Recently, 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.
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 →
The social media landscape in Iran is complex and contradictory. Some platforms, notably Facebook and Twitter, are banned while others, such as Facebook-owned Instagram, are not. Despite this, millions of young, tech-savvy Iranians, regularly access blocked platforms using virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers. Adding to the contradictions, Ayatollah Khamenei rails against Western decadence yet like other senior Iranian leaders, he has official pages on Instagram and on the ostensibly banned Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, young Iranians use Instagram to post content that is antithetical to the regime’s morality and social norms and native social media platforms directly imitate or clone popular platforms while having suspiciously similar lists of “rules”. What explains all these contradictions in Iranian social media and the government’s attitude to it? Continue reading →
PRIDE, or PyRoprocess-Integrated inactive DEmonstration facility, (as a typically forced example of an industrial acronym) is a nuclear reprocessing pilot facility in South Korea. It is not a secret facility: Yukiya Amano, the Director General of the IAEA has visited the facility in person and the safeguards for the facility are being developed with IAEA cooperation.
Yukiya Amano Inspecting a hot box inside the PRIDE facility in 2013.
Here at the International Centre for Security Analysis we are interested in developments in social media and how we can understand social networks as valuable information sources. We produced a report on this topic: A Structural Analysis of Social Media Networks which is designed to be a reference guide for analysts and policy-makers. We also produced a podcast where we discussed the concepts in the report in more detail.
One of the most interesting features of social networks is their role in facilitating the emergence of communities. In the report we draw a comparison between Facebook and Reddit on the one hand and Twitter and Instagram on the other. Facebook with its group function and Reddit with its subreddits both have dedicated site structures for communities to form. In contrast, Twitter and Instagram have no formal group structures built into their sites and yet we see large, cohesive and resilient communities on those platforms. How do these communities form and how do they survive?