The problems with Open Source Intelligence

Did you know the Chinese detonated an underwater nuclear device in the South China Sea?!?

Even the Russians are worried!

https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=ru&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.fontanka.ru%2F2019%2F11%2F22%2F078%2F%3Fref%3Dt

The Chinese are dismissing the claim as coming from some racist website. Well, we don’t believe them, do we?

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3039040/us-far-right-bloggers-south-china-sea-explosion-claims

Except…it probably didn’t happen.

https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2019/11/no-china-did-not-secretly-detonate-a-nuke-in-the-south-china-sea-to-signal-the-start-of-wwiii/

The military has been asked more and more often to include news articles, social media and other internet sources into their intelligence analysis. Called Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), this information can sometimes be pretty insightful, especially in the case of Humanitarian Assistance missions, when cultural and long standing issues reported by the media can become central to solving a crisis.

The Russians in particular are great OSINT analyzers. Russian operatives scour over contracts, budget requests and laws in various governments, gleaning information such as weapons requirements that speak to future strategies. While its an often grueling process, it can turn up intelligence that can guide future decisions, without the risk of trying to steal classified documents.

But OSINT suffers from fake news. The above “nuclear explosion” is just one of many dead threads. Old pictures of ships in port passed off as current. Troop movements that just don’t exist. The list goes on, and there is no way to eliminate the fake news from the real news.

There is one age-old trick though: verifying source data. Looking at the metadata stamps on pictures makes it easy to find old material. Reading the data from a medical study debunks many of their wild claims. And in the case of the nuclear explosion, looking at NOAA and other nuclear montioring sites, plus understanding the actual units of radiation measurement, make it easy to see a normal background radiation measurement.

We’ll never ban fake news, but perhaps fake news will make us a more skeptical news consumer.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

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