CIA CREST database and Geolocation

TitleRecently, to the delight of the OSINT community, the CIA updated its CREST digital library with the addition of upwards of 800,000 new files. While much of the credit for the agency’s initiative is due to the perseverance of journalist Mike Best (perhaps we should also spare a thought for the CIA employees who were likely on ‘scan and document’ duty
in the basement for their first few years of service), granting digital access to the 13 million pages is a welcomed act of compliance and transparency to researchers and citizens alike. Many of the documents made available date from the 50s through to the 80s and some contain guides on opening sealed letters and invisible writing, as well as reports stating the ‘total lack of evidence’ of UFOs.

Admittedly, it is quite fun to rummage through papers with titles worthy of an X-files episode; however, we endeavoured to find how such newly available information might be relevant to non-proliferation research today. This post will serve both to illustrate the type of valuable information the CREST database can offer, and to demonstrate some useful geolocation techniques.

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Facebook, Fake News and Verification

Facebook has a fake news problem. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as the 45th President of the United States, the social network has come under sustained criticism for failing to prevent the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Numerous articles have been written dissecting the phenomenon, the possible impact it had on the US election and what Facebook should be doing about it.

But what has been fundamentally missing from the discussion is the responsibility of users to verify the content they consume online; particularly on social media where content is shared by “trusted” friends and family. As an open source intelligence (OSINT) centre, our day-to-day work involves critically evaluating publicly available information to verify the accuracy, veracity and reliability of sources and content.  Continue reading

Open Source Intelligence and the Cash for Access Scandal

The latest “cash for access” scandal has ensnared two former foreign secretaries: Jack Straw MP and Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP. Investigators from Channel 4’s Dispatches programme and journalists at The Telegraph set up PMR Communications, a fake marketing agency in Hong Kong, to gain access to the two politicians. Both men were then duped in a recorded discussion of their daily rates and their political connections which could be of value to PMR. The question is, using open source intelligence (OSINT) tools, techniques and methods, could they have uncovered the true nature of PMR? Continue reading

Analysing the Network of an ISIS Twitter Account

It is well documented that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has an active and well-developed media presence, especially on social networks. Recently, Robert Hannigan, director of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), wrote in the Financial Times that social networks have become the “command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals”.

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