“Armchair” Intelligence Analysts Document War Crimes and Debunk Propaganda

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Bryan Schatz in Mother Jones reports how a new generation of “armchair” intelligence analysts are using new digital technologies—and repurposing existing ones—in order to document war crimes and debunk propaganda. Schatz describes “a small army of armchair analysts who are venturing into territory occupied by government intelligence agencies by virtually investigating conflict zones where access is nearly impossible.” They do so using data from sources including Google Maps, YouTube, and the digital “breadcrumbs” from mobile devices.

For instance, one such independent intelligence analysts, Eliot Higgins, tracked “selfies” taken by Russian soldiers, Google Maps, and VK (or VKontakte, the Russian version of Facebook) to show that Russian troops had been operating within the Ukraine far longer than the Russian government officials had acknowledged. Other analysts have used data from social media and Google Maps to show that the missile used to shoot down the Malaysian airline in 2014 was provided by Russia.

These successes, Schatz reports, have led to consideration of creating what one analyst describes as “an open-source version of the Associated Press that focuses on decrypting lies,” to be staffed by analysts, journalists, human rights activists—and possibly some Silicon Valley technology firms.

Source: Bryan Schatz, “These Digital Sleuths Are Sticking It to ISIS and the Kremlin,” Mother Jones, January/February 2016, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/02/bellingcat-intelligence-analysts-ukraine-russia-isis.

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