Tag Archives: open secret

Surveillance by the Masses for the Masses

New sensors, from dashboard cameras to satellites that can see across the electromagnetic spectrum, are examining the planet and its people as never before. The information they collect is becoming cheaper. Satellite images cost several thousand dollars 20 years ago, today they are often provided free and are of incomparably higher quality….

Human Rights Watch has analysed satellite imagery to document ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Nanosatellites tag the automatic identification system of vessels that are fishing illegally. Amateur sleuths have helped Europol, the European Union’s policing agency, investigate child sexual exploitation by identifying geographical clues in the background of photographs. Even hedge funds routinely track the movements of company executives in private jets, monitored by a web of amateurs around the world, to predict mergers and acquisitions. OSINT (open-source intelligence) thus bolsters civil society, strengthens law enforcement and makes markets more efficient. It can also humble some of the world’s most powerful countries.

In the face of vehement denials from the Kremlin, Bellingcat, an investigative group, meticulously demonstrated Russia’s role in the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight mh17 over Ukraine in 2014, using little more than a handful of photographs, satellite images and elementary geometry. It went on to identify the Russian agents who attempted to assassinate Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, in England in 2018. Amateur analysts and journalists used OSINT to piece together the full extent of Uyghur internment camps in Xinjiang. In recent weeks researchers poring over satellite imagery have spotted China constructing hundreds of nuclear-missile silos in the desert.

Such an emancipation of information promises to have profound effects. The decentralised and egalitarian nature of OSINT erodes the power of traditional arbiters of truth and falsehood, in particular governments and their spies and soldiers. The likelihood that the truth will be uncovered raises the cost of wrongdoing for governments. Although osint might not prevent Russia from invading Ukraine or China from building its gulag, it exposes the flimsiness of their lies

Liberal democracies will also be kept more honest. Citizens will no longer have to take their governments on trust. News outlets will have new ways of holding them to account. Today’s open sources and methods would have shone a brighter light on the Bush administration’s accusation in 2003 that Iraq was developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. That would have subjected America’s invasion of the country to greater scrutiny. It might even have prevented it.,,

The greatest worry is that the explosion of data behind open-source investigations also threatens individual privacy. The data generated by phones and sold by brokers let Bellingcat identify the Russian spies who last year poisoned Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader. Similar data were exploited to pick out a senior Catholic priest in America, who resigned last month after his location was linked to his use of Grindr, a gay dating app.

Excerpts from The people’s panopticon: The promise of open-source intelligence, Economist, Aug. 7, 2021

Israel Nuclear Ambiguity Benefits U.S.

Defense officials are fighting a three-year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act to release a 1987 report supposedly discussing Israel’s nuclear technology.  Grant Smith of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy  filed the request in 2012 and raised the issue in court after he said the request “went nowhere” for several years. He has been a critic of many U.S. policies related to Israel and of what he believes to be the inordinate influence of Israel in the American government.

In a seldom-used legal move known as optional review, Pentagon officials have asked the Israeli government to review the report before they consider releasing it.  Smith said the Defense Department has denied being able to locate the report, claimed it contained sensitive Israeli government information and cited FOIA exemptions, non-disclosure agreements and patents to intellectual property rights in its efforts to block the release of the report.

The unclassified report in question, titled “Critical Technology Issues in Israel and NATO Countries,” has surfaced in media stories and nonprofit research but has never been released to the public, according to court documents filed by Smith.  Smith’s legal complaint mentioned a 1995 publication called the Risk Report, which supposedly cited findings from the Pentagon document without referencing it by name.  The Risk Report claimed “the United States approved the sale of powerful computers that could boost Israel’s well-known but officially secret A-Bomb and missile programs” and identified the report only as “a 1987 Pentagon-sponsored study.”

Smith called the Department of Defense’s decision to seek Israeli approval a “cover-up” in the response he filed with the court Jan. 7.  “There is pressing urgency to release this report in the current context of regional nuclear negotiations which can only have a productive outcome if Americans and other concerned parties are more fully informed of the true state of affairs,” his response said.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, called the likely existence of Israeli nuclear weapons an “open secret” in the international community….Israel… has never disclosed its alleged arsenal, nor has the U.S. ever formally acknowledged its existence….

“Making sure that the Israelis have the ambiguity they need on nuclear issues actually boosts our nonproliferation diplomacy by preventing tensions in the region and backlashes from Israel’s neighbors,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an order Jan. 8, 2015 requiring Defense officials to say whether they planned to invoke a non-disclosure provision that would allow them to keep the report secret at Israel’s request by Feb. 12. If not, Chutkan will begin the process of privately reviewing the report herself.  Defense officials said they expect the Israeli government to complete its review of the report by Jan. 16, 2015

BY SARAH WESTWOOD , Legal battle to publish unclassified DOD report on Israeli nukes nears end, Jan. 8, 2015